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US Congress passes defence bill pushing for enhanced ties with India

The bill also keeps up the pressure on Pakistan to act against terrorists by tying certain defence payments to actions against the Haqqani Network.

world Updated: Nov 17, 2017 21:29 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
US Congress,US Defence Bill,United Sattes
The 2018 National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA) sailed through both the chambers of the Congress – House of Representatives and the Senate by a voice vote(Reuters File Photo)

The US Congress has passed an enhanced $700 billion defence bill, which directs the administration to find a “common definition” of ties with India as a “Major Defence Partner” (MDP) and operationalise it by designating an official responsible for it.

The bill, called the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) 2018, also keeps up the pressure on Pakistan to act against terrorists by tying certain defence payments to actions against the Haqqani Network.

A move by the Senate to add Lashkar-e-Taiba to this list was blocked by the defence department, as reported earlier by Hindustan Times.

NDAA 2018 has been sent to President Donald Trump to sign into law.

The MDP designation — unique to India-US ties, as neither country uses it for any of their global partners — seeks to promote defence cooperation, trade, co-production and co-development of military hardware.

The moniker was codified into law by the 2017 defence budget act, months after it had first been announced by former US President Barack Obama at a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Washington. It also committed all future administrations to the same, unless specifically struck down.

NDAA 2018 moves the ball forward by institutionalising the relationship. Section 1258 of the bill, titled “Advancements in defence cooperation between the United States and India”, directs the departments of state, defence and commerce to “jointly produce a common definition that recognises India’s status as a ‘Major Defence Partner’ for joint use” by the three departments.

The legislation also directs the state and defence departments to appoint an official responsible for shepherding MDP ties. It presses for urgency and gives the administration 90 days from enactment to come through with the appointment.

The two departments are also required to brief appropriate committees of the House and Senate on actions taken to advance defence ties between the two countries.

The bill adds new clauses in keeping with the Trump administration’s new strategy for Afghanistan. It says the US should “work with representatives of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Government of India to promote stability and development in Afghanistan”.

It also urges the US to pursue with India the signing of “Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geospatial Cooperation” — two of the remaining “foundational agreements” Washington wants New Delhi to sign.

NDAA 2018 also enjoins the administration to add to ongoing defence cooperation between the two countries an enhanced role for US “partners and allies” and “support joint exercises, operations, and patrols and mutual defence planning with India”.

First Published: Nov 17, 2017 14:02 IST