At the joint press appearance with the visiting Egyptian President, Mohamed Morsi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the two countries have agreed to initiate military exchanges and defence cooperation.
In an interview to an Indian newspaper on the eve of his visit, Morsy expressed his interest in establishing security cooperation with India. Morsy told ’The Hindu’ newspaper that he is keen to build a special relationship with India that will include defence cooperation.
He identified military navigation, electronics and maintenance as some priority areas of interest. Although no further details were given out, defence engagement between Delhi and Cairo is welcome and long overdue.
Although both countries are distracted by domestic political concerns, establishing a strong institutional links between the two military establishments will benefit both countries.
After extraordinary bonhomie in the 1950s, the two countries drifted apart since the 1970s. Morsy’s visit to India, the first by an elected Egyptian President, will hopefully set the stage for a comprehensive partnership in the coming years.
Egypt was among the few countries in the developing world that India sought to cooperation in the defence sector in the years after India’s independence. The close friendship between Jawaharlal Nehru and the Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser provided the basis for ambitious bilateral defence cooperation.
India participated in the development of a jet fighter and jet engine in Egypt from the late 1950s to the late 1960s. Nehru saw cooperation with Egypt as being complementary to India’s own efforts at developing an indigenous aerospace industry.
According to one account, Nehru’s India “participated in Egypt’s ’Helwan’ HA-300 jet fighter program and sent various professionals from its aeronautics industry and the Indian Air Force on detached service to Egypt, where they joined the local aircraft project.
India also participated -with contributions of money, experts and equipment -in Egypt’s attempt to produce an indigenous jet turbine engine, the ’Brandner E-300’.
Critically, Nehru hoped that this engine would have a viable market by pledging to power India’s own indigenous jet fighter, the HAL HF-24 “Marut,” with the Egyptian engine.
Although the projects did not succeed, they underlined Nehru’s deep interest in defence collaboration with friends and political partners, notwithstanding his opposition to military alliances.
Unlike in the 1950s, future defence collaboration between Delhi and Cairo might have better future in the coming years, thanks to the advances in India’s capabilities over the last few decades.
(C. Raja Mohan is a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi and a Contributing Editor for The Indian Express)