(This Article is originally published by Economic times)
India’s dominant position at the geographical centre of the Indian Ocean as well as its robust economy and global standing as an upholder of law and democratic values placed it in a firm position to play a vital role in the quest for peace and stability in the region, Vice Chief of Army Staff Lt Gen SK Saini said on Friday.
In an address at a military think-tank, he said India believes that adherence to rule of law, transparency, respect for all nations and peaceful resolution of disputes are non-negotiable aspects to harness the vast potential of Indian Ocean.
His comments came amid growing global concerns over China’s increasing military muscle-flexing in the Indian Ocean, a region that is critical for India’s strategic interests.
The Vice Chief of Army staff SK Saini cautioned that the increasing interest of “extra regional forces” and the existing challenges of piracy, human trafficking, illegal fishing have all made the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) volatile and a potential “global battlefield”.
India has significantly expanded its deployment of warships and submarines in the Indian Ocean Region in the last few months following its border standoff with China in eastern Ladakh, ostensibly to send across a message to Beijing.
Lt Gen SK Saini identified preserving and facilitating the freedom of navigation in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) as among key challenges, adding inadequate arrangements for equitable and peaceful harnessing of natural resources were also important aspect of the overall scenario.
“These concerns have been further accentuated by unilateral actions by some of the nations which have not only questioned the rights of the IOR nations to utilise their exclusive economic zones but have also challenged their sovereignty over some of the strategically located Islands itself,” he said.
In his address at the Centre for Joint Warfare Studies (CENJOWS), the Vice Chief of Army Staff said such actions to change the “well-established equilibrium” has resulted in “immense turbulence and an intense superpower rivalry” in the region.
“India’s dominant position at the geographical centre of the IOR, a robust economy and a global standing as an upholder of law and democratic values, places it well to play a vital role in the quest for peace and stability in the region,” he said.
Lt Gen SK Saini said India has been increasingly engaging with all nations of the IOR and its outreach towards the East through the doctrine of SAGAR or ‘Security and Growth for All’ has been a pillar of its overarching foreign policy.
“India recognises and believes that to harness the vast potential of the Indian Ocean for economic development, adherence to rule of law, transparency, respect for all nations and peaceful resolution of disputes will be inviolate and non-negotiable aspects,” he said.
“It would be appropriate to say that our role as a net security provider in the region is now a strategic obligation and no longer a matter of choice. India, therefore, requires to formulate a well defined IOR strategy and follow a robust capability development road map to live up to its potential in this region,” he said.
Lt Gen Saini said the unfolding diplomacy in the IOR is a clear indicator that the world powers want to forge partnerships with India to ensure peace and development in the region.
The Vice Chief of Army Staff reiterated that the geographical factors coupled with the slow and steady shift of power from the West to the East, have resulted in the IOR becoming a hub of global geopolitical rivalry.
The discussion was organised to get the defence forces, Indian industry, entrepreneurs and other stakeholders into a common platform in order to understand the complexities of changing dynamics in the Indian Ocean Region and to evolve coherent policies to address the future challenges.