When Falcon and Eagle Fly Together

ELITE SPECIAL forces drawn from the Delta Forces of the US Army (Green Berets) under Pacific Command and the Para-commandos of the Indian army conducting joint exercises near Agra in the scorching mid-May heat is significant in ways more than one. The two countries have resumed joint exercises after 40 years, since the 1962 Indo-China war. Though billed as a joint exercise to combat terrorism, this is the kind of exercise and training required to mount a joint operation to take out the enemy’s nuclear assets. There were reports of the US doing a similar joint exercise with Israeli Special Forces.

It is not without reason that Indo-US military ties, growing in leaps and bounds and reaching unprecedented levels within a very short period, is often referred to as strategic relations. Defence cooperation has made tremendous progress in areas of joint exercises and US high-tech arms sales to India, while a dialogue for a framework of strategic cooperation, including on missile defence, transfer of high-technology weapon systems, and counter-terrorism, as well as a strategic partnership between the two navies are already on. It is a highly institutionalized and structured affair: with an Indo-US Defence Policy Group directing the whole thing and three steering groups guiding it for the three services.

After sweating it out in Agra the two Armies are to do it again in the freezing sub-zero temperature of Alaska where the two Air Forces are also likely to join in. The US Army officers have already been undergoing training in Counter Insurgency Warfare School at Varangte, Mizoram. The US Army has also expressed its desire to send its officers for training in the High-Altitude Warfare School of the Indian Army at Gulmarg. Though the Indian side denied that the US armed forces had been permitted to enter sensitive areas in J&K in the wake of reports of joint search by the US and Indian special forces for Osama bin Laden in Kashmir, it has been officially confirmed that Indian and US forces have undertaken joint expeditions to peaks adjacent to the Siachen glacier.

The Steering Group for cooperation between the US and Indian Air Forces met in Hawaii to chalk out big plans for stepping up cooperation. But the working relation between the two navies has reached new depths. The US proposal on Indian naval vessels accompanying American ships – so that attack on the US vessels by any power would automatically become a declaration of war against India – is expected to come up shortly before the Indian cabinet for a decision. Meanwhile, Indian ships have already started doing joint patrols with US vessels, especially off the Malacca Straits, which is clearly directed against China.

The cooperation between the intelligence agencies of the two countries is not limited to information sharing about terrorist groups. Of course, there is a permanent mechanism for this, too. It is significant that Christina Rocca, during her earlier visit, had a meeting with Indian officials on Maoist insurgency in Nepal.

There is no shadow of Pokhran-II over arms transfer. The first major deal has been struck for the sale of Firefinder weapons locating (WLR) radar systems worth about $150 million. A Pentagon report to the US Congress on this deal said that the sale would “contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the US by helping to improve the security of a country which continues to be an important force for political stability and economic progress in South Asia”. A revealing comment, indeed! Perhaps more revealing was the assurance from the Pentagon to the Congress that, “India has also expressed the desire to buy radio systems to fulfil strategic commitments for complete communicative inter-operability and standardisation of equipment”. Complete communicative inter-operability and standardisation of equipment between India and the US! Perhaps only geographic considerations would prevent the US from taking India into the NATO! Anyway, the deal, to conclude which George Fernandes personally went all the way to the US, already reeks of a major scam. Praveen Swami of Frontline (May 24, 2002) says that the Firefinder (to be supplied by the US multinational Raytheon) is more than twice as expensive as the similar Ukranian syaytem, which India had late last year committed itself to purchasing. Indo-US bonhomie and strategic cooperation have obviously tilted the deal in favour the US firm. Complete communication systems for the Indian Army – with its ominous implications for security and self-reliance – are expected to be supplied by the US. Of course, having become the ‘strategic partner’, why should India distrust the US?

The Indo-US military cooperation ushered in by the Vajpayee regime is unprecedented in history. For instance, Jaswant Singh said in Australia last year that India would not be averse to extending base facilities to the US on its soil. Indira Gandhi, even at the height of Indo-USSR cooperation when India was considered almost a Soviet satellite, rejected a similar Soviet proposal. There used to be times when even the US military base in Diego Garcia used to be an issue for mass demonstrations in India. It is high time that we revive that tradition of mass protests targeting Vajpayee government’s mortgaging of India’s independent security capabilities and relegating the Indian armed forces to a subordinate mercenary role in the name of “strategic cooperation”.