India is now stepping-up efforts for a concrete military outreach to Africa after a diplomatic one to counter the deep strategic inroads made by China in the world’s second largest continent, even as the two Asian rivals continue with their shadow-boxing for influence in the Indian Ocean Region.
India will conduct an “India-Africa Field Training Exercise (IAFTX)” in Pune from March 18 to 27 next year, which will see the participation of over a dozen countries ranging from Tanzania and Kenya to Ghana and South Africa, said defence ministry sources on Wednesday.
“Though Indian armed forces do train some military personnel from a few African nations, the IAFTX will be the first-ever such exercise with several armies from Africa. The initial planning conference for IAFTX was held a few days ago, with the final one slated for end-January,” said a source.
Interestingly, Army chief General Bipin Rawat is also slated to visit Tanzania and Kenya from December 17 to 20 to bolster defence cooperation. As part of its overall policy, India has also been holding defence cooperation talks with countries like Botswana, Egypt, Kenya, Lesotho, Mozambique, Morocco, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia as well, say sources.
The defence engagement with South Africa is, of course, at a much higher level. Warships and aircraft from India, South Africa and Brazil, for instance, held the sixth edition of the IBSAMAR naval exercise off Simons Town in October.
“But India has not conducted any bilateral or multi-lateral exercise with other African nations like IAFTX despite long-standing ties with them,” said the source. The exercise will involve “humanitarian mine action” (de-mining and other protocols to handle landmines and explosives) and peace-keeping operations, in which India has decades of expertise, among other areas.
The IAFTX endeavor, incidentally, comes at a time when India is wrapping up a hectic military diplomacy year, which saw it conducting exercises with all the P-5 countries (US, Russia, China, France and UK), apart from other powerhouses like Australia, Japan, South Africa and Brazil as well as Asean countries like Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand, as was earlier reported by TOI.
But India, much like in the IOR, simply does not have the deep pockets like China for a massive economic and military engagement with Africa. Backed by its multibillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative, which even has the US and Europe worried, China has fast expanded its footprint in Africa as the “New Great Game” plays out in the continent known for its minerals and other raw commodities.
China in July, incidentally, had dismissed any new Sino-Indian rivalry in Africa, stressing the two Asian giants were on the same page in their efforts to assist the countries there. This had come soon after both President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi had visited Rwanda, one after the other, while heading for the BRICS summit in South Africa.