NEW DELHI: India is continuing to strengthen its military diplomacy as it seeks to entrench its role as a regional net security provider.
The Indian Navy has just completed bilateral exercises with Australia and Vietnam. These will add to the impact the regular exercises the army and air force hold with the armed forces of other nations.
Indian warships have also been engaging with those of other countries and also extending assistance to some countries even as the fallout of the 14 February Pulwama suicide attack and India’s air strike on Balakot inside Pakistan’s Khyber Paktunkhwa province continue to dominate India’s military sphere.
Indian warships have visited the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Aden, Seychelles and the Maldives.
Indian warships also offered humanitarian assistance to Mozambique, which was ravaged by Cyclone Idai, according to people familiar with the developments. Three Indian naval ships were among the first responders, arriving in the central Mozambican port city of Beira and taking part in relief operations. A fourth Indian Navy ship, INS Magar, which reached Beira on 13 April, delivered 250 tonnes of rice and 500kg of epidemic medicines, the Indian foreign ministry said earlier this week.
“What this does is to establish India’s credentials as a net security provider in the Indo-Pacific region," said one of the people mentioned above.
“The message that is conveyed (by the Indian Navy) is: ‘we are out there, present to provide the help that is required and we are also there to provide security to shipping lanes in the region," said the person recalling instances of pirates hijacking commercial vessels off the Somalia coast a decade ago. “That situation (of rampant piracy) does not exist any more," the person said.
The presence of Indian Navy ships underlines “India’s vision of Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) and assures order in the maritime domain besides solidarity with friendly countries," the person said.
India has been patrolling the Malacca Straits along with friendly navies in the region. However, Indian naval diplomacy has intensified in the past two years with active government support, bolstering the country’s “Act East" and Indo-Pacific policies, the second person said.
To the East, an Indian naval ship has been on a so-called “flag-showing" mission to Bangladesh. Two other ships were part of a second bilateral maritime exercise with the Vietnamese Navy off Cam Ranh Bay, which ended on Tuesday, the Indian Navy said on Wednesday. This was in continuation of an exercise in May in Da Nang, in central Vietnam, off the South China Sea. “The exercise was undertaken as a part of the ongoing overseas deployment of Eastern Fleet ships to South-East Asian countries," the Navy said. The exercise included submarine, aviation and dockyard training, it said.
The conclusion of the India-Vietnam naval exercises come just a few days after India and Australia concluded their third biennial naval exercise, AUSINDEX, off India’s east coast, in an initiative that is seen as a sign of India’s increasing outreach to important naval powers in the Indo-Pacific region. The focus of the exercise was on anti-submarine warfare with a several assets of the navies of both nations participating.
Naval chief Sunil Lanba was also on a visit to Thailand this week, reinforcing India’s “Act East" policy. The visit comes amid reports of Bangkok considering the construction of the Kra Canal that could provide an alternative to the overcrowded Malacca Straits, which is seen as the world’s busiest maritime lane.
Should the canal be constructed, traffic would move to and fro through India’s Andaman Sea, past India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which are home to India’s strategic tri-service command.