29 nations to attend Indian Navy’s maritime symposium


New Delhi : A total of 29 nations in a broad swathe from South Africa to Australia have confirmed their participation in a symposium the Indian Navy is organising here next month to build bridges among the maritime forces of the region. But Pakistan’s participation is yet uncertain.

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“Yes, Pakistan has been expressing a desire to attend, but it has got into a situation it is engaging domestically,” Indian Navy assistant chief Rear Admiral Pradeep Chauhan told reporters Monday of the response to the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) to be held here and in Goa Feb 14-16.

Chauhan termed IONS – a conclave of the navy chiefs of the participating countries – a “non-hegemonistic, cooperative consultative gathering”. But it is clear that there is a military element to it to counter efforts by the US and China to gain a permanent foothold in the region, analysts said.

Thus, it is not surprising that these two countries have not been invited for the inaugural meeting of what is intended to be a biennial event.

“They are not littoral states of the Indian Ocean,” Chauhan explained.

IONS has received the full backing of the Indian political establishment, with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Defence Minister A.K. Antony and External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee scheduled to address the delegates.

Ahead of IONS, middle to junior level officers of 11 East and Southeast Asian nations, as also Australia and New Zealand, are currently gathered at Port Blair in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands for the Milan-08 exercise that began Jan 18 and will conclude Jan 23.

The two events assume significance, Chauhan said, “in view of the increasing maritime trade passing through the Indian Ocean and the Strait of Malacca in particular and the need to safeguard these sea lanes from poaching and terrorist activities”.

IONS draws inspiration from the US-backed Western Pacific Naval Symposium that engages Southeast and East Asian countries, leaving an “engagement” deficiency in the Indian Ocean, particularly in the western Indian Ocean.

“Because of this deficiency, certain external players are rapidly forging new maritime security relationships. IONS would promote greater mutual interaction and understanding and obviate the dependency on extra regional players in the region,” Chauhan stated.

The symposium will enable Indian Ocean nations address their problems without external assistance, he added.

IONS would be conducted in two parts, with the first two days devoted to a seminar that would consider an overview of the maritime scenario in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), discuss contemporary maritime challenges and ways to ensure synergy through cooperative approaches.

On Feb 16, the delegates will be flown to Goa for a closed-door conclave aimed at establishing mechanisms to mitigate security concerns of the region and develop interoperability among the IOR navies.

The delegates will then be flown back to Delhi for the Defexpo-2008 international military exposition.

As Indian Navy chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta has explained, “Many navies of the Indian Ocean Region look to India to promote regional maritime security. It is thus prudent that India launches an inclusive forum (like IONS) for discussing and taking forward issues of common interest.”