Perhaps, one of the fallouts of the Kargil Conflict of 1999 between India and Pakistan was US President Clinton’s decision to increase strategic cooperation with India. Since then, India and the US have been moving steadily to strengthen bilateral cooperation in the domain of technology transfer and military cooperation

by Dr Zia Ul Haque Shamsi

While the US may be preparing India to counter China’s rise for which it has been made part of the QUAD (US, Australia, Japan and India), this has direct implications on Pakistan and has certainly led to strategic instability in the South Asian region.

Soon after Kargil, India and the US started 2+2 Ministerial Talks which have now continued for over two decades. The aim of these talks is to further expand existing military cooperation between the two countries. The long-drawn process of negotiating various agreements was completed with the signing of the Basic Exchange and Cooperative Agreement (BECA) on 27 October 2020. The latest round of 2+2 Ministerial Talks was held in Washington D.C. on 11 April 2022. The Indian side was represented by Foreign Minister S Jaishankar, and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, whereas the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin participated from the US side. Importantly, this time the Talks were complemented by a virtual Summit between Prime Minister Modi and President Biden as well.

This article aims to examine this year’s Talks in two specific domains: Defence and Security and Counterterrorism and Counter Narcotics, because certain statements from both sides may have serious implications for Pakistan.

Pakistan’s Foreign Office has called the 2+2 Ministerial Talks a “betrayal to the counter-terrorism focus of both countries.”

Ever-increasing cooperation between the US and Indian militaries under BECA in the domain of information-sharing is aimed at providing real-time pictures during peace and crisis, especially to the Indian Air Force (IAF). In fact, “BECA will help India get real-time access to American geospatial intelligence that will enhance the accuracy of automated systems and weapons like missiles and armed drones.”

There is no doubt that the US has the necessary wherewithal with respect to real-time intelligence gathering and sharing of satellite surveillance in specific areas of interest. The US’ assistance to IAF can prove to be critical in any future conflict between India and Pakistan, no matter how limited it is. This exchange of information comes under the pact, Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), which was signed in September 2018 and “allows the US to provide India with its encrypted communications equipment and systems …., can communicate through secure networks during times of both peace and war.” This level of information-sharing will certainly give an advantage to IAF with regards to better situational awareness of the air battle environment.

The two sides committed to cementing ties between their security establishments across all domains. Therefore, the US and Indian Ministers also outlined the importance of cooperation in space in preparation for the Inaugural Defence Space Dialogue in 2022. It should be remembered that the two sides are already continuing their Defence Cyber Dialogue since 2021.

In the domain of counterterrorism, the US and India “strongly condemned any use of terrorist proxies and cross-border terrorism in all its forms and called for the perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai attack, and Pathankot attack, to be brought to justice.” The Ministers categorically mentioned alleged Pakistan-based banned groups by the UNSC 1267 Sanctions Committee, such as al-Qa’ida, ISIS/Daesh, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT), and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), and Hizb ul Mujahideen. Most importantly, “the Ministers called on Pakistan to take immediate, sustained, and irreversible action to ensure that no territory under its control is used for terrorist attacks.”

Pakistan’s Foreign Office has rejected the joint statement of 2+2 Ministerial Talks and called it a “betrayal to the counter-terrorism focus of both countries.” Unfortunately, the Modi-Biden virtual meeting also targets Pakistan and instead of recognising its efforts and sacrifices during the US war in Afghanistan, it again calls for “Do More.”

In my opinion, Pakistan must prepare to counter the growing threat to its communication and military security due to ever-growing strategic cooperation between the US and India, particularly in the domain of real-time intelligence sharing and joint use of geospatial satellites during peace and wartime. It is evident that BECA would benefit the IAF the most in any future conflict between India and Pakistan, no matter how limited it may be.