Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said on Thursday that India was not an aggressor country but will never hesitate to defend itself using its military strength. He made the remarks at a defence dialogue in Seoul, South Korea.

“India has never been an aggressor in its history nor will it ever be,” Singh said at the event. “But that does not mean that India would balk at using its strength to defend itself.”

Defence diplomacy is a key pillar of India’s strategic toolkit,” Singh added. “In fact, defence diplomacy and maintaining strong defence forces are two sides of the same coin. They go hand in hand.”

Singh also said there is a need for a common “rules-based order” based on sovereignty and territorial integrity in the Indo-Pacific region. “Our quest for common prosperity and security requires us to evolve a common rules-based order for our region, the Indo-Pacific region,” the defence minister said. “This order must be based on sovereignty and territorial integrity and equality of all nations, irrespective of size and strength.”

We must provide to all nations the right of equal access to the use of common spaces on sea and in the air,” Singh said. “We advocate an open and inclusive architecture for the Indo-Pacific region, with ASEAN [Association of South East Asian Nations] centrality and equal access to the global commons.”

Singh’s remarks came in the backdrop of heightened tensions between India and Pakistan following New Delhi’s decision to abrogate special status for Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution. Pakistan has responded fiercely to the Indian action, cutting off trade, downgrading diplomatic ties and trying to internationalise the matter.

On Wednesday, the Pakistan Army said it will go to any length to protect Kashmir, which is its “jugular vein”. Major General Asif Ghafoor’s comments came days after Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan had said that Islamabad would never begin a war with New Delhi.

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