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India : Enhancing Regional Engagement
|by Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle|
Over the years, India's security policy has been denoted as that of cooperative security through, 'a pluralistic security order' which accommodates 'polycentric security order' catering for the diversity of ASEAN. The strategy is seen to manifest in the form of participation in regional dialogue through the mechanism of the ASEAN Regional Forum which accommodates a large group of countries.
India considers Southeast Asia as the start point of the Look East policy as per the External Affairs Minister Mr. Pranab Mukherjee speaking during the key note address of the 9th Asian Security Conference focused on South East Asia at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. The drivers to this policy were states as, 'ASEAN's economic, political and strategic importance in the Asia-Pacific region and its potential to become a major partner of India in trade and investment'. The External Affairs Minister appreciated that India's role as a stabilizing factor in the region through, 'restraint, our economic dynamism and potential, the history of our civilisational engagement and our role as a firewall against destabilizing ideas and influences' was being increasingly accepted.
ASEAN is also seen as a bridge between India and the Far Eastern region as well as East Asia. The critical sea lanes linking these states with ASEAN also results in greater significance of this area. Thus ASEAN is seen to facilitate links with China, Japan, Republic of Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Pacific Island States. The trade dynamics of the Look East policy is evident with volume generated thus, 'Since 1990, when our Look East Policy was initiated, our trade with countries of the region has grown from US $ 8.1 billion to US $ 67.5 billion and the share of trade with these countries in our global trade has increased from 19.4% to 28.2%.' The Indian government has made a substantial suggestion to foster better ties through a Pan Asian Free Trade Arrangement on the lines of the EU and the NAFTA.
The security perspective is highlighted by common interest in peace and stability as per the External Affairs Minister and the need to ensure security of the sea lines of communication. With the Malacca Straits and ASEAN waters teeming with a large number of piracy and crime networks an emphasis on this facet was necessary. However not many initiatives are being taken by India though China and other nations are undertaking joint exercises with the United States navy. The other issues of concern were indicated as border security, maritime security, counter terrorism and energy security. While contours of the policy are sound measures other than liberalization of trade being undertaken through the Look East policy are not yet evident. Greater soft power initiatives should be undertaken by the Government. These need to be constantly evaluated rather than assessing Indo ASEAN relations only through a prism of value of trade.
The other factor of non traditional threats were also underlined by the Defence minister to include terrorism which was assuming novel and technological dimensions and possible access to Weapons of Mass Destruction which is seen as the single largest threat to global security in the times ahead. Given the nature of South East Asian geography, the threat of sea piracy and security of maritime trade also came up for deliberation. The key to this is security of the Malacca straits where a super terrorism strike would cripple the large quantum of trade passing through the critical maritime defile. Drug trafficking and illegal trade in small arms was said to enhance the demands on security establishments of these states while epidemics and natural disasters formed another dimension. The need for sharing resources of the littoral states was said to be the answer.
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