India and the United States began a massive joint military exercise today, underscoring their deepening security ties they view as crucial in a troubled South Asia region.
Hundreds of soldiers using heavy transport aircraft and battle tanks are participating in the biggest-ever war games between the two countries which were on the opposing side of the Cold War but now seek to build strategic and military ties, Reuters reports.
“This exercise is a clever policy for India, a correct thing to do and is clearly part of a larger program started by both countries to improve relations by shedding old inhibitions,” Naresh Chandra, a former envoy to Washington said.
The two countries share security concerns centered around Pakistan and Afghanistan, and New Delhi seeks to enlist American support to press Islamabad to tackle militants on its soil. They also both share concerns about a rising China.
Washington is increasingly realizing the impact of India-Pakistan rivalry on efforts to stabilize Afghanistan.
“Afghanistan and Pakistan will remain areas of concern for both countries and the US, instead of leaving Afghanistan as a theater, is looking to quarantine the security threat in the region itself,” said Uday Bhaskar, a strategic analyst.
“Therefore, this tactical exercise between the two countries to prepare their troops for future makes sense,” Bhaskar, director of the National Maritime Foundation, said.
The military exercise comes after 17 people were killed last week in a bomb attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul that renewed focus on India’s tense relations with Pakistan.
Pakistan remains suspicious of India’s involvement in Afghanistan where New Delhi is spending $1.2 billion (R9 billion) on development projects and fears being squeezed between India on the east and a hostile Afghanistan, backed by India, to the west.
The exercise will also allow Indian military officials to assess some of the American defense equipment being offered for sale to India.
India and the United States signed a landmark civilian nuclear deal last year and another pact in July has facilitated the entry of US companies like Lockheed and Boeing into India’s lucrative defense market.
For New Delhi, the growing ties with Washington are also a counterweight against China, which India fears could be trying to strategically encircle it as they jostle for resources and global influence.
With an ally in India, Washington also seeks to keep an eye on the Chinese army’s growing military mobility and strength in the area.