India and the US are exploring the possibility of an agreement designed to allow limited visa-on-arrival or visa-less travel between their countries, say sources in Washington. The first step would be for the US to share specific technologies – for airline passenger risk assessment and facial recognition, for instance – necessary to make this possible.
This would be the most popular fallout of a strengthened counterterrorism engagement between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Barack Obama, and add to Modi’s list of diaspora-friendly immigration policies.
The two will revive a regular cabinet-level homeland security dialogue that lapsed during the last three years of the UPA government.
A meeting later this year between home minister Rajnath Singh and US homeland security secretary Jeh Johnson is expected to be announced during the Republic Day summit.
India was one of the six countries invited by the US to join its Global Entry programme in 2013. Under this, low-risk Indians, pre-screened and with recorded biometrics, would be allowed unlimited travel to the US and bypass the normal immigration channels.
New Delhi subsequently did nothing to take this forward. Reviving Indian entry into this programme is back on the agenda.
India will also seek other lower-hanging fruit from the US including diplomatic support for the ratification of the UN Convention on Terrorism, a charter Washington has shied away from because of opposition by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. While Indian intelligence is comfortable with its surveillance techniques, it recognizes that it lags in the area of decryption and will seek US help in this area. Cyber security in general will be a major focus of both countries.
There will be a push to increase cooperation and share knowhow in internal security methods like megacity policing, maritime and coastal surveillance, global supply chain security and terrorist financing.
The US wants greater and faster information sharing about individuals linked to the Islamic State. It is particularly concerned about ‘lone wolf’ terrorists self-radicalised via the Internet.
Washington has already come through on its September agreement to take aim at gangster-terrorist Dawood Ibrahim by slapping sanctions earlier this month against two key D Company members, Anis and Aziz Moosa Bilakhia.