NEW DELHI :
India on Thursday signaled its readiness to become a security partner of choice for African countries with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh offering to provide offshore patrol vessels, interceptor boats and unmanned aerial vehicles besides Dornier maritime surveillance aircraft against the backdrop of China setting up military bases on the continent.
At the first meeting of the India-Africa Defence Ministers’ meet on the sidelines of the 11th Defence Expo in Lucknow, Singh said the India-Africa security partnership would be one guided by African priorities.
“More specifically on the defence cooperation, these include strengthening cooperation and mutual capabilities in combating terrorism and extremism, keeping our cyberspace safe and secure and supporting the UN in advancing and keeping peace," Singh said according to a defence ministry statement. A dozen defence ministers and delegations from countries were present at the India-Africa Defence Ministers' Conclave that comes as India has set itself a target to export $5 billion in military hardware in the next five years.
“India is geared up to provide Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs), Fast Interceptor Boats, body and vehicle armour, Night Vision Goggles (NVGs), Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), Dornier aircraft, and arms and ammunition to our African counterparts," Singh said.
The India-Africa defence ministers’ conclave comes in the run-up to the fourth India-Africa Summit that India is expected to host later this year. India hosted the first India-Africa Summit in New Delhi in 2008 to refashion its ties with the continent given the deep inroads made by China and countries like South Korea.
Other events that India is organising ahead of the Summit include an India-Africa Agriculture Ministers’ meet and the annual CII-Exim Bank Conclave. A senior Indian foreign ministry official T.S. Tirumurthy is currently in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa for discussions with the African Union officials for the upcoming India-Africa Summit.
India’s security relations with Africa have previously centered on providing training to African service personnel and Indian participation in United Nations peacekeeping efforts. Of late, however, New Delhi has been looking to enhance cooperation with countries in the Indian Ocean region including those on the east coast of Africa to build up their capabilities in the area of combating piracy and poaching. India has also built up its credentials as the first responder as in times of crisis in the Indian Ocean region. Last week, New Delhi diverted an amphibious warfare vessel INS Airavat to Madagascar in the Indian Ocean region to help in rescue efforts after the island nation was hit by a cyclone. Such operations help India to demonstrate its capabilities as a ‘net security provider’ in the Indian Ocean given that humanitarian and disaster relief operations serve the purpose of projecting power in a benign way, say analysts.
A joint statement released at the end of the India-Africa Defence Ministers’ meet said India and African countries “agree to further strengthen our cooperation in enhancing peacekeeping capacity and peacebuilding efforts including support to the African Standby Force (ASF) and through courses, such as those at the centre for UN Peacekeeping (CUNPK) in New Delhi."
“We agree to continue to collaborate in peace and security through exchange of experts and expertise, training programs and capacity building, enhance support towards peacekeeping and post conflict reconstruction in Africa," the statement said.
“We call for deeper cooperation in the domain of defence industry including through investment, joint ventures in defence equipment software, digital defence, research and development, provisioning of defence equipment, spares and their maintenance on sustainable and mutually beneficial terms," it said.
“We recognise the common security challenges such as terrorism and extremism, piracy, organised crime including human trafficking, drug trafficking, weapon smuggling and others and we agree to collaborate to tackle them together," it added.