Strategic convergence was the message that came through at the end of the inaugural round of the India-U.S. 2+2 Dialogue in Delhi on Thursday. It centered around the Indo-Pacific or South China Sea with ministers of both countries using virtually identical language to underscore that convergence.
A joint statement issued at the end of the day-long deliberations involving External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and their U.S. counterparts Mike Pompeo and James Mattis, respectively, committed both sides to working in concert towards realising a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region.
The statement called for “respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity, rule of law, good governance, free and fair trade, and freedom of navigation and overflight.”
And taking aim at China’s multi-billion dollar Belt & Road Initiative, the statement said: “Both sides emphasised the need to work collectively with other partner countries to support transparent, responsible and sustainable debt financing practices in infrastructure development.”
Both sides underscored stepped up information sharing efforts on known or suspected terrorists and to implement UN Security Council Resolution 2396 on returning foreign terrorist fighters. They denounced the use of terrorist proxies in the region and called on Pakistan to ensure that territory under its control is not used for attacks on other countries.
The statement wanted Pakistan to bring to justice the perpetrators of the Mumbai, Pathankot and Uri attacks besides others. It specifically named the Lashkar-e-Taiyyaba, Jaish-e-Muhammad, Hizbul Mujahedin, Al Qaida, Islamic State, Haqqani Network and Tehreek-e-Taliban.
A hotline will now connect the defence and foreign ministries of both countries.
But there are some negatives. It’s clear the U.S. approach to Pakistan and Afghanistan will be driven by Washington’s perceptions of where its interests lie. India’s continued purchase of Iranian oil could be an issue as the U.S. deadline requiring all countries to cease commercial transactions with the Islamic Republic kicks in on November 4.
Russia, too, is a political hot potato in the U.S. today and Washington is unlikely to relent on its stand that India’s purchase of the S-400 ballistic missile system is not on. India cannot afford to back out as it’s a sovereign decision and Moscow could retaliate, given India’s heavy dependence on Russian weaponry.
Managing these challenges and contradictions will test India’s diplomatic skills going forward.
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