Dubbed the Africa-India field training exercise-2019 (AFINDEX-19), organisers say the drills will tap into India’s decades of experience on UN peacekeeping missions, with troops undergoing synchronized operational and tactical-level training, such as learning how to protect a convoy during a mission and without hurting civilians. Other exercises include learning how to properly deactivate landmines and other types of explosives.
Nations attending AFINDEX-19 include Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Senegal and South Africa .
Speaking at its opening ceremony on Monday, the commanding officer of the Indian Army’s Pune HQ, Major General Sanjeev Sharma, expressed his confidence in the operational success of the exercises.
He also spoke of the hope for “enhanced diplomatic and the cultural bonds” between India and the participating nations, and that troops make “new friends and comrades in arms.”
India’s push for deeper military ties in Africa follows similar moves by neighboring China to strengthen its military presence in the region.
In 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged $100 million in free military assistance to the African Union to help beef up its peacekeeping capabilities. While last summer, delegations from 50 African armies attended the first ever China-Africa Defense and Security Forum. The three-week symposium discussed roadmaps for defending China’s multi-billion dollar investments in African economies, and helping African nations improve their responses to crisis situations.
Taking into account the extent of Chinese investment and decades-old history of diplomatic relations and arms exports to the region, India’s response is currently focused on “soft skills” and is mostly “symbolic,” Iftikhar Lodhi, assistant professor at Nazarbayev University’s Graduate School of Public Policy told RT.
“As the success of China’s Belt and Road Initiative and other ventures into Africa grows, India along with other powers is bound to respond in various shapes and forms across these regions.”
In addition to creating a “nuisance value” for China with help from allies in the West, Lodhi said the exercises could have positive long term effects.
“Such military exercises and consequent networking along with old diplomatic contacts could be of some value for India in the long run,” he concluded.