Peace and Conflict Monitor

India as Superpower?
Anurag Gangal
July 12, 2006
India’s quest for security appears to be expanding beyond her own borders on a global scale. Can it be regarded as a welcome prospective trend? India’s upcoming military base in Central Asia may as well be an exercise in sharing United States security concerns around the world. Beginning is apparently being made at oil rich Tajikistan. Is India looking forward to be a superpower in another decade’s time? Is India changing her policy of peaceful co-existence? All these are pointers worth considering. India is already playing a predominant role in the South Asian context. Where will this new road to security end for India?

India is now surging ahead to become another military superpower by 2015. Indian Air Force has already erected a control tower near Dushanbe in Tajikistan. The Guardian reports, “India is to open its first overseas military base this year in the impoverished Central Asian country of Tajikistan -- a testament to its emerging status on the world stage. The Indian air force will further station up to two squadrons of MiG-29s at the refurbished former Soviet airbase of Farkhor more than 60 miles from the Tajik capital of Dushanbe, Jane's Defence Weekly said, citing defence officials.” This shows clear strengthening of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s policy of widening India’s global reach economically, politically, militarily and culturally in South Asia, South West Asia, South East Asia and Central Asia in particular and the world in general.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s wide-spectrum visits from 29 July 2004 - 26 May 2006 to Uzbekistan, Bangkok, New York, London, Hague for India European Union Summit, Laos for ASEAN Summit, Mauritius, Jakarta for Asia-Africa Summit, Moscow, Gleneagles G-8 Summit, Washington, Afghanistan, France, United Nations General Assembly, Dhaka for SAARC Summit, Kuala Lampur for India-ASEAN Summit, Germany, and France signify India’s changing dynamics of her quest for security in the international arena. 

The most important aspects in this matter are India’s oil, gas pipeline and security perspectives vis-à-vis the Central Asian countries specially Tajikistan where India is seriously engaged in developing her first ever military and air force base since 1997. Tajikistan and Uzbekistan also have the potential to fulfil India’s current oil needs of about 1.9 million barrels a day to a great extent. This need for oil is going to rise further in the coming years to four million barrels a day.

Indeed, India has joined United States (US), Russia and Germany in the Central Asian “Big Game”. The question here is: Whether India has to compete for superiority with other countries in the region? It does not appear to be the case. It seems India is sharing the global burden with US, Russia and European nations.  It is in the aftermath of Osama’s attack on the New York Trade Centre that US has taken an about turn in coming ever more closer to India than earlier.

Just see the US perspective involved here. American active military presence is already there in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan. India is now strengthening her military base in Tajikistan! Russia is also similarly there in Uzbekistan with apparently massive military build up. As such, India, US and Russia are encircling the two erstwhile ipso facto “rouge” states of Afghanistan and Pakistan that were mainly responsible for helping widen the global terrorist network. West Asia – with Kuwait, Israel and Iraq in US fold -- is already being “treated” for its diversified terrorist involvement in the past.

India, in addition to serve her oil and trade scenarios, is scoring a great strategic and geo-political leverage over Pakistan and China both. This is obvious with her developing a military / air force base in Tajikistan. Every one is gaining in this ‘big Central Asian game’ with an exception of Pakistan, Iraq and Palestine. China, on the other hand, is assuaging Kazakhstan for trade, oil and security in this Big Game! The greatest loss in this Big Game will be suffered by the Central Asian countries in the long run as a result of multi-level involvement of powerful nations like US, Russia, Germany, China and India competing for superiority in the region.

India is perhaps the oldest and most experienced player engaged actively in the Central Asian region. Indo-Soviet (Russian) Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1971 – renewed after every twenty years period – is the glaring instance to prove this relationship. The military aspect of mutual help and immediate/periodic consultations was also always there in this treaty. It is upon the foundations of this treaty that India is moving further ahead with her plans of sharing the burden of America and Russia both in the Central Asian region. India is certainly better placed in Central Asia.

India’s quest for security in Central Asia is also at least as old as 1971 in the recent context. What Indira Gandhi visualised, Rajiv Gandhi pursued with special emphasis on strengthening India’s position in South Asia first. That is why India has been specially instrumental and active with regard to sending every type of help to Bangladesh, Maldives, Sri Lanka and others in South Asia especially since 1971. All this shows a subtle policy shift in India’s foreign policy during 1971.

This policy shift is now being expanded in league with United States and Germany in Central Asia. India is apparently no more a meek and merely peace monger harping upon the tune time and again from a position of military and economic weakness of 1960s. Special initiative in this direction in Central Asia was taken in 1997 when a fully equipped hospital was established by the Indian Government for treating the wounded soldiers in the Northern Alliance’s battle against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

All these trends show the visionary approach of the Indian political leadership working at the helm of affairs from tome to time. They have pursued the road to global power and strength for peace one after the other, on the one hand. While, on the other hand, the question of providing actual national security to India has also often been compromised by the national leadership. For instance, our diplomatic weakness anent China and Pakistan, the Kargil debacle and China’s continued predominance in the North-East Indian territory etcetera.

India is now having clearly expansionist strands in her foreign policy in her quest for security. This story had started in 1971 with the creation of Bangladesh during Indira Gandhi’s regime. Then it was Sikkim’s merger with India in 1975. This was followed by Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka and India’s secret armed Air Force SOS mission to Maldives during Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure. Indeed, our national boundaries are increasing. Our conceptual security needs, perception and territory are also widening with ever more shouldering of responsibilities in the international strategic mission. Is there an end to this quest for national security? Only time will tell.

Anurag Gangal, is Director, Gandhian Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (GCPCS), University of Jammu (ISO Certified), Jammu-180006,

Jammu and Kashmir, India.