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Despite India's protests, Vietnam buys arms from Pakistan

world Updated: Aug 17, 2007 12:07 IST
Rahul Bedi
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Ignoring concerns of its long standing ally India, Vietnam has purchased a second consignment of small arms from Pakistan.

According to Jane's Defence Weekly, Vietnam acquired 100 SMG-PK 9 mm submachine guns and 50 sniper rifles from the state-run Pakistan Ordnance Factories (POF) in Rawalpindi as a follow-on order to an equal number of similar weapons it purchased last year.

The SMG-PK is configured on the Heckler & Koch MP5 series of which four models are available.

India, which has burgeoning defence relations with Hanoi, "discreetly" protested the acquisition by Vietnam's police ministry for its counter-terrorism unit, Jane's reports, but to little avail.

Military analysts in New Delhi said India's hesitancy in vindicating its assurances to Vietnam of providing it varied military hardware, including the locally designed surface-to-surface Prithvi missile, could well be responsible for Hanoi turning to Pakistan, albeit to partially meet its defence requirements.

India's vast military-industrial complex also does not produce submachine guns or sniper rifles, despite years of attempts by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) to design both.

India recently imported sniper rifles from Israel while a contract to import submachine guns and carbines is under consideration by the army.

"India is handicapped by its excessive caution in boldly exercising its strategic options coupled with its highly complex and uncoordinated procedures required to export military goods," Major General Sheru Thapliyal (retd) said. In a world of quick shifting strategic alignments, India will be left behind if it does not resolve both these shortcomings, he warned.

India strongly supported North Vietnam in its war with the US in the 1960s and 1970s in the face of tremendous Western opposition and began developing defence ties with it in the mid-1990s as part of its wider Look East approach.

This strategy proliferated in recent years as nuclear rival China, with its peaceful rise, has steadily been fashioning political, economic and military dependencies around its strategic periphery particularly in East and Southeast Asia through multilateral economic and military engagement.

There is also a growing feeling amongst Indian and Western analysts that Asia's strategic architecture created over decades by the US through its military deployments and engagement policies appears to be crumbling, giving way to an ascendant China.

This, in turn, was fostering a deep sense of uncertainty and insecurity among many Asian states, including India, even though diplomatic, military economic and political ties between Delhi and Beijing were steadily improving.

By developing defence ties with Vietnam, however, India is aiming to counter China's firmly established "string of pearls" strategy of clinching regional military and security agreements from the Persian Gulf to the South China Sea and of expanding its profile and assets in the Indian Ocean region.

To tighten the maritime "noose" around India, China is investing heavily in developing Gwadar port on nuclear ally Pakistan's western Makran coast and nurturing long standing military, political and commercial links with Myanmar.

Additionally, China has firmed up strategic, defence and economic ties with Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

Strategists term India's tentative response as its "string of diamonds" strategy whereby it seeks to build partnerships and relations with friends and allies like Vietnam to build regional partnerships.

As part of this feeble riposte to China's regional pro-activity, India recently reconfirmed its defence ties with Vietnam providing for bilateral military cooperation, sale of military wares like the locally developed advanced light helicopter (ALH) and assistance in overhauling and providing spares to Hanoi's ageing MiG series fighter aircraft.

The agreement also provides a framework under which Vietnamese officers would train the Indian Army in jungle warfare and counter-insurgency operations.

It also includes bilateral cooperation between India's Coast Guard and the Vietnamese Sea Police in combating piracy, reciprocal visits by senior military officers and regular exchange of intelligence.

"Agreements are meaningless unless delivered upon," Thapliyal said. Otherwise, friends will seek help elsewhere, he added.

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