Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Indian Military Bases Abroad Redux : New Facts and Context

This note is an addition to the post titled, "Indian Military Bases Abroad : An Introductory Critique". While searching online with regard to my Ph.D thesis, I discovered a new source on the 'alleged' Indian Military Base in Tajikistan. The story appeared in The Guardian and it cites Jane's Defence Weekly as the source of the story.

In short this is what the Guardian piece by Nick Paton Walsh says:

1.India to open base this year i.e. 2006.

The Times of India story the last post used as primer says, "...India is preparing to deploy..." and we are now in August 2007.

2.The IAF is to station up to two squadrons of MiG-29s at former Soviet airbase of Farkhor, more than 60 miles from the Tajik capital of Dushanbe. The article cites an Indian source that a control tower is already in place.

The TOI mentioned Ayni military air field, 20 kilometers (12 miles) west of the country's capital, Dushanbe. More confusion is in place as the TOI story mentions...one squadron of Mi-17 helicopters. The two squadrons of MiG-29's mentioned by the Guardian article appears rather provocative in my humble opinion. Also are the two articles talking of different bases?

3.Tajik officials would not comment on the reports. Igor Sattorov, spokesman for the Tajik foreign ministry, said: "I can neither deny nor confirm this information. Let's be cautious about this."

The sources (Global Security) cited in the earlier post contained references in which the Tajik government denied such an issue. This above reaction is more open ended especially the 'let's be cautious'part of it.

Central Asia's importance lies in its geo-political location and energy resources. A power resident in the Central Asian region can have easy access to perhaps all of the Asian land mass (Refer to map above). A campaign to its north-west gives way to peripheral Russian territory, moving north-east to the troubled province of Sinkiang and a little southerly to Tibet in China, a southward movement encompasses the South Asian region and a South-western one to Iran. Such is the centrality of Central Asia to the entire Asian continent and history is testimony to that. From the 'Aryan' invaders who swept into the Indo-Gangetic plain in ancient times, the Mongol hordes who decimated everything from China-Europe and all that lay in between, to the Russian expansion during the Great Game, central Asia remains one of the key areas of future contestation. The high politics in Central Asia in our time has been called the new Great Game with the great powers of the world clamoring for influence. The Russians owe their presence to the fact that this region was part of the Tsarist Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. The Chinese used their increasing military power and economic growth to charter a regional institution called the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) to worm their way in while the United States used the pretext of the 'war on terror' to militarily place itself in this Asian underbelly.

Energy resources of the region is one important explanation. The other reason is to deny the Central Asian states to other powers. So far the SCO has been the most successful in collating regional energies for 'common good' and the Chinese call the shots in the SCO with the Russians acting as a poorer-junior partner and their influence waning with time. It is in such a context that the Indian Military base should be seen. Domestic order in the Central Asian states are sensitive with forces of separatism, ethnic rivalry, religious fundamentalism and terrorism laying claim to the key problems. Regime legitimacy and state power contested. In short, Central Asia appears to be a high valued area ripe for future struggles driven by energy hungry economies jockeying for influence and power.

Now to respond to Omair's comment from the previous post.

1. Nehru's strategy was misplaced in one crucial regard: hard power is important.

This was merely a matter of time. At the time of independence, India had bigger realities gripping it rather than a drive for hard power. One can term the lack of preparedness during the 1962 war as a definite neglect and also concede that Nehru was a pacifist (compared to say Chou En Lai, a good person to compare with, but Chou had Mao [Power flows out of the barrel of a gun.] as the leader.) and did not lay much credit at hard power. But Nehru was not a pacifist like Gandhi, he merely accorded lower priority to military power. Secondly, a lot of revisionist studies on his foreign policy also point out that Nehru was masking his realism in his idealist prescriptions knowing that India was not high on that aspect and thereby trying to buy time while garnering diplomatic space for India through the moral rhetoric strategy.

2. On Naval exercises with ASEAN nations and the tsunami relief.

This is a well made point. In fact anecdotes have it that Clinton sat with Bush to figure out where the islands of Andaman and Nicobar lay and both were supposed to have freaked out looking at the strategic reach that its geo-strategic location gives India into the South East Asian waters.

3. Unsuccessful in operationalising the good image.

My view on this is India has to be patient and bid for the right moment. Soft influence through health care, education and infrastructure building should suffice. India is not in the danger of imperial over-stretch but nevertheless when its 'neighbourhood' is not secure, planting flags in the 'extended neighbourhood' looks outlandish and a folly to avoid.

Notes. Jane's Defense is not available online so The Guardian citation could not be confirmed

1 comment:

Omair said...

1. You're being far too easy on Nehru. Foreign policy was in his hands, by his choice. He should have had had the military statistics in his hands. Instead he appointed Krishna Menon as Defence Minister, who appointed some loser as Chief of Staff. This was a direct outcome of Nehru's carelessness. I appreciate that Defence was a lower priority, but not so much that you send troops in canvas sneakers to fight in the Himalayas. Are the troops less important than other Indian citizens?

2. About operationalising our image, I meant trade and extended links with Central Asian countries, not military outreach. We need the money, they like us, they need our products, why the hell aren't there ten thousand people trading? Of course there are problems, but what kind of idiot government passes up such an opportunity?

3. Don't underestimate Russia in the SCO. It isn't a poorer partner, or less of one.