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Meet the World's Largest Weapons Importer

The Militarization of India

by YASMIN QURESHI

India is today the world’s largest importer of arms. These include fighter jet planes, missiles and radar systems for strategic partnerships and geo-political power. India is also investing in security and surveillance to combat foreign threats and resistance from its own people in places like the Kashmir valley, and the North East and tribal regions of Central India. This provides tremendous opportunity for multi-national corporations to sell and invest in India, a country marching ahead as an economic and military power.

A report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (SIPRI) March 14, 2011 revealed that India received 9 per cent of the volume of international arms transfers during 2006?10. The international consultancy firm KPMG estimates that India will sign military contracts worth $112 billion by 2016.

This year India increased annual defense spending by about 11.6 percent to $36 billion in order to modernize the armed forces to counter the military inflation and strategic threats posed by China’s rapidly expanding military capabilities..

In sharp contrast, allocation for agri culture and allied activities was reduced by 2 percent and allocation of non-plan expenditures on all social services declined by 14 percent from approximately $7.8 billion in 2009-10 to $6.6 billion for 2010-11. The World Bank estimates that 80% of India’s population lives on less than $2 a day, comparable to sub-Saharan Africa.

Corporate Diplomacy to Secure Arms Deals

With assistance from their governments, arms corporations in countries such as Russia, US, France, Britain, Sweden and Israel are competing to procure million and billion dollar deals with India.

Last year India saw an unprecedented series of diplomatic visits from head of states of nuclear and defense powers. Notably chief executives of major nuclear and defense corporations had escorted the head of states on their visits. British Prime Minister David Cameron’s visit to India in July was followed by US President Obama’s in November and by French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s in December.

A $779 million contract was signed for 57 BAE Systems Hawk advanced jet trainers for the Indian military during Cameron’s visit. Engine maker Rolls-Royce clinched a $280 million deal to supply engines for the jet trainers for the Indian air force and navy. Seven agreements in key areas such as defense, space and nuclear energy were signed during Sarkozy’s visit.

US President Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s visits in 2010 were also about strengthening economic and strategic partnerships. Twenty deals totaling nearly $10 billion dollars in U.S. exports were signed during the President’s visit. Following that visit, the US reformed its export control regime and removed key Indian defense and civil space entities from U.S. restricted lists to help boost high technology exports and allow for enhanced defense and space cooperation with India.

The close nexus of corporations and governments is evident from the resignation of Timothy J. Roemer as US Ambassador to India on April 28, 2011, soon after the announcement that two US corporations, Boeing and Lockheed Martin had lost the race for procuring a $10 billion contract to supply 126 fighter jets to the Indian Air Force. The US is still hopeful a four billion dollar sale of C17 aircraft will be finalized soon. French company Dassault’s Rafale and the Typhoon from the Eurofighter consortium (representing Germany and Spain, Britain’s BAE Systems and Italy’s Finmeccanica) have been shortlisted.

Speaking at the AmCham Annual General Meeting, New Delhi, then-US Ambassador to India, Timothy J. Roemer said, "On defense, one simply has to look at the growth in defense sales to see how close our two armed forces are becoming. We now have regular exercises across all services that are increasing in size and complexity as our militaries become more familiar with each other," he continued. In October 2009, about 1,000 military personnel from the Indian and US armies participated in one of the largest joint exercises between the two nations. US Stryker combat vehicles, high precision tank killers, and? the Javelin were paired against India’s Russian-made T-90 tanks.

The US and European countries are not the only ones building strategic alliances with India. In the last five years India has purchased arms worth nearly $5 billion from Israel, making it Israel’s largest arms buyer. The purchases include missiles, radars and drones. Since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1992, India and Israel have increased cooperation in military and intelligence ventures.

South Asia and the Indian Ocean

South Asia is emerging as an important region both economically and politically. President Obama shifted focus from Iraq to South Asia as soon as he took office in 2008. The strategic alliances in South Asia–with India, China, Pakistan and the US being the key players –are largely to secure control of fossil fuels, minerals, and other natural resources, and the infrastructure such as oil and gas pipelines and ports to import and export them.

The Indian Ocean, a pathway to international trade, is now looked on as part of the inner ring of India’s security environment , noted Teresita C. Schaffer in her paper, "Indian Ocean Geostrategic Environment" dated Februrary 2011. She is Senior Advisor with McLarty Associates, a former member of the U.S. Foreign Service and one of the State Department’s principal experts on South Asia.

Schaffer wrote, "India imports some 70 percent of its oil and gas, and some two-thirds of this travels through the Indian Ocean." She revealed that the Indian navy accounted for a relatively modest share of Indian military spending of about 18 percent in 2008 but has a significantly larger, 24 percent share of new procurements. Recent investments include Boeing’s P-8 Poseidon Anti Submarine Warfare/Maritime Surveillance Aircraft, Israeli UAVs and Scorpene submarines made by French and Spanish companies.

To counter the growing India-US strategic alliances, Pakistan and China are consistently collaborating on the Gwadar Region, a port in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, which is bordered on the northwest by Afghanistan and on the southwest by Iran. It is bound by the Persian Gulf in the west and the Gulf of Oman in the southwest.

The deep sea port is strategically located near the Straits of Hormuz, through which 80 percent of the world’s energy exports flow. The Gwadar port is vital to give China access to the sea for its western provinces. Given is proximity to Iran, the US considers Gwadar a potential military base. Indian security planners are concerned that it allows Chinese a safe passage to the Arabian Sea fearing it might become a naval outpost of China.

To counter Sino-Pak collaboration, India brought Afghanistan and Iran into an economic and strategic alliance. Iranians are already working on Chabahar port in Sistan-Baluchistan, which will be accessible for Indian imports and exports with road links to Afghanistan and Central Asia. India is helping build a 200-kilometer road that will connect Chabahar with Afghanistan. Once completed, Indians will use this access road to the port for their imports and exports to and from Central Asia.

More Focus on Internal Security and Surveillance

While many of the above deals and strategic alliances are geared towards India’s aspirations of being a global power competing with neighboring China, India also relies on armed forces to control many of its own people.

The insurgency in the Kashmir valley in the North and states of Manipur, Nagaland, Assam and Tripura in North-East and the war against the poor in the tribal regions of Central India to capture their mineral-rich land for corporate interests has resulted in increased use of the Armed Forces in Internal Security.

The Kashmir valley with more than 650, 000 military and para-military troops and the North-Eastern states are the most militarized zones in the world, . The military has not been called on to combat the insurgency in the tribal regions so far. Instead, India is relying on the para-military and police and the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) of more than 100,000 armed forces which normally protect government property and employees. These forces are deployed to guard the iron ore mining facilities of the National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC).

India is particularly edgy about this summer in the Kashmir valley and is gearing up for an expected 4th successive summer of massive people’s protests for the right to self determination. It fears that the Arab revolutions may result in more media attention on protests in the Kashmir valley’s this year, which would dent India’s image as the largest democracy in the world.

A new set of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) encouraging the use of non-lethal weapons for crowd control all across the country have been announced. The new non-lethal weapons include controversial Taser guns, pellets and pepper balls. The US-made Taser guns can discharge a nine-volt current that momentarily immobilizes a protester so that he can be taken into custody without causing any grievous hurt. The pepper balls can discharge highly irritating fumes that will force the mobs to disperse and the Pump Action Gun (PAG) will fire pellets at the protesters, with minimum chances of causing deaths. A recent report also announced India’s Special Forces are being equipped with Israeli-made Tavor Assault Rifles.

After taking over as the Home Minister of the Government of India after the November 26, 2008 terrorist strikes in India’s financial capital, Mumbai,
P.Chidambaram considerably revamped the counter-terrorism machinery and improved co-ordination on counter-terrorism with India, Israel and the US.

In 2009 India and Israel began a joint defense working group focused on counter-terrorism and intelligence sharing, delivery of weapons and enhancement of cooperation in research and development. A year earlier Indian military officials had visited Israel to discuss joint weapons development projects, additional sales of Israeli equipment to the Indian military, and counter-terrorism strategies.

Back in 2002 The Electronics Corporation of India Ltd (ECIL) signed an MOU with Israel’s GM Advanced Fencing and Security Technologies Ltd. (GMAFSTL) for undertaking projects on wide range of electronic & electric security fencing and security systems. ECIL-Rapiscan Ltd., a joint venture of ECIL and Rapiscan of USA, markets and executes the projects in India. The advanced electric perimeter protection system protects threats against airport and defense security installations.

Deccan Herald reported on March 1, 2011 that Israeli Ambassador to New Delhi, Mark Sofer told a group of Indian journalists he identified India and Israel as the two countries who viewed the world with very similar eyes at a luncheon hosted by the US-based Israel Project.’

"We often feel that some of the problems that we are facing are mutual to us both. This was felt by both of us in Mumbai atrocities of 2008," he said referring to the terrorist attacks by the Pakistan-based Lashkar -e-Toiba. "Also our society is free and democratic and perhaps (it is) an island in non-democratic oceans," he said, adding that Israel has one of its most dynamic relationships with India. Sofer cited experts to say that the Indo-Israel trade will triple within four years once a bilateral free trade agreement is signed. "That would bring us to trading about USD 15 billion; which will be of the same size of that with the European Union," he said.

"Israel’s homeland security systems are very advanced and India can benefit from your experience. We are friendly countries and strategic partners based on sound fundamental principles. We have to cooperate to the fullest extent to combat the menace of terror," Minister of State for Commerce and Industry, Jyotiraditya Scindia said in February 2010.

Israel will sell 50 unmanned spy drones worth $220 m to India, according to an April 4, 2011 article on Defense India. The Heron drones can fly at an altitude of 30,000 feet, are equipped with camera and surveillance technology. They would be put to use carrying out reconnaissance missions on India’s mountainous borders with China and Pakistan and along India’s long coastal waters.

India is also collaborating with the US on counterterrorism. A five-day Law Enforcement Executive Development Seminar focusing on counterterrorism, crisis response and megacity policing was held on April 22 this year by The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in partnership with the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs in Los Angeles, California. Speaking at the seminar, Assistant Director-in-Charge Steven M. Martinez remarked, "Today’s global security threats require the fusing of international capabilities to counter existing and emerging threats. Through international exchanges, such as this week’s U.S-India Counterterrorism Seminar, we establish first-name relationships with our international police and intelligence partners. And in a time of crisis, that friendship fosters an immediate and effective response."

Many of the policies and expenditures on defense and security are driven by the vested interests of the ruling class instead of the social and economic needs of the majority, surviving on under $2 a day. According to Forbes magazine, the combined wealth of India’s 100 richest people in 2009 was $276 billion, almost a quarter of the country’s nation al income. As the number of billionaires nearly doubled, from 27 in 2008 to 52 in 2009, 33 percent of the adult population of India suffers from chronic under-nutrition according to The National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau (NNMB).

The disparity in standards of living is leading to a growing market for private security to guard banks, malls and private corporations and hospitals. A report released by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Assocham) last year revealed that the private security industry in India employs more than 5.5 million professionals. The industry is estimated at approximately $4.9 billion and has been consistently growing at over 25 percent every year over the past 5 -7 year employing four times the police and armed forces combined.

In an effort to enable the youth of India to gain leadership positions in the fast growing private security industry and to bring the best practices of security intelligence and management to the industry and the nation, the International College for Security Studies (ICSS) and Israeli College for Security and Investigations (ICSI) signed a memorandum of understanding for setting up of a security training and intelligence college at New Delhi in August 2010 according to Homeland Security Newswire.

As India continues to grow as a geo-political power in South Asia, internally it is using well armed and equipped military, police and private armies to curb any resistance challenging its policies and laws favoring certain classes and corporate interests. Joint collaborations and multi-million dollar deals are helping it align strategically with economic and military global powers of the world, cooperating to control and secure resources for a few.

Thanks to M.V. Ramana for encouraging me to write on this topic and to Parvaiz, Balaji, and Charlotte for their constructive critique.

Yasmin Qureshi is a Bay Area human rights activist involved in social justice movements in South Asia and Palestine.