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Antony ‘explains’ military relations to Left

Gwalior, Aug. 25: India will keep all its military relations “bilateral” and not “multilateral”, defence minister A.K. Antony is “explaining” to the Left to allay fears that its defence posture was shifting in favour of US-led coalitions.

The Centre was also trying to convince the Left that the joint naval exercises with the US, Australia, Japan and Singapore in September were not a signal that India was getting into a “military alignment”.

Antony, who is also a member of the Congress core group that is engaging the Left in talks since it voiced its dissent on the civilian nuclear deal and India’s strategic relationships, claimed that the deeper engagements with the US were not the outcome of a new policy but the continuation of past practice.

The defence minister was in Gwalior today to visit a major Indian Air Force establishment. His visit turned into a stage for the military establishment to put its views across after the Left said it was opposed not only to the civilian nuclear deal but also to the strategic equation that the Centre was allegedly changing in favour of the US.

The defence minister wanted the Left to note that India was engaging China in military-to-military relationships. Small contingents of the armies of the two countries would hold a joint exercise for the first time in November this year, two months after the multi-nation naval exercise in the Bay of Bengal from September 4 to 9.

Antony was responding to a question on the government’s response to the Left’s concerns that India’s military was being steadily blooded into an alliance with pro-US nations in the Indian Ocean region that are collectively dubbed the “Asian Nato”, a phrase that loosely described a nascent anti-China club.

The multi-nation naval exercise (Malabar 07-02), against which the Left was mobilising protest rallies, will not lead to India joining a “military alliance” of any kind, the Centre is telling the Left in talks about the strategic relationships that it is forging. India has been pursuing international military engagements since 1992. Since then, almost every political party has been in power at the Centre, he pointed out.

Antony repeatedly said the government was “explaining” and “clarifying” its position to the Left. “Our international engagements enhance the capabilities of our armed forces and they are not directed against any single country.”

The defence minister said there was no opposition to India’s military cooperation activity. “We have exercises and defence cooperation with almost every country. India has become more important. The real thing is there is a recognition of Indian capabilities internationally. I don’t think anybody will say ‘scratch (scrap) all your defence cooperation agreements’. Whatever the concerns are, we will explain,” he said.

The defence minister did not say whether China had voiced concerns on the Malabar drill. But, on Friday, minister of state for defence M.M. Pallam Raju said: “We have assured China that the exercise is only meant to secure the sea lines of communication.”

Antony said he would be visiting Russia next month. Russia was the only country with which India had an inter-governmental committee on defence cooperation.

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