India and US decide to hold 2+2 dialogue around 11 April

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NEW DELHI :

Defence minister Rajnath Singh and external affairs minister S. Jaishankar will meet their US counterparts on or around 11 April, to further cement defence and political ties between the two countries under the shadow of the Ukraine war. 

The ministers will exchange notes on the geopolitical situations in Ukraine and the Indo-Pacific, in what will be the first dialogue under the two-plus-two format since Joe Biden took over as US President, officials familiar with the matter said. 

While India has noted with concern public statements from the US about New Delhi being “shaky” and on the “wrong side of history”, the stand of the Narendra Modi government on Ukraine is quite unambiguous: it has called for the complete cessation of violence, resolution of differences through dialogue, and recognition and protection of territorial integrity of nation-states. Modi has communicated the stance to both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in telephonic conversations.

To be sure, New Delhi acknowledges the nuance that some sections of the US administration have shown an understanding of its stance on Ukraine, just as it remembers the silence of EU countries, particularly Germany, in criticizing China for its unilateral transgression along the east Ladakh LAC in May 2020. Many EU countries are still buying oil and gas from Russia.

During the two-plus-two dialogue, US secretary of state Antony Blinken and defence secretary Llyod Austin are expected to share the American assessment of the Ukraine war, which is into its second month with Russian forces losing steam, and Moscow redefining its war objectives. On Tuesday night it offered to reduce the intensity of its attacks on Kyiv.

The two sides will also share their assessments on the Indo-Pacific with  China’s Navy growing in strength and its Army dragging its feet on restoring peace and tranquillity on the East Ladakh LAC. The fact is that the PLA is still fully deployed in occupied Aksai Chin with heavy weaponry and long-range missiles in parts of Xinjiang and Tibet, making it impossible for India to disengage.

India and the US will also increase defence cooperation with the American F-18 deck-based fighter being considered for the soon-to-be-commissioned aircraft carrier INS Vikrant. The twin-engine multirole combat jet is expected to undergo ski jump trials at INS Hamla in Goa in April-May with trials of Rafale-M already having concluded in January. The Indian Navy is expected to buy at least 36 jets for INS Vikrant as the development of an indigenous deck- based fighter is years away from fruition.

With India working on developing indigenous armed drones under the “Atmanirbhar Bharat” initiative, the two sides are expected to discuss how US defence companies can set up shop in India in partnership with domestic manufacturers and produce major defence hardware, provided Pentagon does not attach legal or operational strings to the project, the officials cited above said, seeking anonymity.

The two sides will also discuss Afghanistan where the Taliban continues with its regressive measures and hardline Islamic laws by keeping girls out of schools and women out of jobs. The political situation in Afghanistan continues to be grim with traditional Taliban leaders led by Mullah Yaqoob at loggerheads with the Pakistani intelligence-backed Haqqani Network led by global terrorist Sirajuddin Haqqani. 

The same political flux holds true for Pakistan with Prime Minister Imran Khan facing a strong challenge in a no-confidence motion moved by the Opposition.

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