‘India refashions itself as global military power’

September 22nd, 2008 - 7:49 pm ICT by IANS  

New York, Sep 22 (IANS) From a country focused on self-defence against Pakistan and China, India has begun to refashion itself as an armed power with global reach. It is willing to dispatch troops in far away lands to protect its oil shipments, its expatriate population in the Middle East and shoulder international peacekeeping duties, the New York Times wrote Monday. While world attention has focused on China’s military in recent years, “India sees itself in a different light - not looking so much inward and looking at Pakistan, but globally”, William S. Cohen, a secretary of defence in the Clinton administration told the Times.

“It’s sending a signal that it’s going to be a big player,” added Cohen, now a lobbyist representing US firms seeking weapons contracts in India.

India is now buying armaments that major powers like the US use to operate far from home - aircraft carriers, giant transport planes and airborne refuelling tankers, the newspaper said.

In modern India’s first military outpost on foreign soil, India has helped build a small air base in Tajikistan that it will share with its host country. India also appears to be positioning itself as a caretaker and patroller of the Indian Ocean region, which stretches from Africa’s coast to Australia’s and from the subcontinent southward to Antarctica, the New York daily wrote.

“Ten years from now, India could be a real provider of security to all the ocean islands in the Indian Ocean,” said Ashley J. Tellis, an India-born scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

It could also provide security in the Persian Gulf in collaboration with the US, Tellis said, adding: “India is slowly maturing into a conventional great power”.

In 2006, when conflict between Israel and Hezbollah put in peril Indian expatriates in Lebanon, four Indian warships, which happened to be in the region, rushed to Lebanon and rescued 2,000 people, not only Indians, but also Sri Lankans, Nepalese and Lebanese eager to escape the fighting.

In 2004, when the tsunami hit Asia, including its own southern coast, the Indian Navy dispatched 16,000 troops, 32 warships, 41 planes and a floating hospital for rescue operations.

It is all new for India, which gave the world the idea of Gandhian non-violence, and long derided the force-projecting ways of the great powers, Times said.

India’s Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee told the paper: “Naturally, a country of this size, a population of this size - we will be required to strengthen our security forces, modernize them, update them, upgrade our technology.”

“We are ready to play a more responsible role,” he added, “but we don’t want to impose ourselves on others.”

China, whose own military expansion outstrips India’s, has not raised alarm at India’s military modernization, but Pakistani officials “are paying attention to Indian plans to project India outside the South Asian region”, said Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Pakistani defence expert.

China has sought to develop a powerful air force and navy that can extend far beyond its shores. It plans to spend $60 billion on its armed forces in 2008.

The Pentagon estimates that China’s actual military spending is perhaps twice the officially budgeted amount, as much as seven times India’s defence outlay. Besides, Beijing has alarmed New Delhi by courting allies in India’s neighbourhood and building military bases in Gwadar, Pakistan; Chittagong, Bangladesh; and Yangon, Myanmar.

“There seems to be an emerging long-term competition between India and China for pre-eminence in the region,” Jacqueline Newmyer, president of the Long Term Strategy Group, a research institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, told the Times.

“India is preparing slowly to claim its place as a pre-eminent power, and in the meantime China is working to complicate that for India.”

India has worked to close the gap with China by spending heavily on modern arms. Analysts estimate that India could spend as much as $40 billion on military modernisation in the next five years.

About the change in military strategy, Rahul Gandhi, the rising Congress party leader, said in parliament early this year: “What is important is that we stop worrying about how the world will impact us, we stop being scared about how the world will impact us, and we step out and worry about how we will impact the world.”

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