Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for a holistic approach to maritime security has struck a chord with the UN Security Council, which unanimously adopted his presidential statement on Monday. India, which has a 7,500-km coastline and is strategically situated along the major trade routes originating from East and Southeast Asia, has rightly underlined the importance of boosting international and regional cooperation to deal with the challenges on the high seas. Caught off guard in 2008 by the 26/11 attacks, in which terrorists from Pakistan used the sea route to reach Mumbai, India has also warned the world of the threats posed by terrorism. India’s insistence on a free, open and secure Indo-Pacific has drawn a sharp response from Pakistan, which has accused India of nuclearising the Indian Ocean and inducting ‘naval delivery platforms with hegemonistic designs’. Taking potshots at the Quad, China has alleged that some countries are ‘intensifying maritime conflicts’ in the Asia-Pacific region. These are predictable reactions from hostile neighbours who are perturbed by India’s growing clout in the international arena and its proximity to western powers.
India, however, should avoid putting all its eggs in the Quad basket, considering that the US is keen on a new quadrilateral framework in partnership with Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. Last month, the US State Department had announced that the four countries aimed to expand trade, build transit links and capitalise on ‘the historic opportunity to open inter-regional trade routes’. India has to understand that there is more to this US-led ‘parallel Quad’ than enhancing regional connectivity. It could well be a desperate ploy by Washington to keep itself relevant in trouble-torn Afghanistan.
The onus is on India to expand its horizons to safeguard its strategic and economic interests. New Delhi has already sharpened its focus on the Persian Gulf, where China is making rapid strides. Strengthening ties with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Iran will bolster India’s energy security, which is inseparable from maritime peace and stability in the entire region. Our all-out Gulf diplomacy can help us counter Beijing’s expansionist ambitions.
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