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Army for larger overseas role

New Delhi, April 17: Senior army commanders are making a case for increased participation in “interactive meets” with armies of different countries even outside the UN banner. The commanders are meeting in a conference — the first of two to be held this year — chaired by army chief General Joginder Jaswant Singh.

The discussion follows remarks by defence minister A.K. Antony during the inaugural of the five-day conference yesterday. Antony said: “There is an increase in the involvement of armed forces — not necessarily under the aegis of the UN — in resolving ongoing conflicts and defusing international tensions.”

Army sources said today that the generals were studying involvement in UN peace operations. In the last year, India has increased its contribution of troops to the peace operations. Currently, nearly 8,000 Indian troops are serving with the UN in 10 different missions.

India’s contribution to international military missions for the UN has also attracted the attention of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) that is involved in “stabilisation” operations in Afghanistan and in the Balkans. Nato officials had said in their headquarters in Brussels last year that they had held at least two informal briefings with Indian diplomats.

Antony’s remarks at the commanders’ conference also signals to the army that it can actually recommend to the government ways to increase its presence overseas. “India’s enhanced stature will demand that it plays a role commensurate to its stature, potential and aspirations,” the defence minister told the generals. “It cannot be over-emphasised that our strategic interests extend far beyond the South Asian region.”

India’s interests in Africa, in particular, where most of its UN troops are serving, run deep.

India has sensitivites in Uganda — where Indians have been targeted in riots earlier this week — in Sudan, where it is involved in oil exploration, and in Ethiopia where piracy has been threatening Indian ships.

The discussions in the conference aimed at evolving a “strategy towards an integrated approach to peacekeeping operations”.

The Framework for Defence Co-operation Agreement signed with the US in 2005 also makes room for a discussion on deployment of Indian troops overseas alongside US troops “in mutual interest”.

Discussions in the conference in the last two days have also covered the need to procure night vision devices for troops in larger quantities, upgrading air defence artillery and helicopters for the Army Aviation Corps.

The commanders noted that the air defence artillery is still banking on outdated guns and old surface-to-air missiles.

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