India likely to move on US military pact
New Delhi, May 24, 2009
India's new ruling coalition, freed of pressure from its former communist allies, is expected to move forward soon on a military logistics deal with the United States that would help US operations in the region.
The Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), on hold for more than two years, allows refuelling, maintenance and servicing of military ships and planes from both countries at each other's ports and bases.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's former communist allies opposed the agreement, saying Indian military bases could become permanent ports of call for the US military engaged in unilateral operations in the region.
But Singh's Congress party defeated the communists in a general election this month, winning a stronger majority and freeing itself from any pressure from its former allies who had walked out of his last coalition government over a civilian nuclear deal with Washington.
The communists have a traditional antipathy towards the United States and oppose any strategic alliance with it. But a top Indian government official and military analysts said the communists' fears were overblown because the LSA was a fairly common arrangement that the United States had with more than 50 countries.
"This is one of the first things we'd have to look at," a senior Indian government official told Reuters as Singh's coalition was sworn in for a second term on Friday.
US ships were already using Indian facilities on a case-by-case basis, and the agreement will only formalise it, said the official, who asked not to be identified.
With the deepening US involvement in the war against Islamist militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan, greater access to military facilities in the region would help US forces, military experts said.
"Logistics is at the heart of any military operation," said B Raman, former head of India's external intelligence arm, the Research and Analysis Wing. "This will definitely help them, they have the assurance of safe and reliable facilities," he said.
Separately, Washington has been seeking new supply routes for its troops fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan after militants stepped up attacks on convoys passing through Pakistan.
It has agreed with most Central Asia states as well as Russia to use their territory as transit points for non-military Afghan cargo such as fuel, water and construction materials.
Raman and other experts said the planned logistics agreement was quite apart from US efforts to maintain the supply lines to its troops and that New Delhi wasn't getting drawn into Washington's Afghanistan-Pakistan war strategy.
"The LSA is a mutually useful agreement. It was hyped up by the communists and the government got paralysed," said C Raja Mohan, professor of South Asian studies at Singapore's Nanyang Technology University.
He said New Delhi stood to gain as much if not more than Washington with access to more US facilities further away.
"The US already has a large network of support structures around the world and the Indian signature on the LSA is not central to its military operations," he said.
Washington had sought similar arrangements with other countries in South Asia, including Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. - Reuters
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