Strategic Importance of Andaman & Nicobar in Regional Politics

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Feature Desk

Andaman and Nicobar Islands constitute the southern and eastern frontiers of the Indian Union. It is situated about 700 nautical miles from India’s eastern coast stretching in a north-south direction of over a distance of 750 km. An important archipelago of 572 islands Divided by 10 Degree Channel. Andaman and Nicobar groups are formed by the above-sea extensions of submarine ridges which extends from the Arakan–Yoma ranges of western Myanmar (Burma) in the north to Sumatra in the south. It is about 1255 km from Kolkata, 1200 km from Vishakhapattanam and 1190 km from Chennai. It is located 90 nautical miles from Indonesia’s Sumatra Island, 270 nautical mile from Thailand, 420 nautical mile from Malaysia, 920 nautical mile from Singapore.

Importance of Andaman & Nicobar(A&N)

  • Andaman & Nicobar(A&N) increase India’s territorial water limits. The A&N Islands are at the intersection of the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea, and further to the Pacific Ocean an important fulcrum of the strategic concept of the Indo-Pacific.
  • The Six Degree and Ten Degree Channels in the Andaman Sea which lead to the Malacca Strait are vital to the sea lanes of communication (SLOCs).
  • A&N island chain acts as a physical barrier that secures busy Sea Lines of Communications by creating a series of chokepoints.

Geostrategic Importance

  • To curb the Rising Chinese influence in Indian Ocean Region
  • To project India as a Regional Maritime Power
  • To implement Act East Policy

Economic Importance

  • Natural Resources of A&N
  • Transshipment Port
  • To secure India’s Trade

Chinese Influence in IOR

China has been pursuing an offensive policy of increasing her presence in the IOR. China has steadily expanded its presence in the IOR through continuous deployment of its naval force, arms sales and creating bases including Gwadar and Djibouti.

Limited Impact from Visakhapatnam (Vizag)

At present, India’s efforts to deal with Chinese assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific rest with its Eastern Fleet. It is based in the eastern mainland port of Visakhapatnam.  That arrangement is likely to change with the growing military infrastructure on the islands, which could eventually host a permanent fleet.

India’s Only Tri Service Command

Andaman and Nicobar is the only Tri-Command structure overseen by the Integrated Defence Staff. At present, India’s military infrastructure on the islands consists of two full length airstrips at Car Nicobar, which is an air force base, and at Port Blair, a naval base, and two shorter airstrips at Diglipur and Campbell Bay. The harboursat Port Blair and Mayabandarin the Andaman chain, and Nancowry in the Nicobars, offer natural harbours.

Andaman and Cocos Islands

In addition, there are suggestions that India and Australia could consider a collaborative deployment of their LRMP aircraft from India’s Andaman Island and Australia’s Keeling (Cocos) Islands. This is an important element of controlling the Indian Ocean operation of China’s South China Sea Fleet and to monitor its activities.

India as a Regional Maritime Power

Various multilateral and bilateral maritime engagements like Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) has enhanced India’s position as regional maritime power. MILAN series of exercises from 2003 onwards, Coordinated patrols and bilateral exercises with littoral states in the Andaman Sea have contributed to this purpose.

Act East Policy

Under the Act-East policy, Andaman and Nicobar’s role in India’s strong relations with East Asian countries and other countries associated with the sea is crucial and it is going to increase. The proximity of the archipelago to the Southeast Asian countries enables India to foster friendly relations by engaging them through joint operations.

Natural Resources of A&N

These Islands constitute 0.2 per cent of India’s land mass but provide for 30 per cent of the country‟s200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone. These islands are full of natural resources. Fishing, red oilseeds, rubber, palm and cashew are important resources of this region. Island chain is also known to have substantial hydrocarbon reserves.

Natural Resources of A&N

Above all the tourism has become the major industry here during the past few decades. India’s economic needs will have to grow beyond expectation in the years ahead.

Transshipment Port

India is considering investing Rs 10,000 crore for building a transshipment port at Great Nicobar Island

Nicobar Island offers two geographical advantages:

  • Proximity to the busy east-west international shipping route that can facilitate shorter transits and greater economies of scale.
  • Deep natural water depths that can accommodate the latest generation of mega-ships.

Further, the creation of a transshipment hub on the island of Car Nicobar could be an economic and strategic game changer, with the potential to rival the ports of Singapore or Colombo. The hub could also facilitate future naval co-operation between the Indian Navy and other maritime powers in the Indo-Pacific such as Australia, Japan and the United States.

Securing India’s Trade

India’s 97 per cent trade transit through sea routes of the IOR. Economic importance of A&N Islands has increased due to the massive import of oil and gas in general and intra and extra regional trade in particular. At the same time, the A&N Islands are a strategic asset for India to assert its international trade and dominance on the major East-West maritime trade route that passes through the Malacca Strait.

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