Entering 2014, the year that will see the hosting here of the Third India-Africa Forum Summit, the focus will be on the key element of maritime security cooperation between the neighbours separated by the Indian Ocean, the key waterway for trade between the West and the East.
Besides India’s growing economic engagement with Africa, maritime security and naval capability are of crucial importance for a globalizing India increasingly dependent on external markets and natural resources, as well as on global employment opportunities.
Pointing to this global context, where India is an emerging power, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told a conference of Indian Navy commanders that “as we strive to realize our due place in the comity of nations..it goes without saying that the realization of our goal lies in widening, deepening and expanding our interaction with all our economic partners, with all our neighbours, with all major powers.”
The Indian Ocean region is home to more than a quarter of the world’s population, and its waterways carry half of the world’s cargo ships and two-thirds of the world’s oil shipments.
India has, in recent years, sought to expand its sphere of influence in the western Indian Ocean facing the coast of eastern Africa, with the primary driver of the maritime security initiative being the operations to tackle piracy off Somalia. The Indian Navy’s efforts in the region has borne fruit in the maritime cooperation with island nations like Mauritius and Seychelles, besides significant initiatives involving some continental countries.
“On the premise that the Indian Ocean is a natural area for us, the entire African coast facing us is important. In fact, island countries like Mauritius and Seychelles are absolutely vital for us,” Arvind Gupta, director-general of the defence ministry-funded think-tank Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA), told IANS.
As an instance of maritime cooperation, he pointed out that India had sent a naval ship to Mozambique to provide security for the 2003 African Union summit in capital, Maputo. This was followed by India’s despatch of two patrol boats for assisting in security during a World Economic Forum, leading to the signing of the 2006 MoU by which the Indian Navy engages in regular patrolling off the Mozambique coast.
IANS had earlier reported on the naval cooperation with Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa, to combat the threat posed by piracy off the coast of Somalia.
By a 2003 accord between India and Mauritius, the Indian Navy has patrolled the island’s exclusive economic zone.
“We have to tell Africans about what our policy is on the Indian Ocean, we need to have a strategic dialogue,” Gupta noted.
The second India Africa Forum Summit (IAFS) in Addis Ababa in May 2011 emphasised the renewed focus of India to strengthen and enhance its partnership with countries in the African continent
Greater economic engagement has also been crucial for boosting ties between Africa and India. India’s trade with Africa amounted to $68 billion in 2011-12. At the third India-Africa Trade Ministers’ meeting last year, the trade target was set at $100 billion for 2015.
The international security communities currently engaged in addressing the issue of maritime insecurity in the region are the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) that includes naval representatives from the littoral states, and the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC), the chair of which was handed over by India to Australia at its Perth meeting last October.
Pointing out that India is situated astride one of the busiest sea-lanes of the world, Manmohan Singh has said the country is well positioned to become a net provider of security and stability in the Indian Ocean region and beyond.
“We have also sought to assume our responsibility for stability in the Indian Ocean region. We are well positioned to become a net provider of security in our immediate region and beyond,” he has said.
Since the India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) formation, three IBSAMAR joint naval exercises have been conducted off the South African coast till date.