Disconnect emerges in India-US military views

May 14th, 2009 - 10:09 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, May 14 (IANS) A clear disconnect has emerged in the military views of India and the US, with a top American military commander saying Washington is comfortable with the increased presence of the Chinese Navy in the Indian Ocean, a suggestion that New Delhi bristles at.
This apart, Admiral Timothy J. Keating, who heads the Hawaii-based US Pacific Command, said he would like China to come aboard - as an observer and later as a participant - in the annual India-US Malabar naval war games that occasionally take on a trilateral hue. India is hardly expected to root for this.

And, the US would be comfortable with the Chinese Navy acquiring berthing facilities in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, a move that India has been vehemently opposing, Keating, who was on a two-day visit here, told reporters Thursday.

Keating also felt the broader India-US military-military contact could be considerably ramped if New Delhi signs three rather controversial pacts, one of them on providing mutual logistics support, that have been pending for long. India has often said it is uncomfortable with the language of the pacts and that they would have to be reworked.

“It’s not a question of us versus them. There’s lots of room in the Indian Ocean for various players,” Keating contended.

“We are not in favour of splitting the Indian Ocean into sphere but are talking in terms of cooperating and collaborating and sharing best practices,” he maintained.

Keating also welcomed the increased participation of the Chinese Navy in the anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden at a time when India has been expressing growing concern over this, viewing it as Beijing’s muscling into New Delhi’s backyard.

In floating the Indian Ocean Naval Seminar (IONS) last year, India aimed to crate a regional grouping stretching from the eastern coast of Africa to Australia. The US and China were specifically excluded on the ground they were not Indian Ocean littoral states.

Speaking about the Malabar exercises, Keating said the US had “no objection” to China coming on board.

China had created a major ruckus when the trilateral version of the war games - also involving Australia, Japan and Singapore - were conducted in the Bay of Bengal in 2007 against the usual exercise area off India’s west coast.

This apart, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), which was supporting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government at the time, had staged a series of demonstrations during the exercise but they were conducted nonetheless.

The Left had later parted ways with the government over the India-US civilian nuclear deal.

As for the three military pacts, one of these is Logistics Support Agreement (LSA) that enables cashless transactions for fuel and other non-lethal supplies that are balanced at the end of the year.

India says agreeing to this would be tantamount to granting the US navy and air force berthing and landing facilities in India.

This apart there is CISMOA (Communications and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement) and the End-User Agreement.

The first would have the Indian military reconfiguring their communications frequencies to make them compatible with the US grid. While there are some advantages to this, particularly during disaster relief operations and war games, the downside would be compromising India’s security setup.

As for the End-User Agreement, Indian Navy chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta is on record as terming this as restrictive.

Under the agreement, India would have to certify that the US military hardware it purchases would not be used in combat.

Thus, even though India has already deployed the troop carrier INS Jalashwa it has purchased from the US, the End-User Agreement for this is yet to be inked.

The End-User Agreement has also not been signed for the eight Boeing P8I Orion long range maritime reconnaissance aircraft that are being purchased for the Indian Navy.

The three pacts were high on the agenda during Defence Minister A.K. Antony’s visit to the US earlier this year and there was considerable speculation that they would be signed. This did not happen as India felt it was being tied down too much in return for too little.

During his visit here, Keating held discussions with his Indian counterpart, Admiral Sureesh Mehta, National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan and Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon.

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