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India widens its strategic vision

For most part of the last five decades India's security perspective was rooted to its immediate geographical neighbourhood. However, the last few years have seen India extend its strategic horizon from the confines of the subcontinent to a much wider arc, stretching from West Asia to China.

india Updated: Nov 24, 2003 17:32 IST

The last few years have seen India extend its strategic horizon from the confines of the subcontinent to a much wider arc, stretching from West Asia to China.

This is a welcome, even if a delayed, development. Since independence, India's security perspective remained rooted to its geographical neighbourhood. Pakistan's occupation of almost one-third of Jammu and Kashmir and hostile actions in the rest of it, coupled with its hobnobbing with China to form a tacit anti-India axis, never allowed South Block to think beyond the region.

Widening axis

But things are changing. India has begun its own hobnobbing, not least with Israel - that remained an untouchable country almost throughout the Congress years (though Narasimha Rao did establish diplomatic ties with Tel Aviv in 1992, he never developed a serious strategic partnership). At the same time, India has maintained its links with Arab nations, moved into the good books of the United States and rekindled the old flame with Russia.

New Delhi's clout has mounted at the regional level as well. Sri Lankan analysts have been pushing Colombo to go for security arrangements with India. Except for Pakistan, all other SAARC nations - Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Maldives - now acknowledge India as a South Asian Big Brother. New Delhi's growing muscle has also allowed to extend its strategic arm to the former Soviet republics.

Perhaps most significantly, India has set out on the path of economic and military cooperation with China - the only country that has gone to war besides Pakistan - and even gained informal concessions from Beijing on the long-standing issue of Sikkim.

Neighbourly obsession declines

The obsession with Pakistan seems like a nightmare now nearing its end. Defence Minister George Fernandes recently called our western neighbour too small a country to be a serious threat.

His words were echoed by Prime Minister Vajpayee, who declared at a meeting of the commanders of the armed forces that India's strategic interests now stretch out far and wide: "As we grow in international stature, our defence strategies should naturally reflect our political, economic and security concerns, extending well beyond the geographical confines of South Asia."

Growing economic stature is perhaps the biggest factor behind this new outlook. Several nations from across the globe as well as regional groupings like ASEAN and the European Union have lately sought partnerships and free trade agreements with India - the fourth largest economy in the world. Foreign direct investment has pushed the Sensex beyond the 5,000 points-mark. Such developments create their own security needs, and New Delhi looks like matching up to them.

The nation's armed forces are now modernising and being re-equipped with state-of-the-art combat and support hardware. They have a magnificent international record, and have been consistently participating in United Nations's peacekeeping efforts. The world's fourth largest economy spends less than three per cent of its GDP to maintainone of theworld's largest army and air force along side a sizable navy.

These are welcome signs. But New Delhi needs to maintain its resolve to run the full course of this race - that ends with a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council.

(Wing Commander NK Pant (Retd.), writes on International policy issues)

First Published: Nov 22, 2003 16:17 IST