Washington, June 5: India is to permanently station defence attaches at America’s Central and Pacific Commands as part of a rapidly expanding military relationship.
A decision will also be taken before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh begins his US visit next month to post an official at the Indian embassy in Washington to be the “single window” dealing with US arms sales to India.
America’s willingness to accept a permanent Indian military presence at two of its commands dealing with Asia Pacific and the Near East is a coup for India as it attempts to build a strategic partnership with the US.
Hitherto, India’s military contacts with the US were an aberration because these were with the Honolulu-based Pacific Command, which handles Asia Pacific and not South Asia or India’s extended backyard of the Arabian Gulf or states in that region.
The Florida-based Central Command, on the other hand, deals with 19 countries stretching from Kenya to Afghanistan and Pakistan. But it had kept India at arm’s length because this was the command that also dealt with Pakistan.
The two new defence attaches at the US command centres will be in addition to attaches from the army, navy and the air force, who are already posted at the Indian embassy in Washington.
The landmark deal was negotiated between foreign secretary Shyam Saran and the US under-secretary for defence policy, Douglas Feith, during Saran’s visit to Washington a few days ago.
Formalities on approving the arrangement are expected to be completed before defence minister Pranab Mukherjee arrives here on June 26.
The Americans appear to have been encouraged to accept a permanent Indian military presence at the commands after two experiences in dealing with the Indian Navy after the tsunami.
The Pacific Command invited India’s naval attache at its embassy here, Commodore Ashok Sawhney, to move to Honolulu for better co-ordination between the two navies on relief work.
He remained at the Pacific Command for 10 days even as his counterpart at the Indian embassy in Bangkok stayed at a US naval base nearby.
The Pentagon’s willingness to alter the fundamentals of dealing with the Indian military is being interpreted, in part, as an American sop to Mukherjee. He is seen here as a lone hold-out against the enthusiasm within the government for jumping into bed with the US.
The plea to post an officer at the embassy here to act as the single window to deal with arms purchases from the US is said to have come from the Americans, who have complained about the multiplicity of authority at the embassy with attaches from the three services.