US, India sign strategic security agreement amid anti-China rhetoric

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh address a joint press conference at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on Oct. 27, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 27 October 2020

US, India sign strategic security agreement amid anti-China rhetoric

  • Secretary of State Pompeo reaffirms Washington's stance to support India in efforts to ‘defend its sovereignty’
  • Some analysts in New Delhi remain skeptical to the American claim, saying that the deal will further escalate Indo-China tensions

NEW DELHI: The United States and India signed a defense agreement on Tuesday that will provide New Delhi access to classified satellite and sensor data available with the US security establishment, a major tool that is likely to have significant military ramifications for the region.
“We held a comprehensive discussion on a range of key issues,” Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh said at a news conference on Tuesday where he also described the signing of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) between the two countries as “a significant move.”
“We identified projects for the joint development of defense equipment,” he continued. “We reaffirmed our commitment to peace and security of the Indo-Pacific region.”
The US and India signed the deal during the annual 2+2 dialogue between the defense and foreign ministers of the two countries amid escalating tensions and a “war-like situation” between New Delhi and Beijing in the disputed Himalayan region of Ladakh.
The situation also remains precarious in Kashmir where India and Pakistan frequently blame each another for cross-border skirmishes that injure and kill soldiers and civilians on both sides of the Line of Control.
Tuesday’s development follows 20 Indian soldiers losing their lives during a deadly clash in the Galwan Valley of Ladakh on June 15, breaking 45 years of peace at the Indo-China border.
Reaffirming its support for New Delhi in the faceoff with China, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the media that his country would “stand with India in its efforts to defend its sovereignty.”
US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper added it was time to institutionalize cooperation between the two nations.
“Our focus now must be on institutionalizing and regularizing our cooperation to meet the challenges of the day and uphold the principles of a free and open Indo-Pacific well into the future,” Esper said in the meeting with the Indian delegation.
In 2016, Washington designated New Delhi as a “major defense partner” and signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) which allows the militaries of both the countries to use their bases for strategic purposes.
Two years later, in 2018, the two nations signed the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) for “interoperability between the two militaries and sale of high-end technology from the US to India.”
Singh said that India’s “military to military cooperation” with the US was “moving forward very well,” as he described Tuesday’s deal as a “significant” step in the right direction.
“Signing the BECA today, after signing LEMOA in 2016 and COMCASA in 2018 is a significant achievement in that direction … of bilateral defense issues and larger regional and global perspective,” he said.
The US, for its part, threw the spotlight on “advanced” security and cooperation between the two allies.
“This year marks the 15th anniversary of the first US-India Defense Framework and our third 2+2 Ministerial. We have strengthened our defense and security partnership considerably since then ... We [also] advanced our regional security, military-to-military, and information-sharing cooperation,” Esper said.
Experts believe the BECA defense pact would “facilitate operational engagement” between the two nations.
“BECA will complete the four basic agreements that facilitate operational engagement between the armed forces of the two states,” Pranay Kotasthane, a strategic expert at Bengaluru-based think-tank, the Takshashila Institution, told Arab News.
He said that the agreement did not compromise India’s strategic autonomy as was “feared by some.”
“The keyword here is ‘facilitate.’ There is no loss of autonomy because of these agreements. India doesn’t become beholden to fighting American wars because of these agreements,” he added.
Former Indian ambassador Anil Wadhwa agreed, saying that the deal broke the past “hesitation” of sharing data between the two nations.
“It certainly strengthens close military and technical cooperation. There would be no hesitation in terms of changing data and selling of equipment based on geospatial information,” Wadhwa, who served as Indian ambassador to Italy, Poland, Oman and Thailand, told Arab News.
The 2+2 dialogue is a format to discuss defense and security issues between India and the US, and it aims at enhancing peace and stability across the Indo-Pacific region.
Launched in 2015, it replaces the India-US Strategic Dialogue which remained in place since 2009 and focused on regional security, economic cooperation, defense, trade, and climate challenges.
Underlining its importance, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said on Tuesday: “Our national security convergences have obviously grown in a more multipolar world. We met today to not only advance our own interests but to ensure that our bilateral cooperation makes a positive contribution in the world arena.”
The timing and the intent of the defense pact, however, raises questions on whether India is preparing itself to counter China.
Some experts say that at a time when New Delhi should be trying to reconcile its differences with Beijing, the American “embrace would frighten China.”
“The USA will not come to help India to fight China. The only result from this kind of deal would be greater enmity ... We are creating a situation where we are leaving China with no other alternative but to declare war on India,” New Delhi-based political analyst Prem Shankar Jha told Arab News.
He added that “we are doing everything we can to frighten the Chinese, but this will further heighten the tension” between the two countries.
Wadhwa disagreed, however, saying: “If Beijing is not concerned about New Delhi’s sensitivity, why should India care?”
“The Chinese have not been sensitive to our concerns; they did what they wanted to do. They have been at the Indian territory in Ladakh which they have not done before. In that situation, we had no choice but to get the defense deal from whichever place it was available,” he told Arab News.
Kotasthane said that the defense deal would “balance China’s growing power and arrogance.”
“China has chosen to provoke India militarily,” he added. “Under such circumstances, it is prudent for India to balance China's growing power and arrogance by collaborating with other states on its own terms.”

Internally displaced Afghans look to foreign donors for help

Updated 25 November 2020

Internally displaced Afghans look to foreign donors for help

  • UN warns of ‘grave consequences’ for Kabul if officials at global conference cut aid

KABUL: As they huddle around a makeshift fire a few meters away from their tents, a group of men, displaced by decades of war in Afghanistan, recall the number of times former and current government officials pledged to provide basic amenities to millions of refugees during routine visits to their camp.

One man in the group, 42-year-old Shah Tawoos, points at a dirty stream of water which is making its way beneath the rotten tent – his “home” for more than a decade.

“Look at the humidity inside and the mud outside the tent, even dogs can’t and won’t bear this, but we have nowhere to go,” Tawoos told Arab News.

The tent is one of many located in the Charahi Qambar (CQ) camp, on the western fringes of Kabul, where thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) like Tawoos are denied their rights and are continuously threatened with deportation.

“Ministers and other authorities came and went, pledging to help us with houses, but nothing has happened. We do not know where the government spends the national budget and foreign aid,” he said.

According to the Internal Monitoring Displacement Centre (IMDC), the CQ is one of 47 camps that house nearly 3 million IDPs, who had their lives upended either by natural disasters or a fresh bout of violence since the Taliban’s ouster in the US-led invasion in 2001.

The displacements were triggered by fighting and attacks involving the Taliban, government and US-led forces, Daesh and other nonstate armed groups.

“In the first half of 2020, there were 117,000 new displacements associated with conflict and violence and 30,000 as a result of disasters,” according to the IMDC.

The CQ camp is filled with refugees from Afghanistan’s south where, according to the United Nations, more than 5,000 families have fled the fighting between the Taliban insurgents and Afghan government forces, specifically in the Helmand province.

The conditions at these camps are deplorable, with IDPs residing in tents either donated by local or foreign relief agencies or in small mud houses built using their resources.

The tents are rotting. Their condition, residents say, gets worse in summer when heavy rain and snow weakens the fabric, resulting in gaping holes.

“Our tents become infested with mosquitoes in the summer heat and unbearably cold in winter times,” Rahmat Gul, another resident of the camp, said.

He laments about the lack of electricity and water supply and highlights the plight of thousands of children who have no access to education or, often, food.

There are other issues as well, Gul says, such as unemployment and poverty, forcing some men and women to beg to make ends meet.

The camp first attracted attention in 2012 after at least 15 IDP children froze to death due to the harsh winter conditions.

The displacements were the topic of discussion once again during a virtual donor conference in Geneva on Monday and Tuesday where ministers from nearly 70 countries and officials of humanitarian organisations spoke about funding cuts and tighter restrictions on vital aid for Afghanistan, marking further challenges for a nation that is preparing for an early withdrawal of US-led foreign troops and grappling with the COVID-19 crisis.

“We want the participants (in Geneva) to act with caution, take firm measures for accountability and transparency from our government. Otherwise we fear that just like in the past, much of the aid will be squandered either by foreign contractors or officials in our government,” Gul said.

Ahead of the conference which began on Monday, President Ashraf Ghani said he hoped for it to generate billions of dollars of aid.

“The outcome of this pledging conference will heavily influence the country’s future development and our path towards self-reliance and peace,” Ghani said during the weekend in Kabul.

It follows a similar event in Belgium in 2016 where donors pledged to extend $15 billion in aid to Afghanistan for the next five years.

However, finance ministry spokesman Shamrooz Khan Masjidi was unable to comment on how much of the pledged aid had been disbursed.

“We would like a major part of the aid to be channeled through government budgets,” he said.

He added that the focus of all future aid would be on building infrastructure, repatriation of refugees and aiding the war displaced.

“Kabul had fulfilled the benchmarks set by donors for the last conference with regards to combating corruption and was open for accountability for the cash it has spent,” he said.

The Geneva meeting comes amid a deadlock in the talks between the Afghan government and Taliban negotiators in Doha, Qatar, that have been going on since Sept. 12, as well as rising discontent with Ghani’s government at home and abroad due to soaring corruption, weak governance and the alleged squandering of state resources.

A recent report released by US watchdog SIGAR said: “The Afghan government makes paper reforms, such as drafting regulations or holding meetings, rather than concrete actions that would reduce corruption, such as arresting powerful actors.”

Following the SIGAR report and ahead of the Geneva conference, Ghani’s government ordered the formation of another commission to fight graft.

However, Sayed Ikram Afzali, executive director of Integrity Watch, said that the government had “no will for fighting corruption and resorts to symbolic works for drawing the attention at international conferences.”

A survey conducted by the Afghan Civil Society Forum on Sunday said that 90 percent of participants believed that “the government is corrupt.”

Afghanistan’s last permanent ambassador to the United Nations, Mahmoud Saikal, said on Monday: “In this time of high corruption, it is extremely important donors demand strong accountability from those who claim to represent our people.”

It’s a thought echoed by UN Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi. He also warned of “grave consequences” if the world turned away from Afghanistan.

“Failure on either account would see Afghanistan slide backwards with disastrous consequences, including further displacement, possibly on a larger scale…” he said in a statement on Sunday.