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Parrikar’s maiden US visit gives fillip to defence ties

Published : Dec 23, 2015, 6:20 am IST
Updated : Dec 23, 2015, 6:20 am IST

Manohar Parrikar and his counterpart Ashton Carter have agreed to closely monitor the progress of 17 new areas for potential cooperation under DTTI — launched to enhance bilateral partnership

Defence minister Manohar Parrikar and the commander of US Pacific Command, Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., during a welcome ceremony.
 Defence minister Manohar Parrikar and the commander of US Pacific Command, Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., during a welcome ceremony.

Manohar Parrikar and his counterpart Ashton Carter have agreed to closely monitor the progress of 17 new areas for potential cooperation under DTTI — launched to enhance bilateral partnership

Manohar Parrikar is the first Indian defence minister to visit the US since 2008, despite the fact that US defence secretaries made six visits to India during the same period. This long gap reflects the difference between the UPA government’s indifference on strategic affairs/former defence minister A.K. Antony’s lack of drive in modernising/re-equipping India’s armed forces. and the Modi government’s zeal in boosting the India-US defence relationships.

Mr Parrikar is reported to have acknowledged good chemistry and rapport with his counterpart Dr Ashton Carter during his four-day tour, probably because both of them are technocrats and physicists. Dr Carter is a double major in physics and medieval history from Yale and recipient of a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University in theoretical physics, while Mr Parrikar is an IIT-Mumbai graduate.

Having identified 17 new areas for potential cooperation under Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), launched in 2012 to enhance bilateral partnership, particularly in high technology, Mr Parrikar said he and Dr Carter had agreed to closely monitor its progress. Not divulging details of the new areas identified for cooperation, he said these covered radar systems and UAVs among others and that while of the six items that were earlier considered under DTTI, two were found unsuitable but the other four were making good progress.

The defence minister’s tour included a visit to US Pacific Command (Pacom), the Pentagon, a visit with Secretary Carter to observe flight operations aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and interaction with Indian and US defence companies at the US India Business Council (USIBC). Mr Parrikar’s visit to Pacom may be seen as meaningful as it is one of the six US armed forces commands with a vast area of responsibility stretching from the US west coast to India and from Antarctica to the North Pole — covering 36 Asia-Pacific countries.

“The confidence of American companies to go for a Make in India probably has improved a lot,” Mr Parrikar is reported to have said adding that most of the offset problems that America Inc. has consistently complained about had been resolved. “They will tell you that most of the problems have already been attended to and probably only one notification is yet to be issued, which should be coming in the next ten days. Over the last six months, most of the problems of offsets have been addressed One such example is textron. So, I don’t think the next two months will be much difficult. The final notification is coming. After that, they do have some demands, but those are not obstructive We are examining them because they are more of an incentive nature ” Mr Parrikar reportedly said.

Both Mr Parrikar and Mr Carter are reported to have expressed satisfaction over progress made by the two joint working groups — one on aircraft carrier technology cooperation and the other on jet engine technology.

A joint statement said “Secretary Carter informed Mr Parrikar that in light of the strengthening relationship between the US and India, the DoD has updated its policy on gas turbine engine technology transfer to India,”.

According to USIBC president Mukesh Aghi, Mr Parrikar’s visit demonstrated the growing trust between the two countries in the sensitive area of defence.

Aparna Pande, director of Initiative on the Future of India and South Asia at Hudson Institute in Washington, said, “Mr Parrikar’s first trip was a success on form, symbol and generated enough hope on substance. We know the political leadership in both countries wants the relationship to move ahead. But for that to happen the bureaucracies need to come closer together. It also needs closer ties not only between governments but also between the private sectors of both countries.

America’s closest ties are with countries where the defence relationship is strongest and India would benefit by developing this aspect of the relationship as well.”

When asked by the media if India would consider being part of the United States-led coalition to fight ISIS, the defence minister reportedly made it clear that India will share intelligence and any anti-ISIS campaign would only be under the auspices of a unanimously approved United Nations programme.

There is no doubt that the good vibes and agreements mentioned between the two leaders will fructify only with both countries’ bureaucracies cutting or at least considerably loosening the red tape, Indian bureaucracy in particular.

When asked by media if India would consider being part of the United States-led coalition to fight ISIS, the Defence Minister reportedly made it clear that India will share intelligence, any anti-ISIS campaign would only be under the auspices of a unanimously approved United Nations programme. “We don’t mind a step further in sharing the information,” he added.

Prior to embarking on the US visit Mr Parrikar had stated that he would take up the matter of US arms aid to Pakistan, and while it was reported that he did so, the fact remains that his tour came two weeks after a high-profile visit by Pakistan army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif, who was wined and dined extensively by the Obama administration. However, this visit is seen as a major path-breaker, thanks much to the efforts of Dr Carter.

“We have got a very clear promise and we are experiencing it — our issues are fast-tracked while following the process,” said Mr Parrikar and while he is expected to maintain the tempo, it is hoped that the process keeps pace with the government’s aim of speeding up the armed forces’ modernisation programme.