United States and India have resolved to deepen political and security ties and pledged to fight terror by inking a crucial agreement on military communications that can result in increased US arms sales to India. India’s Ministers for Defence and Foreign Affair Nirmala Sitharaman and Sushma Swaraj respectively have expressed happiness over talks with their counterparts deputed by the Trump Administration. The two countries also signed the long awaited Communications, Compatibility, Security Agreement (COMCASA) enabling the Indian armed forces to access encrypted technology for various weapon platforms, including aircraft from the US. The pact comes into force immediately and is valid for 10 years and “we have ensured that we have full access to the relevant equipment and there will be no disruptions,” they said and asserted this is an enabling agreement and does not commit India to any acquisitions, said an official . The two sides also agreed to hold the first-ever tri-service joint exercise on the East Coast of India next year. The Communications, Compatibility, Security Agreement (Comcasa) was signed in Delhi on Thursday after the first ‘2+2’ talks between Sushma Swaraj and Nirmala Sitharaman with US Secretary of State Michael R Pompeo and Defence Secretary James Mattis. Comcasa, which will allow the militaries of the two countries to securely communicate with each other, remained stalled for years because of India’s concerns that it would open up its communications network to the US military. Addressing a joint press conference, Sushma Swaraj expressed satisfaction over the agenda of the inaugural dialogue while Sitharaman said that the momentum in the bilateral defence partnership “has imbued a tremendous positive energy that has elevated India-US relations to unprecedented heights”. Another significant development is that the two democracies have renewed resolve to fight terrorism and urged Pakistan to ensure that its territory is not used to launch terror attacks and bring to justice perpetrators of acts of terrorism, especially in Mumbai, Uri and Pathankot. Besides, the contentious H1b visa and India’s bid to enter Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) also came up. Further enhancing growing strategic partnership, the two countries also decided to set up hotlines between the External and Defence Ministers of two countries. Later talking to the American media here, Pompeo said the US will work out ways to avoid slapping sanction on India over the Russian defence deal as the US does not want to hurt its strategic partner. Issuing a terse warning to Pakistan, the “Ministers denounced any use of terrorist proxies in the region, and in this context, they called on Pakistan to ensure that the territory under its control is not used to launch terrorist attacks on other countries,” a joint statement said. Ahead of the 10th anniversary of the 2008 Mumbai attack, they also called on Pakistan to expeditiously bring to justice the perpetrators of the Mumbai, Pathankot (2016), Uri (2016), and other cross-border terrorist attacks, the statement said. Speaking at a joint Press conference with Sitharaman and her US counterparts, Swaraj said India-US counter-terrorism cooperation has acquired a new “qualitative edge and purpose”.“We welcomed the recent designations of Lashkar-e-Tayyeba terrorists by the United States. They underscore the international community’s scrutiny over the threat of terrorism emanating from Pakistan, which has affected India and the United States alike,” they said. Sitharaman said India and the US were committed to work together to combat the “persistent threat of terrorism” and other shared security challenges. The Ministers committed to enhance their ongoing cooperation in multilateral fora such as the UN and Financial Action Task Force (FATF), and reaffirmed their support for a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism that will advance and strengthen the framework for global cooperation and reinforce the message that no cause or grievance justifies terrorism, the joint statement said.“The Ministers welcomed the launch of a bilateral dialogue on designation of terrorists in 2017 strengthening cooperation and action against terrorist groups, including Al-Qaida, ISIS, and Lashkar-e-Taiba. Defending the agreement, Sitharaman said the pact will enhance India’s defence capability and preparedness. The COMCASA will facilitate India to obtain critical defence technologies from the US, and access critical communication network to ensure interoperability among the US and the Indian armed forces. It will also allow the installation of high-security US communication equipment on defence platforms being sourced from the United States .The encrypted systems will allow the Indian forces to fully exploit the capabilities of aircraft like C-130 and C-17 transport aircraft besides P-8 I long range maritime reconnaissance aircraft procured from the US in the last few years.Later, elaborating upon the COMCASA pact, officials clarified India negotiated an India specific agreement building on the generic text. Specific provisions have been incorporated to safeguard our interests and data cannot be shared, they said adding the text of COMCASA is confidential but legal arrangements are there.“The recent decision by the US to put India in the list of countries eligible for Strategic Trade Authorization Tier-I License Exemption reflects India’s robust and responsible export control policies. In our meeting today, we also agreed to work together to secure India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group at the earliest,” Swaraj said.On the H1B visa issue which has raised concerns amongst Indian professionals working in the US, Swaraj said she sought Pompeo’s support to nurture our people-to-people links. “Specifically, I conveyed our expectation for a non-discriminatory and predictable approach to the H1B visa regime, given its high impact on innovation, competitiveness and people-to-people partnership, all of which are a vital source of strength for our relationship,” Swaraj said.A Memorandum of Intent was signed between the U.S. Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) and the Indian Defence Innovation Organization – Innovation for Defence Excellence (DIO-iDEX) -to will look into joint projects for co-production and co-development projects through the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI).
Meanwhile, Indian and American armies have decided to hold a joint exercise called Yudh Abhyas in the hilly Himalayan State of Uttarakhand from September 16.It will be a 12-day exercise.