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PM plays an open game

New Delhi, Oct. 20: Manmohan Singh today outlined a security strategy shaped by an aspiration for “open societies and open economies” in South Asia.

The Prime Minister was addressing senior commanders of the armed forces.

In the context of the dialogue with Islamabad and the move to create openings in the Line of Control, Singh was nudging a crucial component of the security establishment to abandon rigidities of the past.

“I do believe it is in our national security interest to ensure that our neighbours evolve as viable states with moderate and stable political and social environment and a robust economy. There is a role for diplomacy and for civil society in influencing this process. South Asia must be home to open societies and open economies.

“Political pluralism and moderation can stabilise our security environment,” the Prime Minister told senior commanders of the army, navy and the air force.

“The security challenge facing India is diverse, complex and evolving. That is to be expected, given our size, our location, our historical legacy and, increasingly, our expected role in the emerging multi-polar world,” he said.

The combined commanders’ conference has often been used by the political leadership to enthuse the armed forces by being sharply critical of recalcitrant neighbours. In a departure, Singh told the military command that the armed forces should increasingly cast themselves in the role of instruments of peace.

To illustrate peaceful military engagement, the Prime Minister cited examples of the Indian armed forces’ role in aiding neighbouring countries during natural disasters like the tsunami and in protecting economic links that are internationally important.

He asked the navy to expand its capability to protect sea-lanes of communication and the armed forces to enhance disaster management abilities.

Singh said there were dire forecasts of natural disasters in the region and the demands on the armed forces would increase. “We must, therefore, engage in scenario building and in disaster management, gaming to prepare for all eventualities.”

Widening and deepening international engagement with as many countries as possible was the central theme of the Prime Minister’s address. Even if the US was the dominant economic, military, technological and cultural power, he anticipated that the European Union, Russia, China, Japan and India to consolidate themselves in global roles.

India should now “evolve a new paradigm of security cooperation relevant to an emerging multi-polar world in which global threats obtain global responses”, he said. This demanded “friendly, interactive relations” with as many powers as possible.

The armed forces will need to participate in such interaction through weapon and equipment acquisition, joint development of systems and evolution of defence doctrines, the Prime Minister said.

The “new security paradigm”, he added, was premised on the belief that an effective rule-based order had not yet evolved to tackle global security threats, such as terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

Singh said a national defence university would be established shortly. “However, we still need fresh thinking on how best to improve training and to address the shortfall in recruitment of officers in the services.”

The Prime Minister also urged defence planners to be more attentive to service-related issues of personnel and gave the assurance that funds would be available to buy modern equipment.

Singh lavished praise on the armed forces for their role in giving relief to victims of natural calamities.

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