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Foreign Affairs

Strategic Partnership, Pak, Afghan To Remain In Focus As US Defence Secretary Visits India

NEW DELHI: : In a reiteration of the U.S. commitment to remain an enduring strategic partner of India, U.S. Defence Secretary Jim Mattis is paying a three-day visit to New Delhi from September 26 to 28. It will be the first Cabinet level visit under the President Donald Trump’s new administration at the White House.

Apart from meeting his Indian counterpart Nirmala Sitharaman who only recently took charge of the Defence Ministry, Mr. Mattis will also have a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The U.S. Defence Secretary’s visit will also emphasize the view of his country which sees India as an influential partner with broader mutual interests extending beyond South Asia, official sources said.

His visit comes within three months of Prime Minister Modi’s maiden meeting with President Donald Trump. The June meeting between President Trump and Mr. Modi signaled continuity in the U.S.-India defence and security relationship. The U.S. Defence Secretary will also express his country’s appreciation for India’s important contributions toward Afghanistan’s democracy, stability, prosperity, and security.

Beyond the optics, India is likely to tell the visiting U.S. Defence Secretary, a former Lieutenant-General, that Pakistan’s role in subverting institutions and giving shelter to terror outfits is a key factor in preventing peace and stability returning to Afghanistan. 

As U.S. needs Pakistan bases to strike at Taliban, it would remain to be seen as to which extent the U.S. would go in asserting its say to Islamabad. Defence analysts say that Mr. Mattis would also try to hardsell Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Block 70 fighter aircraft to India which had earlier been rejected by the Indian Air Force. However, in the broader geopolitical and strategic scheme of things, Washington would need New Delhi in balancing and checking the power and rise of China.

“The growth of the defence relationship has been nothing short of astonishing. In the span of about a decade, defence trade shot from $1 billion to over $15 billion. The US and India take part in numerous and combined exercises, and the US now authorises the sharing of sensitive technologies with India on a level commensurate with America’s closest allies. There has also been a (somewhat under the radar) substantial deepening of the security partnership, with a focus on counter-terrorism cooperation and intelligence sharing,’’ Joshua A. White, Associate Professor of the Practice of South Asian Studies at the John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, wrote in a recent article.

India also remains a major defence partner of the U.S. and both President Trump and Mr. Modi underlined avenues for further cooperation. The partnership grew in strength with the 2017 edition of Malabar maritime exercise in the Indian Ocean in which US-India-Japan participated. In Aero India show in Bengaluru this March, the U.S. was a leading contributor which was a testament to the strength of the US-India strategic partnership.  The high-level U.S. delegation, impressive array of American military platforms and personnel, and significant representation from U.S. industry showcased enduring ties.

U.S. assets in Aero India 2017 included F-16C Fighting Falcons, a P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft and a C-130J Super Hercules transport. A Pacific Air Forces F-16 demonstration team showcased the capability of one of the U.S. Air Force’s leading fighters.

During the Obama regime, the then U.S. Defence Secretary Ash Carter had visited India three times, spearheading efforts to further deepen and broaden US-India Defence Cooperation and realizing the joint vision of the two countries for the Asia Pacific and Indian Ocean Region.

Mr. Carter had called the engagement a “strategic handshake” between the two countries as the American policy of rebalance to the Asia Pacific converges with  Prime Minister Modi’s “Act East” policy. A “technological handshake” between the two countries also sought to leverage the respective industrial and technological capabilities to meet mutual security needs.

Some of the strategic handshake elements include India’s designation as a “Major Defense Partner”, launching of a new bilateral Maritime Security Dialogue in April 2016, a joint strategic vision for the  Asia-Pacific and IOR in January 2015 by President Obama and Prime Minister Modi, signing of the Framework for the U.S.-India Defense Relationship in June 2015 by Mr. Carter and the then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and conclusion of US-India Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMA) in August 2016.

Under the technological handshake, U.S. and India in 2012 launched the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI). Under DTTI, the United States and India have launched seven joint working groups to explore collaborative projects and programs and signed two Science and Technology government-to-government project agreements – the Next Generation Protective Ensembles and Mobile Hybrid Power Sources – worth roughly $2 million.

Official fact sheet reveals that since 2008, U.S.-India defense trade has increased from roughly $1 billion to over $15 billion, including Indian procurement of 13 Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules aircraft, 10 C-17 Globemaster and 12 P-8 Poseidon aircraft from Boeing, as well as 22 AH-64 Apache and 15 CH-47 Chinook helicopters. In December 2016, the United States and India signed a deal worth approximately $732 million to provide the Indian Army with 145 M777 Howitzer guns.

By TIS Staffer
the authorBy TIS Staffer

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