MUMBAI: India’s military, one of the world’s largest arms importers, aims to speed up defence procurement in the interests of “national security”, the country’s new defence minister announced Saturday.
The policy announcement comes just after the new right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi was sworn in late last month. India’s weapons acquisition programme was bogged down by a string of graft scandals under the previous Congress led government of Manmohan Singh that was ousted in general elections staggered over April and May.
“National security is an issue which has always been a priority issue for us (the BJP),” Defence Minister Arun Jaitley told reporters. India needed more defence procurement and faster procurement, Jaitley added. The country still has a number of procurement needs, including for fighter jets, combat helicopters, as well as artillery, drones and electronic warfare systems, as it seeks to update its ageing military hardware.
“Some mechanism needs to be set up to expedite the procurement process,” he said. “This government is committed to national security and we feel the red tape involved in purchase of defence equipments must be cut down,” Jaitley said on the sidelines of a ceremony to commission two coastguard ships. “Balancing the resource constraint and making available all the resources that are required for national security is going to be the approach of the government,” Jaitley, who is also finance minister, said.
Jaitley said coastal security topped the priorities of the government and induction of new vessels would help Coast Guard officials secure the coastline. In the 2008 Mumbai attacks in which 166 people died, 10 heavily armed Pakistani militants crossed the Arabian Sea to Mumbai from Karachi. Defence analysts say there are still chinks in India’s coastline security despite moves to increase security.
The Mumbai attacks ended after several days with security forces killing nine of the gunmen. One was captured and later hanged following a trial. India’s coast is patrolled by the Coast Guard, marine police and other agencies. Under Modi, Delhi is expected to adopt a more muscular foreign policy. Analysts say the Hindu nationalist leader will likely get tougher in border disputes with China. They also expect him to take a sterner stance with Pakistan over any attacks by Islamist militants based in the country.
The party’s election manifesto pledged to “deal with cross-border terrorism with a firm hand” and take a “strong stand” when needed. Jaitley’s comments came as China’s foreign minister was set to begin a two-day visit Sunday to India for the first high-level talks between the world’s two most populous nations since Modi took charge. Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi is coming to New Delhi as a special envoy of Chinese President Xi Jinping to “establish contact with the new government of India”, the Indian foreign ministry said.
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