Indo-US Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement: Implications for Pakistan

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The Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA)was signed after the US Defence Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met the Indian Foreign and Defence Ministers Sushma Swaraj and Nirmala Sitharaman respectively on 6th September, to protect the military communication.According to the US, it is foundational agreement and a major step forward because it permits the US to transport its sensitive and high-tech equipment such as armed surveillance drones to India. It also binds both states into a military alliance. Generally, the US signs these types of agreements with NATO allies. The US has similar agreements with Australia, South Korea and Japan, particularly major powers in the Indo-Pacific region. In 2016, the then US President Obama gave the status of “Major Defence Partner,” to India and on 30 July, 2018 Trump government gave the status of Strategic Trade Authorization-1 (STA-1) to India.

There are multiple reasons which are driving the US toward India. First, according to the senior experts India’s defence market is attractive for the US and it wants to seize the Indian entire defence market. With the US $15billion of arms deal in the past decade, India emerged as a second largest arms importer from the US. Second, the US wants more vigorous trade partnership with India to counter Indo-Russia trade volume whereas Russia is top defence exporter to India. Third, through these surveillance drones the US wants to monitor China in the Indian Ocean. While China and India have more than US $100 billion trade and China would like to believe that it does not face any threat from India, the growing cooperation between India and the US proves otherwise. This cooperation is boosting Indian Military Industrial Complex while enhancing its military and nuclear capabilities at the same time. COMCASA would also enhance the capabilities of Indian aircraft weapon systems such as C-130 and C-17.

While the Indo-US partnership is growing on a fast pace, the relation between theUS and Pakistan is simultaneously deteriorating.  On the other hand, Russia also feels wary of the emerging cooperation between India and the US. This is one of the reasons bringing Pakistan and Russia closer as both states provide each other the best alternative options. Islamabad purchased high tech Mi-35m helicopters from Russia and is also interested in purchasing more fighter jets from Russia.

Indian experts believe that COMCASA would reduce the chances of the US reservations against India buying S-400 surface-to-air missile systems from Russia. While, the US is not particularly comfortable with India’s military purchases from Russia, this issue was not discussed in the recent meeting but Pompeo told the reporters that the US would not punish India for its proposed purchase. India is looking forward to purchasing Patriot-3 PAC from the US and it is quite evident that the exchange of Russian technology with US high and sophisticated technological systems would disturb the stability of the South Asian region.

The military to military cooperation between India and the US would increase the arms race in the region. It would also disturb the current deterrence equilibrium between Pakistan and India. Nevertheless, Pakistan is not protesting unlike India against any deal between the US and New Delhi. For example, Larry Pressler states in his book “Neighbours in Arms” that when the US Defence Department was approving a sale of eight F-16 to Pakistan in 2016,India started protesting against it. India’s leaders also projected that these jets would be used against them. Pakistan is not complaining but the growing strategic partnership between India and the US is pushing it towards Russia and China.

The US is supporting India on every platform; recently, Trump Senior Administration Official stated that the Washington would advocate India for the membership of Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) despite China’s veto because it placed India in the inner circle of its friends by granting it STA-1 status. All statements and deals send out a very clear message to Pakistan that it should join hands with Russia to maintain the deterrence against India .Russia desires to enhance trade of military equipment with Pakistan despite strong opposition by India. Nonetheless, Russia is cautiously warming up to Pakistan. Last but not the least, it is to be realized by both India and the US that Indo-US strategic partnership would not only increase the arms race between two rivals destabilizing the region, but would also make them move away from their traditional allies. Consequently, Pakistan should think about new strategic partnerships with Russia to avoid any imminent risks.

Sonia Naz
Sonia Naz
Sonia Naz is a visiting Lecturer at International Islamic university and university of Lahore Islamabad. The writer has a degree of M. Phil in International Relations from the COMSATS University Islamabad. She has done Masters in Defence and Diplomatic Studies from Fatima Jinnah University. She frequently writes on Regional Security, Nuclear Terrorism, Nuclear Security and South Asian Nuclear Politics which have been published in various national, international blogs and newspapers. She can be reached at nazsonia68[at]gmail.com

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