Discussions between Indian and U.S. officials have focused on efforts to bring the perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks to justice, said Robert Blake, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, on the eve of the third bilateral Strategic Dialogue to be held here on June 13.
Mr. Blake's remarks come in the wake of the U.S.' recent move to place a $10-million bounty on the head of Hafiz Saeed, head of Jamat-ud-Dawa and its sister organisation, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and the suspected mastermind of one of the worst terror attacks on Indian soil in recent times. Saeed however remains free in Pakistan.
Even as a constellation of government officials from India and the U.S. gather here for the high-level, cross-sector Dialogue, Mr. Blake hinted at an extraordinary level of counterterrorism cooperation. “Our partnership has paved the way for real-time information-sharing on terrorist threats... We continue to support an unprecedented number of exchanges between city and high-level federal officials alike, which focus on ports, border and transportation security, illicit finance and cyber crime issues.”
Speaking at a pre-Dialogue event organised by the India-U.S. World Affairs Institute, a non-profit organisation here, Mr. Blake touched upon the work of the Annual Joint Counterterrorism Working Group. He noted that this dialogue was the “cornerstone of our relationship with the Indians since 2000 but particularly since the terrible events of 2008.”
Besides the Mumbai issue, Mr. Blake said the 13th meeting of the Working Group was an opportunity to discuss extremism and terrorism finance.
Mr. Blake also hinted at a strong focus on education sector cooperation. Specifically, there would be key announcements on higher education collaboration. “I am delighted to say that we will be able to announce during the Dialogue the first eight partnership projects that are being funded jointly by the U.S. and India through the Obama-Singh 21st Century Knowledge Initiative.”
The three-year, nearly $.25-million grants would be used for joint projects in food security, energy, climate change and public health, Mr. Blake said. The first ever Higher Education Dialogue would be held on the margins of the Strategic Dialogue, a follow-up from last year's Higher Education Summit.
The focus will be on advanced research and innovation and workforce development, both with respect to community colleges.
A third major area will be economic cooperation, Mr. Blake said, noting that since the early 2000s, the volume of bilateral trade had quadrupled and this year is expected to touch $100 billion. In particular, trade in clean-technology products had become one of the largest components of U.S.-India trade.
Greater momentum may be likely in the realm of investment following the U.S.' review of its so-called Model Bilateral Investment Treaty. However it is unclear what the impact of “new labour and environmental provisions,” in the revised BIT will be.
“We have in fact re-started BIT negotiations,” Mr. Blake said, “So building on the language that is already in the most recently negotiated trade agreements... I think we can make hopefully fairly rapid progress on the BIT negotiations.”
Other focal areas for the Strategic Dialogue include public health, infant mortality and survival issues, chronic disease, and health systems, especially with the groundwork laid by the recent visit to India by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
Speaking at the same event this week Nisha Biswal, Assistant Administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development, explained that USAID was closely engaged with Indian NGOs to promote innovation, entrepreneurship and sustainable development. However, USAID no longer had operations in Gujarat given the “tremendous” development and growth, she said.