December 2019 News

Human Rights Not Part Of 2+2 Talks, But Jammu And Kashmir To Come Up: US

12 December 2019
The Hindustan Times
Yashwant Raj

New Delhi: Human rights issues aren't part of the second India-US 2+2 ministerial dialogue in Washington next week though Kashmir-related matters and India's threat perceptions are expected to be on the agenda, the Trump administration's pointperson for South Asia has said. Defence minister Rajnath Singh and external affairs minister S Jaishankar will meet their US counterparts Mark Esper and Mike Pompeo in Washington on December 18 for a comprehensive review of cross-cutting foreign policy, defence and security issues. During the meeting, the two sides are expected to sign the Industrial Security Annex (ISA), which, according to people familiar with preparatory discussions, will allow US companies to share sensitive proprietary technology with Indian private firms and not just state-owned partners, marking another milestone in the growing partnership. Speaking at an event on Wednesday marking the 60th anniversary of President Dwight Eisenhower's visit to India, Alice G Wells, acting assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, said: 'Human rights is not part of this 2+2 discussion that's taking place next week, although I'm confident that issues on Kashmir and the threat perceptions that India sees will obviously be a part of the agenda.' Wells said the US expects India to 'release political detainees and restore political and economic normalcy' in Kashmir. 'Kashmiris are entitled to their full rights under the Indian Constitution which respects the religious freedom of all Indians,' she added. She acknowledged security challenges faced by India in Kashmir, including cross-border terrorism. New Delhi has cited this as the key defence of controversial restrictions imposed in Kashmir after the erstwhile state's special status was revoked on August 5. Hundreds of people, including three former chief ministers, were detained, and a security lockdown and communications blackout were imposed after the changes. The internet remains suspended while some restrictions have been eased. Wells's remarks were apparently intended to address continuing disquiet on Capitol Hill, the seat of the US government, over the Kashmir situation. She was to brief lawmakers at a closed-door session later in the day. Lawmakers remained concerned, a congressional aide who attended the briefing said, about the 'situation in India'. In New Delhi, external affairs ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said the second 2+2 ministerial dialogue will be an opportunity for the two sides to exchange views on salient regional and global issues. 'The 2+2 dialogue will take stock ofgrowing relations and provide strategic guidance for their further development,' he said. The ISA 'will allow for new avenues of collaboration between our private sectors on defence research and co-development', Wells said. The ISA will allow, for instance, leading US manufacturers of warplanes such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin to seek partners among private Indian firms to bid for the 114 combat jets the Indian Air Force is seeking to replace its aging fleet of Russian aircraft. The 2+2 dialogue is also expected to cover a range of issues from counterterrorism to regional connectivity (a phrase used to describe the China challenge) to Afghanistan. The first edition of the 2+2 ministerial dialogue, held in Delhi, was marked by the signing of the Communications, Compatibility and Security Agreement, the second of three enabling or foundational agreements the US had been pushing India to sign for years to expand interoperability between their militaries. The first, the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement, allows the two sides to use each other's military facilities and was signed in 2016. There is just one more left - the Basic Exchange and Cooperation for Geo-spatial Cooperation. India-US defence cooperation has developed rapidly in recent years, with trade going up from India buying zero American hardware in 2008 to equipment worth around $15 billion in 2018. The two sides conduct joint military exercises with increased frequency. They recently concluded their first tri-services exercises, called Tiger Triumph. They also participate in joint drills with other countries in the region, such as Japan and the Philippines in the South China Sea in May. The first 2+2 ministerial dialogue was held in September 2018 to give a forward-looking vision for the bilateral strategic partnership and to promote synergy in diplomatic and security efforts.