Officials Say Military Relations With India, Pakistan 'Excellent'
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 1, 2006 While economic and political discussions will dominate President Bush's time during his visit to India and Pakistan, security issues also are important.
Bush will meet with leaders in India and Pakistan over the next three days. As part of the trip, he visited Afghanistan today and conferred with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Pentagon officials speaking on background characterized U.S. military relations with India and Pakistan as excellent.
India, with 1.1 billion people, is an increasingly important trading partner, and is the largest democracy in the world. Pakistan is a frontline state in the global war on terrorism, officials said.
India has an economy growing at an annual rate of about 8 percent. The country has a large middle class that is getting larger. India did not always have the best relationship with the United States. It was only in 1991 that the country turned toward a market-oriented economy, and the results have been astonishing, officials said.
India has invested in its military. The Indian navy is the most capable naval force in South Asia. With one aircraft carrier and two on order, it is capable of projecting power throughout the Indian Ocean region.
Maritime security cooperation between the United States and India is important. Piracy is a danger in the region, officials said. Recently, U.S. ships were involved in thwarting a pirate attack off the coast of Somalia, and there have been repeated pirate attacks on shipping using the Straits of Malacca.
The United States would like more exercises with the Indian navy to increase interoperability. "Learning how to work together in a contingency is not the best way to go," said a defense official. "Let's figure out the details of how to work together in training."
The exercises allow the Indian and American militaries to work together when problems do occur. The Indian and U.S. navies worked together very well, for example, in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami, officials said.
One example the officials pointed to was a "target of opportunity" exercise between the USS Ronald Reagan and the INS Vriaat. The two aircraft carriers conducted a "passing exercise" that was drawn up by respective staffs quickly.
"They not only did the PASSEX ... but they had aircraft exercising," said an official. He said this reinforced the ability to work together, and the ability to coordinate complicated scenarios. The exercise included having to exchange liaison officers, command and control procedures and working out rules of the exercise. "These are all the things needed were this an actual contingency," the official said. "It was more than just a photo op. It was a very meaningful exercise in which both navies learned a lot."
In Pakistan, defense officials look more to a long-term and strategic relationship between the United States and Pakistan. The military-to-military engagement program between the two countries is excellent, officials said. Pakistan has about 225 international military education and training students in the United States now - one of the larger numbers among foreign nations.
The United States conducts five or six bilateral exercises per year each year with Pakistan, and maintains a large foreign military sales program, officials said.
Pakistan also is a frontline state in the war on terror. Pakistani troops are in Waziristan - a portion of the country on the border with Afghanistan - to find and capture al Qaeda terrorists. U.S., Afghan and Pakistani leaders cooperate well in the monthly Tripartite talks to help seal the border with Afghanistan to terrorist infiltration.
But in the last year, the largest American effort in the country has been military response to the earthquake that struck in October. "This showed Pakistanis that the relationship is more than just kinetic," one official said.