Indra-2012 drills. Source: Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation / mil.ru
Next month, India and Russia will conduct joint military exercises in northwestern India. This will be in continuation of the tradition of joint military exercises codenamed Indra since 2003. Such an exercise has enormous significance not only in reaffirming the strategic partnership that both the countries initiated in the beginning of this century, but also at a very practical level it has importance as both the countries confront challenges of terrorism, extremism, possible instability in Afghanistan in coming years and volatile situation in Central Asia.
Indo-Russian defence relations are legendry and this needs no reiteration. Despite ups and downs in bilateral defence engagements, the commitment to carry forward the relations in terms of following the agreements on arms and armaments or developing joint design and production has not wavered. The joint exercises further corroborate this commitment. The recent visit by the Indian defence secretary on the issue of the INS Vikramaditya certainly added optimism, and the delivery of this aircraft carrier by the end of this year will wean away much of pessimism in relations. As reports suggest, India has signed a deal of $2 billion for 45 MiG-29K naval fighters to be placed on the decks of this aircraft carrier, to be anchored in the southern Indian coast of Karwar at Arabian Sea.
The Indra-2013 will take place in the Mahajan field firing range in Rajasthan. Its predecessor Indra-2012 conducted in Buryatia in Russia, involving 50 Russian combat vehicles, was considered successful. So far, six exercises under this codename have already been carried out since 2003. The 2012 exercise involved joint battle reconnaissance and simulated destruction of an illegal armed force. This forthcoming exercise will not be very different in nature from the previous ones though it puts further emphasis on counter-terrorism and peacekeeping. An Indian official told the Times of India that this exercise will involve employment of mechanised forces as part of peace-keeping or enforcement operations in a semi-urban terrain under the UN charter. Besides the joint counter terrorism exercises, warfare drills and leading intelligence activities by the serviceman will be carried out during Indra 2013.
250 defence personnel from Russia’s Eastern Military District and same number of personnel from India will participate in the exercise. The official further stated, “The exercise will see the participation of infantry combat vehicles like BMP-I and BMP-II as well as T-72 main-battle tanks. Counterterrorism drills will be a major thrust area.”
The emphasis on counter-terrorism in the agenda is nothing new. India and Russia have bilateral mechanisms such as joint working group on terrorism and on Afghanistan and joint declarations like the Moscow Declaration of 2001 to counter the menace. Both India and Russia are diverse and pluralistic, and have adopted federal structures. They have experienced violent fissiparous movements in their regions. Exercises like Indra provide an avenue for the defence forces of both the countries to develop joint practices and strategies to counter the menace while at the same time learning from each other. They also provide the needed synergy to keep the defence relations and communications on an even keel and cautions neighbours near and abroad with the message that defence relations between the two countries are in a good shape.
Equally important is the role that the exercises play as a feeler that the bilateral strategic partnership thrives despite hurdles. As in the era of globalization, diversification in defence relations has become a buzzword, the exercises further confirm that in this new age of diversification the bilateral defence relations still hold a lot of good promises for both the countries.
The joint exercises can be interpreted in another novel way. Afghanistan will witness vicissitudes, perhaps in a more violent scale, in coming years despite best efforts by the International Security Assistance Force. The recent developments do not portend a bright scenario as the rise of the Taliban has almost become inevitable with its increasing vehemence in targeting NATO forces as well as civilians. The negotiations between various parties to the conflict have not proved effective so far. As major stakeholders in peace and stability in this region, India and Russia have a lot to do to block the sliding of the region into pit of further chaos. The joint exercises will provide the battle readiness and the needed synergy for both the countries to counter terrorism in Afghanistan and surrounding regions, if and when necessary.
The forthcoming exercises may serve as a prelude to further strengthening of defence relations. By the time the next summit at the highest level takes place, it may be expected that both the countries will have more defence deals in their kits.
Dr. Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is an Indian commentator. His areas of interests include conflict, terrorism, peace and development, South Asia, and strategic aspects of Eurasian politics.
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