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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 37, August 31, 2013

US General Wants to Learn from India

Monday 2 September 2013, by Ninan Koshy

General Raymond T. Odierno was in an upbeat mood. He had just returned from a visit to India. He was profuse in his praise for the Indian Army. He said the US Army had to learn a lot from its Indian counterpart.

The US Army Chief of Staff visited India at the end of July. During that visit he met with defence leaders in India including his counterpart, the Indian Chief of Army Staff, General Bikram Singh. He visited the Indian Army’s Northern Command, responsible for the borders with Pakistan and China, and interacted with the staff and commanders there. The Northern Command has the Srinagar-based 15 Corps and Nagrota-based 16 Corps which look after the counter-insurgency operations in the State. General Odierno thus gained firsthand knowledge of India’s counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations, particularly in Jammu and Kashmir.

He said mainly two things in an address on July 29 to the American Enterprise Institute: about the great influence of the Indian Army and what the US Army can learn from it.

“The Indian Army is by far the most influential in the Asia-Pacific region,” he said, asserting that the “US should work with partners like India and Egypt to shape a stable global order”. He elaborated on this: “As it is in many of the Asia-Pacific countries, the Army is a dominant service in these countries. India is a prime example. It is by far the most influential.” That is why, he argued, it is important to build Army-to-Army relations with the Indian Army, “as we continue to work with our strategy”. He made clear what the strategy is: “to continue to rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region”.

It is significant to note that he puts the Indian Army and the Egyptian Army on the same footing in terms of Army-to-Army relations. Does the General mean that the roles of these two Armies are the same? Of course, he says that the Indian Army and the US Army are based on the lines of professional Armies of “the two largest democracies in the world”; obviously he had in mind the strengthening of relations with Armies in the region for what he calls “a stable global order”. But what does he mean by stressing the influence of the Indian Army?

Highly impressed by the Indian military’s successful counter-insurgency operations, he said: “The US would like to learn from the Indian experience as to how to fight militants in a tough environment and difficult terrain as in Afghanistan.” This is an admission of the failure of the US counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan and indicates the distinct possibility of being tied up there, in spite of US efforts to extricate itself from that place. The General may also have in mind the possibility of similar US adventures in the future in ‘a tough environment and difficult terrain’.

The General expressed interest in conducting US-India joint exercises in Kashmir. “The US may be interested in but still need to take a look at by sending people to train in these types of environment,” he said. Indian and US troops have held joint exercises in the mountainous Ladakh region in 2003. The renewed interest in Kashmir has a reason. “The basis of our continued relationship will be the sharing of information about what they face on a day-to-day basis with Pakistan as well as with China.” What is the message that the General is conveying to Pakistan by speaking about the possibility of joint India-US military exercises in Kashmir?

The General could as well go to Tel Aviv to learn about the strategy and tactics of counter-terrorism in India. During the visit by (then) Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres to New Delhi in January 2002, a Foreign Ministry spokes-person said: “India finds it increasingly beneficial to learn from Israel’s experience in dealing with terrorism since Israel too has long suffered from cross-border terrorism.” It appeared that the rationale for training thousands of Indian special troops by Israel was the equation of the Palestinian struggle with cross-border terrorism. India and Israel not only exchange crucial intelligence information on what they call “Islamist terrorist groups” but Israel is also ‘helping’ India to ‘fight terrorism’ in Kashmir by providing important logistical support such as specialised surveillance equipment, cooperation on intelligence gathering, and joint exercises.

The Israeli ‘involvement’ in Kashmir has a longer history than cooperation between the USA and India on counterterrorism. Jane’s Defence Weekly reported in March 2000 that Israeli security officers were regularly visiting the Kashmir border. Jane’s Terrorism and Security Monitor (August 14, 2001): “Israeli intelligence have been intensifying their relations with Indian security apparatus and are now understood to be heavily involved in helping New Delhi combat Islamic militants in the disputed province of Kashmir.” All these happened before the USA launched the War on Terror. The Jerusalem Post reported on February 3, 2003 that India was sending three battalions of nearly 3000 Indian soldiers to Israel for specialised anti-insurgency training. India has been using tactics adopted by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) in counter-terrorism. Do we have to believe that the US Army Chief of Staff does not know all this?

India and the USA have counter-terrorism cooperation from 2001 buttressed by the Framework Agreement on Defence Cooperation between the two countries, signed in June 2005. “What really caught me is what they have been doing for the last 20 years in what we have been doing for the last 12 years.” That means India began its counter-terrorism operations in 1993—actually in 1989—whereas the US began it only from 2001 with the War on Terror. India has always claimed that it had a longer history of experience of terrorism and counter-terrorism operations. The General seemed to concede the claim.

The Indian Government’s official position is that India had long been involved in fighting terrorism, especially of the Osma bin Laden variety via Pakistan. In the official Indian view, the result of the September 11 attacks was that the US had joined India in the struggle against terrorism and not the other way round. Prime Minister Vajpayee had told the UN General Assembly in 2001 (November 10): “We in India knew from our own bitter experience that terrorists develop global networks driven by religious extremism.”

The US Army Chief of Staff stated that the US would continue to support and collaborate with India in counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency actions. He cannot be unaware of the many challenges to effective counter-terrorism cooperation.

One of the main challenges is the difference in perceptions on terrorism, especially when it is about cross-border terrorism in Kashmir. While both sides would agree that the scourge of terrorism needs to be addressed, there are concerns in New Delhi about Washington’s relationship with Pakistan. For India, Pakistan represents the epicentre of the terror threat to India. But there is no evidence that the USA shares or even takes serious note of this perception

There is also enough reason for India to have serious doubts about the US commitment to bilateral cooperation in the absence of transparency in Washington’s actions. The prime example of the David Headley case stands out. India was surprised by accounts that the US was aware of Headley’s connections and movements much before his arrest as a terrorist. Serious doubts about US transparency rose when queries to question Headley were not immediately granted.

As Lisa Curtis of the Heritage Foundation said in her testimony before the US House of Representatives’ Committee on Foreign Affairs’ Sub-committee on Terrorism and Non-prolife-ration on September 14, 2012, “It took almost nine months before Indian authorities were given direct access to Headley. The US failure to pursue arrest and prosecution of Pakistani intelligence officers named by Headley as being involved in the 2008 Mumbai attack has also reinforced Indian beliefs that the US will gloss over Pakistani involvement in India so long as Pakistan continues to cooperate with the US against groups that attack America. By choosing to view the activities of the Al-Qaeda and other Pak-based terrorist groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba through a separate lens, US officials have failed to hold Pakistan accountable for dealing effectively with terrorists located on its territory.”

New Delhi knows that the US cannot be relied on terrorist cases implicating Pakistan. Washington will not share with New Delhi any information that would compromise its relations with Pakistan. It is this pronounced trust deficit that has pervaded the US-Indian relationship and prevented deeper cooperation on specific regional threats. India has been frustrated by what it views as inconsistencies and backsliding in the US’ public statements concerning the Pakistan-based terrorist threat to India. The apparent reluctance of the USA to push the Pakistani Army leadership to dismantle the Lashkar-e-Taiba’s infrastructure and its operations along the border is a matter of concern in New Delhi. Washington has also withheld information on the Al-Qaeda’s terrorist operations suspected of having ties to Kashmir militants.

Dr Ninan Koshy, formerly a Visiting Fellow, Harvard Law School, USA, is the author of The War on Terror—Reordering the World and Under the Empire—India’s New Foreign Policy.

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