For the first time, India has joined in providing assistance to clear al Qaeda out of a distant place. In this case its northern Mali, and India is providing assistance to help eliminate the Islamic terrorists and with reconstruction after that. For the last three decades India has been increasingly drawn into counter-terrorism operations closer to home. These are the result of Pakistan’s late 1970s decision to support Islamic terrorists and use them against India. That did not work out well for Pakistan and gave India a keen appreciation of the damage Islamic terrorism could inflict and how best to deal with it.
While India has sent troops to distant peacekeeping operations for decades, this is the first time they have participated in a peacemaking undertaking so far away. In the last decade India has provided similar assistance to Afghanistan and Sri Lanka but has not offered such help beyond its neighborhood. Thus India did not participate in Libya or Syria and actually abstained from the UN votes authorizing such help. Nevertheless France and NATO kept India informed about plans for Mali. That, plus the fact that there were known to be Islamic terrorists in Mali from Afghanistan and Pakistan (and possibly India as well) led India to change its policy. India has long been cooperating with Israel on counter-terrorism efforts, which had collected a lot of data on Islamic terrorists who sometimes visited Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. That cooperation has grown.
India will donate a million dollars and some trainers to help upgrade the Mali armed forces, as well as technical assistance and $100 million for reconstruction. Another factor in all this is China. India has also watched with alarm as China has rapidly built up economic links with many African countries over the last decade. Indian merchants and settlers have been in East Africa for over a thousand years but never on the scale that the Chinese have achieved quite recently. India wants to be close to all this activity, the better to monitor what the Chinese are up to.