On Wednesday Jan 27, 2021, defence minister Rajnath Singh received an introductory telephone call from the new US Secretary of Defence, General Lloyd Austin (Retd)

“The US would be keen to build on India’s strong relationship with the current Afghanistan government to break the impasse of stalled negotiations between Taliban and Ashraf Ghani led government,” says Brig NK Bhatia (Retd).

The first engagement between the Defence and Security apparatus of President Joe Biden’s administration with Indian establishment within days of it’s swearing in shows the importance and relevance of India in the changed security narrative. “The new US administration would be looking at India’s strengths with reference to its relations with Afghanistan, Iran and its standing up to China’s hegemonic designs along the Indo-China border and emerging Quad security relationship,” says Brig NK Bhatia, Indian Army veteran.

In a call which lasted for around 15-20 minutes, between defence minister Rajnath Singh and the US Secretary of Defence Austin, both discussed bilateral, regional and global issues. And also reaffirmed their commitment to strengthen the multifaceted defence cooperation and also the strategic partnership between the two.

Significance of The Call?

Indo-Pacific was the highlight of the telephone call, and the new US Secretary of Defence made it clear that the US is aware of India’s importance keen to further strengthen the relation as Stating that Gen. Austin calling just two days after being confirmed is significant, the source said Indo-Pacific was the highlight of the conversation. And talked about India’s importance in the region and is keen to further strengthen partnership.

Another Call

According to the Ministry of External Affairs, on Wednesday January 27, 2021, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval too had a telephone call with his US counterpart Jake Sullivan. Both agreed to expand the comprehensive global strategic partnership. And to also work together to address the challenges in the post-era. The NSA during the call had underscored that as leading democracies, with an abiding faith in an open and inclusive world order, both the countries were in a position to work together on both regional and international issues including combating the scourge of terrorism, maritime security, cyber security and peace and stability within the Indo-Pacific region and beyond.

India-US Defence Cooperation

Financial Express Online had recently reported about Gen Austin’s testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, where he had talked about further operationalizing India’s ‘Major Defence Partner’ status and to deepen and broaden defence cooperation through not only the Quad security dialogue but other regional multilateral engagements.

And to continue building on the existing strong cooperation in defence which would ensure that the militaries of both sides can address `shared interests’.

However, what is possibly a divergence of views with New Delhi on Pakistan, he had said that Pakistan had taken “constructive steps” in the Afghanistan peace process. And talked about “Pakistan taking steps against anti-Indian groups, like LeT and JeM, though this progress is incomplete.”

Expert View

“The US would be keen to build on India’s strong relationship with the current Afghanistan government to break the impasse of stalled negotiations between Taliban and Ashraf Ghani led government,” says Brig NK Bhatia (Retd).

The former Army officer who is an expert in the region tells Financial Express Online, “Although new US administration has indicated to getting Pakistan on board to restore peace in Afghanistan, it nonetheless would be wary of negative role that Pakistan has played so far by wielding control over Taliban leadership and lack of forward movement in peace negotiations. The new administration would be keen to get India’s help to break the deadlock for peaceful resolution of situation.”

“From the Indian perspective the shaping of relations between the USA and Iran will set the tone for developments that will impact the security situation in the Middle East, Gulf and Afghanistan. India has maintained its relationship with Iran with tacit approval of the USA. India would surely play its part in improving the relations between two sides to bring stability to the region,” Brig Bhatia adds.

According to him, “Most importantly India has emerged as a strong rallying point to stand up to an aggressive China and hold against its expansionist designs that threatens peace and stability in South and South-East Asia. US would like to see India hold its own against China and also contribute towards the security of seas as part of the Quad connect.”

“The growing Indo-US security relationship is also a surety for receipt of high grade weapon platforms by India and build up on technology transfer in its quest for self-reliance in the field of defence,” he concludes.