Experts, policy makers, Government and Army officials stressed the need to strengthen the relationship between India and the United States (US) in order to deal with threats posed by terrorism which has spread tentacles all over the world and also to meet various other challenges.
At a conference “India & US Partners in Defence and Global Security Challenges”, organised by the Sunday Guardian Foundation at the Taj Palace Hotel here this week, speakers highlighted the benefits of the relationship between the two nations and called upon the governments to thrash out modalities to take this relationship to a new height for the overall well-being of the human civilization. The day-long conference also witnessed a brainstorming session on “India and US Defence Partnership”, in which the experts termed the two countries as “natural strategic allies” and emphasised on greater cooperation and mutual appreciation between them.
Welcoming the participants, Kartikeya Sharma, Founder of the Sunday Guardian Foundation and Promoter of the iTV network, said, “It is our pleasure to organise such an event. Both India and the US are the two biggest democracies of the world and we have challenges in safeguarding our territories. In this regard, we seek engagement with Washington and we hope this conference will take our relationship to a new height.”
“INDIA-US RELATIONS HAVE COME A LONG WAY”
Setting the tone, Hardeep Puri, Union Minister for Housing & Urban Development and Civil Aviation, while inaugurating the event, recalled his time with the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) where he served as one of the officers from the Indian Foreign Service. Speaking at the event, he said, “Let me start by recalling my 39 years of service in the MEA where I had the privilege of working with issues related to USA. I can clearly see that we have come a long way from where we had started.”
“When I was serving in the US desk in the MEA, I dealt with the sanctions placed on us and look where the India-US relationship has arrived today. We have attained a better economic relationship with the USA. We have frequent exchanges and have developed a healthy bilateral relationship. We have developed a very defining and a critical and perhaps the most important Indo-US relationship today,” Puri said.
Talking about counter-terrorism commitment, Puri said that it was during the time of the Indian Presidency in the United Nations that a policy for “zero tolerance” norm for terrorism was adopted by the United Nations. Hinting at Pakistan, which still uses terrorism as a State tool to disturb peace in the Indian subcontinent, Puri said, “Some countries still uses terror as an instrument and they seek support from the outside world for such causes which they say is legitimate.” “The time has come as far as we are concerned that there will be no tolerance towards terrorism,” Puri added.
He also said that his Ministries—Housing and Urban Development, Civil Aviation and Commerce—are having some important cooperation with the United States. “It is an era of Indo-US friendship and our Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said in 2015 that there is no hesitation in this India-US partnership and the level of confidence between the two countries is at an all-time high. The US is looking at us and we seek more and better cooperation between the two countries,” Puri said.
“AMERICANS ARE PRACTICAL PEOPLE”
While delivering his speech under the topic of “Pathway to Partnership”, Dr Subramanian Swamy, senior BJP leader and member of the Rajya Sabha, said, “The commitment of the Indo-US relationship is to be a commitment towards counter-terrorism. We cannot let the Taliban take over Afghanistan. We also need the Afghans if we want to recover Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) and India should offer to the US to help Afghanistan.” He said Americans are very practical people, who believe in give and take. “We need to deal with the US in the same manner, we should commit to become good friends with the US,” he said.
Stating that United States and India have a very similar historical background, Shekhar Dutt, former Defence Secretary, said, “There was a lot of influence from the US-based Indian origin people during India’s Independence movement. Even after Independence, India-US partnership remains very strong in sectors such as agriculture and medical science.” Having said that, he, however, accepted the fact that since India was believed to be a Left-leaning country, cooperation between the two countries was limited. He concluded by saying that 21st century is different from that of World War II and the US should understand that India is a country to be treated equally.
According to former Foreign Secretary, Kanwal Sibal, Chinese penetration in neighbouring countries, terrorism, breach of arms control agreement, revival of Cold War as US’s relationship with China and Russia is deteriorating, and militarisation of space, are the major global security concerns in present times.
Giving his special address, Rear Admiral D.S. Gujral, ACNS-CSNCO, said the two countries need to work in collaboration to deal with challenges in maritime. He gave a detailed account of maritime challenges like terrorism, trafficking, piracy, natural disasters, civil war and failed states. Air Vice Marshal R.G.K. Kapoor said more opportunities are needed for convergence of ideas rather than the divergence in pursuance of global security between India and US. Inspector General K.R. Suresh, DDG-Indian Coast Guard, said a way ahead in future Indian and US relationship can be categorically bracketed in regional cooperation in maritime.
Senior BJP leader Sudhanshu Trivedi, in his address, said: “US and India have relevant potential to establish a new good picture of defence relations. Issues like H1B visa and trade relations can be sorted out easily between the two countries. It is just that a right direction is needed in sectors like technology, military and intellect to enhance India and US bilateral relationship.”
‘INDIA-US COOPERATION NEEDED FOR PEACE AND STABILITY IN INDO-PACIFIC REGION’
Bradley Bowman, an expert on US defence policy and strategy and senior director, Foundation for Defence of Democracies (FDD), said India has been a regional power and hence deeper cooperation between India and the US was required for peace and stability in the region. He said the US always wanted to see India as a powerful and economically prosperous partner. Bowman said China was the foremost challenge for the US, but India and the US shared identical views on Indo-Pacific and hence the two countries were natural allies.
Former Defence Secretary of India, Yogendra Narayan, recalled the ups and downs in the Indo-US relations over the last two decades, but said that the two countries have become friendlier than ever before. “Both India and US are on the same wavelength…Leaders of both countries want to see their countries grow stronger. India has found a great partner in the US and its global war against terror,” he said.
Narayan noted that the decision of the United States to withdraw forces from Afghanistan was a cause of worry for India and said that India must convince the US to retain its military forces in the region. This, according to him, would put additional burden on Indian defence forces that are already occupied along the LoC given the frequent violations from Pakistan. Narayan also pointed out that the two countries had great potential in the area of trade and commerce. He sought from the US authorities to ease the licencing process which he said was “rigid” in the US.
Lt. Gen. (Retd) K.J. Singh termed the US’ approach towards India as flexible, but said that India had not given due credit to the US for this. He stressed that India should put its focus on manufacturing and cut down its defence expenditure. “India has abundance of technical manpower and a great environment for manufacturing. Similarly, there is a vast opportunity for the US to come and manufacture weapons and surveillance equipment in India. The two countries must overcome the hesitation now,” Singh said. Singh, the former GOC-in-C of the Western Command of the Indian Army, also stressed on the need of greater cooperation between India and the US in the area of disaster relief and management.
“US SECURITY APPARATUS IN LOVE WITH INDIA”
Air Marshal (Retired) Ramesh Rai said the US administration was willing to cooperate with India in a manner they do it with their allies. “The US national security apparatus is in love with India. They treat India as a major defence partner like they do with other allies…As collateral, they (the US) are also willing to share critical technology with India…the US-India Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) framework is also being reworked,” he said.
Sharing his view on the topic of “Afghan-Future scenarios”, senior IPS officer, Shiv Murari Sahai, who is presently posted as Additional Secretary, National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS), said that the primary concern of the Indian establishment was what will be the reaction of the Islamic State (IS) and Al-Qaeda once the US troops leave Afghanistan.
“The US is likely to maintain some level of troops in Afghanistan. We are concerned about what will be the response of the IS, Al-Qaeda and other India-centric terror organisations. How seriously can one take the guarantee of Taliban that it will not let Afghanistan be used for terrorism,” Sahai, who has served in Kashmir in various capacities, wondered.
Bill Roggio, senior fellow with the Foundation for Defence of Democracies (FDD) and Editor of Long War journal, said that, both India and United States had a common enemy and there was no doubt that Pakistan was supporting terrorism across the world. “US is somewhat handicapped and it has not yet recognised the enemy. India is effectively fighting terrorism and US can learn a lot from India on how to tackle terrorism.
The US needs to change its policy vis-a-vis Pakistan. Also, it needs to bring in some real strategy to deal with the misuse of social media by terror groups,” Roggio said. He added that India needs to tell the world how so many people following different religion were coexisting peacefully. “This message is not shared by the Western media with the world,” he said.
WITHDRAWING US TROOPS FROM AFGHANISTAN A MISTAKE: NALAPAT
Commenting on the removal of Article 370, Editorial Director of The Sunday Guardian Prof M.D. Nalapat said that this Article was based on the two-nation theory. “It differentiated between two religions. It was against our core values, which includes coexistence, something which the supporters of Article 370 do not believe in. If US believes that Taliban 2.0 will be different from Taliban 1.0, it is mistaken. It will be a mistake on US’ part to withdraw troops from Afghanistan,” he warned.
Zafar Sareshwala, Executive Council member of Global Counter Terrorism Council (GCTC), said that the foundation of terrorism was itself based on falsehood, which the world needs to fight. “They have distorted the meaning of Jihad, which has been mentioned only 41 times in the holy Quran. It calls for a struggle to become a better person, a struggle to be on the rightful path. Peace and compassion are the basic tenets of Islam. The false notion of Jihad that these groups spread needs to be fought,” he said.
Syed Salman Chishty, chairman of Chishty Foundation, said that India is a success story when it comes to religious pluralism. “A false narration is being spread since 5 August. We are the most plural society. For me, the hallmark of India’s pluralism is the fact that people belonging to different religions visit the religious places of different religions without any hindrance. The US needs to look at India as a soft power, not just as a strategic partner.”
“CHINA A COMMON THREAT”
Speaking on the topic “Shared Interests and Common Threats”, Cleo Paskal, who is a Senior Fellow with FDD, said, “China is a common threat. Its smaller neighbours are facing the threat of being swallowed by China. China uses its economic powers to enter into countries. Indian companies need to counter that by entering into the Asia-Pacific market. China promotes corruption wherever it goes which ultimately leads to money laundering and use of Hawala network.”
Lt. General Rakesh Sharma, former Adjutant General, Indian Army and Executive Member council of Global Counter Terrorism Council (GCTC), said that it was important for India to maintain its relationships with other countries with whom US might not have a cozy relationship. “China is our biggest concern and we are at the receiving end of its misadventure. Also, we don’t distinguish between terror groups. US is just concerned about Taliban while leaving out Lashkar and Jaish. Also, we need to counter the radicalisation that is happening inside Islam,” Sharma said.
Senior IPS officer Anju Gupta said that Afghanistan-Pakistan was the hub of terrorism. “US needs to acknowledge that India can play a big role in Afghanistan. The major concerns for us right now are battling China, terrorism, Pakistani nuclear arsenal and extremism. Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammad are working in tandem with Taliban and Al-Qaeda, the US needs to understand this,” she said.
‘INDIA AND US MUST HAVE STRONG DEFENCE TIES’
The last session of the Sunday Guardian Foundation’s international conference, “India & United States of America: Partners in Global Security and Challenges”, examined the common challenges and opportunities facing the two nations, especially in the field of defence.
Attended by Prof Chintamani Mahapatra, JNU Pro-Vice Chancellor, Major General A.K. Siwach, Varsha Koduvayur, Senior Research Analyst, Foundation for the Defence of Democracies (FDD), Washington D.C., Michael Smits, Research Analyst, FDD, and M.D. Nalapat, Editorial Director, iTV Netwok, the session also explained why India and the United States must be partners in today’s global order.
Speaking during the session, moderated by Ashish Singh, Defence and Foreign Affairs Editor, NewsX, Siwach underlined two major issues faced by India and the United States. “One is terrorism, while the other is China. Both India and the US need each other on the two issues,” he said. “The problem here is that there is no common definition of terrorism. For India, Pakistan is the hub of terrorism with LeT and JeM importing jihadis into India. But for the US, terrorism emanates from Haqqanis, Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Americans target only those terrorists who hurt their interests. They don’t bother about LeT or JeM. So, though terrorism is a common threat for both India and the US, the latter needs to understand that there is no good or bad terrorism. The Taliban and Lashkar are one and the same,” Siwach said.
On China, Siwach said that it is a challenge the US and India can’t ignore. “The way things are moving, Beijing is going to be a threat for both Delhi and Washington. India and China share 4,000 km of border. China is also busy building bases in India’s neighbourhood in a bid to encircle India. Similarly, the US and China are competing in the ongoing trade war. If we have to counter China, India and the US have to stand together, economically and militarily. There is no other way.”
The iTV Network Editorial Director highlighted that while with China, the US had no shared values and only shared interests, with India, the Americans also have shared values. “Americans and Indians have to understand that we are friends. The relationship is an organic one. If China is helping Pakistan against India, it’s definitely not a friendly gesture. There are two superpowers today—US and China. If China has chosen Pakistan, it’s obvious that we have to choose America.”
While Varsha Koduvayur and Michael Smits highlighted shared values and shared interests, besides pointing at some common challenges in protecting free societies, Prof Chintamani added a new dimension into the debate when he said that India-US relations are often the casualty of extreme expectations from the two sides. “Both India and the US must learn to manage expectations if they are to take the relationship to new heights,” he said.
(With inputs from Abhinandan Mishra, Dibyendu Mondal, Kundan Jha, Pratyush Deep Kotoky, Navtan Kumar, Rakesh Ranjan and Utpal Kumar).