"We must reciprocate these countries' desire to enhance cooperation with us"
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday underscored the gradual shift of economic and political power to Asia and asserted that greater attention would have to be paid to the entire Asia-Pacific region.
“The Asia-Pacific region, including South-East Asia, needs much more attention by us, and this must seep into our defence and foreign policy planning as never before. There is a palpable desire on the part of the countries of this region to enhance cooperation with us, which we must reciprocate,” Dr. Singh told the Annual Combined Commanders conference here.
Without mentioning any country, he said some of the country's toughest challenges lay in its immediate neighbourhood. The nation cannot realise its growth ambitions without ensuring peace and stability in South Asia.
Dr. Singh talked of the countries in the Gulf, West Asia and Central Asia as India's “natural partners.” The country had tangible interests in these regions, with energy security being one of the most important ones.While it took pride in preserving its strategic autonomy, it had to sustain a growth rate of 9-10 per cent. It also required foreign capital inflow, modern technology and access to markets of the advanced economies.
“For all this, we need to maintain healthy relations with all major powers,” he said.
As the economy grew and the country expanded its technological capabilities, it must set higher standards for the modernisation of the defence forces, not just by keeping pace with change but by being ahead of the technology curve.
Defence Minister A.K. Antony said New Delhi could not lose sight of the fact that Beijing was improving its military and physical infrastructure.
“We are taking all necessary steps to upgrade our capabilities. We have never linked our capacity to counter any nation,” he said. India wanted to develop friendly relations with China and that both countries had an equal stake in maintaining peace and ensuring development. Both the geo-political situation and the history and geography posed a unique challenge.
In an obvious reference to Pakistan, he said one of the challenges emanated from India's neighbour, who “continues to dwell in the past and is keen on fomenting threats to our national integrity.”
Both Dr. Singh and Mr. Antony mentioned the Maoist problem among other internal security challenges that needed focussed attention. Dr. Singh reiterated that Naxalism was a serious challenge to internal security.
“We will do all that is necessary to protect each and every citizen of our country and deal firmly with those who resort to violence. This is a collective task involving the Centre and the States,” he said.