Sunday, September 11, 2011

EDITORIAL: The Outpost Syndrome


 The Outpost Syndrome

The recent Chinese snooping incident in Andaman Sea has created much uproar among strategists and defence analysts. It is evident that India is not comfortable with the increasing clout of its big neighbour with Burma, Sri Lanka, Nepal and above all Pakistan.

In a recent meeting P Chidamabaram, Home Minister had expressed that the Government is aware of strategic importance of Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Lakshadweep and is taking steps to enhance security in the two Union Territories.

Security of the country is non-negotiable. There can't two opinions about that. Having said that, one must admit that development of the Islands should not be hindered citing security reasons.  There is always a fear that the defence forces have become an impediment in the development of the Islands. For effective discharge of any duties, the armed forces need the whole hearted support and goodwill of the civilian population. Unless the matter is handled with utmost care and sensitivity, the end result might be disastrous.  

A couple of years back, Shyam Saran, a special envoy of PM in a seminar had made an observation that the political reality of India controlling these islands, gives it an extraordinary reach into its eastern neighbourhood and therefore, significant foreign policy leverage If we were to develop the potential of these islands as one of India's significant trading, shipping and tourist hubs, if we were to position them also as the regional hub of a Bay of Bengal community, then obviously, infrastructure would improve and economic activities would multiply across sectors. With valuable economic assets having been created and the centrality of the islands in our Look East policy having been established, there would be greater willingness to invest in ensuring the security of the islands and the seas around them. There would be a clear and significant stake in doing so. Thus, security would go hand in hand with economic prosperity. And this is what we need to appreciate and understand - that in today's world, national security is as much a function of economic dynamism and prosperity as it is of creating military assets. Both must go hand in hand.

Indian government needs to realize the island's potential through a more comprehensive perspective, overcoming the military and civilian divide and develop it as a hub of economic activity. As of now, the Islands command only episodic attention from decision makers and certainly only limited claim on budgetary resources. We need to be in the national mainstream to be on national agenda. It's high time GoI sheds the image of the islands as an "outpost" and concentrates on its development at par with its national counterparts.

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