Indo-US Dialogue In Challenging Times

The 9th round of security and strategic dialogue between India and the United States was conducted amidst difficult issues waiting for resolution between the two countries. The US sanctions against Iran and Russia and the need to extend the waiver to India given by the Trump Administration, the US decision to remove India from the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) list, demand on India not to buy oil from Venezuela, continuing trade friction and pending resolution of H1B visa issue are some of the critical developments.

Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale’s recent mission to Washington, D.C. was to hold this present round of bilateral security and strategic dialogue with his American counterparts, especially Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, Andrea Thompson.

Likewise, Additional Secretary, Disarmament and International Security Division of Ministry of External Affairs, Indra Mani Pandey also visited the US capital to co-chair with Dr. Yleem D.S. Poblete, US Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, the third round of the US-India Space Dialogue.

The 9th Indo-US dialogue undoubtedly took place in a cordial and friendly ambience and wide ranging issues were on the table that included preventing nuclear proliferation, denying terrorist organisations any access to such weapons, further strengthening civil nuclear cooperation through setting up of US nuclear reactors in India and continuing US support to India’s membership in the Nuclear suppliers’ Group (NSG). In addition, views and information were exchanged in the areas of space-based threats and exploring opportunities for bilateral and multilateral cooperation on issues related to Space.

The dialogue took place in the backdrop of a deadly attack by a suicide bomber of Pakistan-based terrorist outfit, Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), on a CRPF convoy in Pulwama region of Jammu and Kashmir. The Trump Administration openly condemned the terrorist attack and demanded that Pakistan take serious action against all terrorist activities within its territory and even warned Pakistan against illegally using US-supplied F-16 aircraft against India.

A release issued after the dialogue has not mentioned the specific incident in view of the broad agenda of the security and strategic dialogue, but there is little doubt that the Indian Foreign Secretary would have given evidence of misuse of F-16 aircraft by Pakistan. The Trump Administration in recent times has toughened its stance against Pakistani inaction on the terrorism issue and has even cut off economic assistance to that country.

The US action has been insufficient in discouraging Pakistan from abandoning its policy of silent support to various terrorist groups located in various parts of its territory. The Pulwama incident and continuing terrorist attacks in Afghanistan are clear testimony to Pakistan’s complicity in acts of terrorism against Indian and American interests in South Asia.

The Indian side is said to have raised the issue of non-cooperation from China in handling terrorism in South Asia. While the rising the phantom of terrorism in its Xinjiang province, Beijing has simply and repeatedly turned the other way when the issue of Masood Azhar is brought before the UN Security Council to designate him as a “UN designated terrorist”.

An issue that needs to be resolved is related to Indo-US trade. The trade differences between the two countries need to be amicably resolved, to safeguard the bourgeoning defence and security cooperation between the two countries.

The Trump administration has hiked the tariff unilaterally on steel and aluminium, has raised additional restrictions on H1B visa, pushed India on the intellectual property rights issue and now is threatening to remove India from the list GSP (Generalized System of Preferences) beneficiaries. It would affect more than US $ 5 billion worth of Indian exports to the United States.

All these issues require mature dialogue for timely resolution. The Indo-US security and strategic dialogue must also be followed by an economic and security dialogue; as economy and security issues are increasingly becoming symbiotic in the contemporary world order.

Script: Prof. Chintamani Mahapatra, Pro VC & Chairman American Studies   Centre,  JNU