Noting that the influence of India at global stage attest to its pivotal role in shaping the regional security environment, a top US military official has said Washington must ensure that the U.S.-India relationship remains rooted in their extensive common interests.
“Our nation’s partnership with India is especially important to long term South and Central Asia regional security and to US national interests in this vital sub-region.
“India’s leadership as the largest democracy, its rising economic power, and its influence across South Asia as well as its global influence attest to its pivotal role in shaping the regional security environment,” Admiral Robert F Willard, Commander US Pacific Command, said in his testimony before the House Armed Services Committee.
We must continue to strengthen this relationship and, while our near-term challenges in Central Command are of great strategic importance, we must ensure the US-India relationship remains rooted in our extensive common interests of which the Afghanistan-Pakistan issue is only one, he said.
I think that the India-US relationship right now is stronger than I’ve ever enjoyed. As you know, because of our history, we’ve only been truly engaging with India mil-to-mil for about the last half a dozen years; and yet it’s been pretty profound how far that’s come, Willard said.
We are engaged with India now with regard to their counterterrorism challenges, particularly as it relates to LeT, the terrorist group that emanates from Pakistan and attacked into Mumbai, and what we believe to be their presence in areas surrounding India, he said in response to a question.
Later in his interaction with foreign journalists at the Washington Foreign Press Centre, Willard said Pacific Command is now focused in and around India, specifically with regard to LeT.
“Our relationship with India, a strategic partner and like-minded democracy, of great importance in south Asia,” he said.
Earlier in his testimony, Willard said the US’ relationship has grown significantly over the past five years as both countries work to overcome apprehensions formed during Cold War era, particularly with respect to defence cooperation.
He said that resolution of the long-standing End User Monitoring (EUM) issue removed a major obstacle to a more robust and sophisticated defence sales programme.
To date, for example, India has purchased Lockheed Martin C-130Js and Boeing P-8I aircraft, expressed their interest to acquire C-17s and conducted flight tests of F-16s and F/A-18s (under consideration in the medium multi-mission role combat aircraft competition), Willard said.
The recent increase in defence sales, which exceeded USD 2 billion in 2009, not only enhances US access to one of the largest defence markets in the world, but more importantly enables greater cooperation between our armed forces, he said.
“As our relationship develops, US Pacific Command remains mindful of the significance of India-Pakistan tensions, particularly as they relate to the broader security discussion and the management of geo-political challenges that span Combatant Commands (Pakistan resides within Central Command’s AOR and India resides in the Pacific AOR).
We are keenly aware of the importance of a peaceful co-existence between these two nuclear-armed nations and stand ready to assist with this goal in conjunction with interagency partners, he said.
The Pacific Commander said one of their most notable accomplishments was last year’s bi-lateral Exercise YUDH ABHYAS. Located in India, it included the largest deployment of US Stryker vehicles outside the Middle East.
“Such events offer unique training opportunities, allow for increased personal and professional interaction and relationship building and improve our ability to work together across a sophisticated range of operations,” he said.