International News
2017.09.05
India’s new female defense minister faces challenges
Nirmala Sitharaman, who was appointed as India’s first woman defense minister in 35 years, has her task cut out: Deliver on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s goal of modernizing the nation’s Soviet-era military equipment as border tensions with China and Pakistan simmer.

Most recently the Indian minister for commerce and industry, Sitharaman was India’s main negotiator at global trade talks and succeeds Indian Minister of Finance Arun Jaitley who relinquished his additional charge of the key ministry.

Prior to her ministerial stint, she was a prominent party spokeswoman for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party during Modi’s 2014 election campaign.

Under Sitharaman, export growth has slowed while free trade talks with key partners have stalled.

In her new role she will have to accelerate Modi’s goal of spending as much as US$250 billion by 2025 on defense hardware, including jet planes, naval ships and drones as China flexes its military muscle in the region.

Her ministry duties also gave her oversight of Modi’s flagship “Make in India” program aimed at boosting domestic manufacturing, an initiative that included a significant defense focus.

“Sitharaman’s elevation to defense is a bit of a surprise,” said Shailesh Kumar, a senior Asia analyst with the Eurasia Group risk consultancy, who added that she did not have any particular “break-out” policies in her previous post. “Her selection is likely aimed at leveraging her experience in the commerce ministry to make defense as much about economics as security.”

While she does not have the political heft of her predecessors, she is known as a hardworking member of Modi’s team and shares a good rapport with him.

Sitharaman takes over amid increased tensions with Pakistan and China, as well as active insurgencies in India’s east, northeast and in Kashmir.

Sitharaman also inherits a bureaucratic ministry known for equipment procurement delays, oversight of about 1.4 million active armed forces personnel and a politically sensitive portfolio that straddles everything from veterans’ pension issues to national security challenges.

Her biggest challenge will come from right-sizing the force structure, procedural hindrances in defense procurement and issues related to self-reliance in defense production,” said Deba Ranjan Mohanty, director at the Indike Analytics, a New Delhi-based defense research organization, who suggested her “diligence” will help her “quickly pursue reforms.”





Source: Taipei Times
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