India must protect its backyard
India must protect its backyard. Two Chinese submarines docking in Colombo finally woke up India from its slumber. It rang alarm bells in the corridors of power and strategic community and forced the government to take notice of the tentacles the Chinese were spreading over the Indian Ocean Region.
Indian Ocean is India’s backyard and the security of India depends on the security of the Ocean and the countries that are littoral of it
Two Chinese submarines docking in Colombo finally woke up India from its slumber. It rang alarm bells in the corridors of power and strategic community and forced the government to take notice of the tentacles the Chinese were spreading over the Indian Ocean Region. Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Mauritius, Seychelles and Sri Lanka is part of this “awakening”. India has now signed agreements to develop one island each in Seychelles and Mauritius.
The Island nations of Sri Lanka, Maldives, Mauritius, Seychelles, Madagascar have always been under Indian influence. The latter three islands have substantial Indian origin populations. Barring Madagascar, India has intervened militarily/covertly in all these countries. An unwritten “Monroe Doctrine” where India will not entertain any government that is not pro-India. India has not shied away from undertaking military operations in the Indian Ocean Region whenever its interests have been threatened.
Noted Chinese military leader Zhao Nanqi back in the 1990s said “We can no longer accept the Indian Ocean as an ocean only of the Indians.” Over the last few years, as Chinese economy boomed and its military capabilities expanded, it sought to challenge India in its backyard.
The theory of String of Pearls came into being in which China sought to encircle India through a series of investment in ports around India’s neighbors. China denied any such motives. China has now embarked on a new project to exercise influence in the Indian Ocean region by means of “Maritime Silk Route” which is nothing but rehashed String of Pearls.
India for most past of the last two decades has “Looked East” to increase trade and influence with the countries of ASEAN and neglected the Indian Ocean Islands. China has attempted to secure a military base in the Indian Ocean. Seychelles and Mauritius were ideal locations for it as 70% of its oil shipments pass the region and it is close to the US base of Diego Garcia. India has made sure this has not come to pass and the new deals with these two countries effectively shuts the door. India has also proposed a counter for the Maritime Silk Road with its own “Mausam” project reviving the old spice routes.
The countries of ASEAN have been looking at India to be a net security provider for it in the face of increasing Chinese aggression. As India develops the islands it has secured from Seychelles and Mauritius, it should look to convert this into a stronger military relation between India and both these countries. India should look to sign treaties with these countries to handle their defence just like we do for Bhutan. That Mauritius has 68% of its population of Indian descent and Seychelles about 10% will help. The affinity they have towards India was visible with the kind of reception PM Modi got from them. India can leverage this to create military alliance.
From East Asia to Eastern Africa, the threat of China is there and India with its growing economic and military power is looked upon as a source for security and stability. Even the US wants India to take up that role while it looks to concentrate on the Pacific Ocean and the Chinese threat there. India should look at having military bases in foreign countries, something it has been shy of. While India develops its naval assets of aircraft carriers, submarines and other surface combatants to project power across the region, it needs to develop a strategic doctrine for the Indian Ocean Region all the way to East China Sea.
Having a strong navy is only the means to achieve the strategic objectives. Otherwise it will be like soldiers sent on a mission without any specified objectives. Indian Ocean is India’s backyard and the security of India depends on the security of the Ocean and the countries that are littoral of it. India has to look to create strong military alliances with these countries to make the ocean India’s. We have made a new start with PM Modi’s visits to the Indian Ocean Islands. (http://defenceforumindia.com)