TIMES NEWS NETWORK[ SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 28, 2004 11:59:09 PM ]
NEW DELHI: Signalling an early reconnaissance for US President George Bush’s visit to India, US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld will be visiting India next week. This is the first high level visit from the second Bush administration and it is being regarded with special significance in New Delhi.
By all accounts, Bush-II promises to be even better for India than Bush-I. A political vote of confidence was delivered to India early on with a formal US offer to sell the Patriot missile defence system.
India is in talks with Israel for its Arrow missile defence system, which is a joint US-Israel effort. India has already purchased the Green Pine radar system and the Phalcon early warning aircraft from Israel.
For a couple of years now, Israeli and Indian lobbies have been working the Washington circuit to get US clearance for the sale. The US offer to sell P-3C Orion naval reconnaissance aircraft is also an upgraded one. US officials say the version they have for India is "P-3C plus" equipped with the latest avionics and equipment systems. They describe it as a "maritime patrol aircraft with offensive capability", streets ahead of what Pakistan is cleared for.
The US has also offered Perry class frigates and Sea Hawk helicopters, while special operations forces will be looking at chemical and biological protection equipment.
Between the Israeli offer and the US, India may bend Washington-wards because of the long-term political and strategic implications to the purchase. Clearly, India’s earlier apprehensions about the US being a "reliable defence supplier" has been addressed.
India’s expectations from Bush-II have two crucial components: deepening of business relations and giving India a new place in the "international security architecture".
India is willing to play the reciprocity game and the first signal will be Air India’s decision on the purchase of 50 new aircraft, a decision that is being watched equally intently in the Boeing headquarters in Seattle as in Foggybottom.
But the US offer to sell Patriots to India comes with a much bigger strategic statement. Henceforth, comparing Indian military acquisition with Pakistan’s will be redundant: if the Patriot deal goes through, it will add several strategic miles to India’s defence arsenal, making it qualitatively different from either China or Pakistan. If things go according to plan, US and Indian strategists are looking at another version of the US-Japan relationship in Asia.
Part of the new administration’s proactive policy with India has come about with the departure of Colin Powell and the induction of Condoleeza Rice as secretary of state.