NSA Ajit Doval heads for Washington to get India-US 2+2 dialogue back on track
Government officials familiar with the matter say Ajit Doval is bound for Washington to discuss the security environment in Asia.Updated: Mar 20, 2018 07:31 IST
National security advisor Ajit Doval left for Washington on Monday night on a two-day official visit to meet his US counterpart HR McMaster, secretary of state-designate Micheal Pompeo and CIA director designate Gina Haspel as part of New Delhi’s ongoing effort to cement military-security ties with the Trump administration.
Doval’s visit assumes significance because the scheduled two-plus-two April 18 dialogue between foreign and defence ministers of the two countries has been put off at least for a month pending senate confirmation of the incoming secretary of state Pompeo.
While South Block is tight-lipped about the NSA’s visit, government officials familiar with the matter say Doval is bound for Washington to discuss the security environment in Asia, particularly in the context of developments in Afghanistan and Pakistan region, Sri Lanka, Maldives and China. Doval has had a close working relationship with outgoing CIA director Pompeo and his successor and has hotline to his counterpart McMaster.
According to US and Indian diplomats familiar with the details, Doval will carry forward the spadework done by foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale and defence secretary Sanjay Mitra, who returned after holding preparatory meetings for the two-plus-two dialogue on Sunday night. It is understood that both sides have decided to deepen their defence cooperation and synchronised their views on the Indo-Pacific as well as the Quad relationship, an in-the-works grouping of India, the US, Japan, and Australia to counter China’s growing clout in the region.
The diplomats said the preparatory work included discussions on the long pending bilateral Communications, Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA). India and the US have been discussing all aspects of the two agreements and Washington has addressed all of New Delhi’s concerns to the latter’s satisfaction, they added. The COMCASA is a precursor to Indian acquiring US advanced defence technologies and BECA is the foundation to any spatial cooperation between the two. While India’s opposition parties have tried to make a national security issue out of these two foundation agreements, COMCASA and BECA are at the heart of any future substantial defence cooperation between the two strategic partners, the diplomats said. The two agreements will be taken up for final discussions during the two-plus-two ministerial dialogue.
Hindustan Times also learned that the two Indian secretaries were able to synchronise the views of New Delhi and Washington on what constitutes Indo-Pacific and the role of key Asean countries in any initiative to ensure freedom of navigation in the region. The two countries have also decided in favour of more complex military to military exercises, including advanced bilateral naval exercises in the Indo-Pacific. The diplomats said India’s defence secretary Sanjay Mitra reviewed the offer of unarmed Guardian drones as well as air combat platforms from Washington. According to them, Doval will take this a step further by exploring the possibility of India acquiring armed drones and of top US contractors like Boeing and Lockheed Martin opening fighter production and maintenance lines in India.
During his visit, Doval will also review developments in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, given the Ashraf Ghani government’s predilection to bringing a section of Taliban to the table for dialogue with help of Pakistan. While India has consistently opposed dialogue with Taliban insurgents for long-term stability of Kabul, there is an element within the Trump administration which wants to use the Pakistan line to negotiate with Taliban. With Pakistan heading for elections, Doval is also expected to discuss the role of the Muslim Milli League, a party floated by Lashkar-e-Taiba emir and 26/11 mastermind Hafiz Saeed, in Pakistan polity, according to the diplomats.