The U.S. may invoke the 2016 Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), to build a military base in India, for use as a staging area for beyond-the-horizon surveillance and launching attacks on terrorists in and around Afghanistan, according to Indian Major General S. G. Vombatkere.
In an article published by the Counter Current Monday, General Vombatkere pointed out that the idea of a staging area in India for over-the-horizon US forces was articulated during a US Congressional hearing by Republican Mark Green asking Secretary of State Antony Blinken: "Considering rumors of ISI's support for the Taliban, have you guys reached out to India as a possible staging area for the over-the-horizon forces? I'm talking about northwest India as a potential because we all know Qatar and Doha, the other places, are just a little bit too far " Kuwait, all of that. What about northwest India? And have you reached out have you thought about that?".
The so called "over-the-horizon" capability means maintaining the ability to deter or destroy would-be terrorist plotters from far longer range.
Blinken responded that he would "rather take that up in a different setting", and that the US Administration is "deeply engaged" with New Delhi.
"Generally, Congressman, we''re deeply engaged with India across the board. With regard, though, to any specifics about over the rise in capabilities and the plans that we put in place and will continue to put in place, I''d rather take that up in a different setting," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.
The matter-of-fact nature of Green's question indicates that US Congressmen assume that India, being USA's subordinate strategic partner and signatory to Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) and Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) cannot refuse USA's request for a military base, General Vombatkere said adding:
The U.S. establishing a military base in India will simultaneously save face, maintain its regional hegemony, and declare its strategic superiority. What better place is there in "northwest India" other than Kashmir or Ladakh for US military operations in Afghanistan?
It may obliquely even suit the politics of the Indian establishment to divert attention from domestic matters. Obviously, General Vombatkere was referring to current rising sentiments against the extreme rightist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi because of failed economic policies and other factors.
Troops and military hardware located in a US military base are an attractive target for politically insane Islamists. Pakistan, Taliban, or a non-state entity like ISIS or Al Qaeda, deliberately or mistakenly attacking a US base on Indian territory, would constitute an attack on USA, and lead to armed conflict if not war, centered in India, General Vombatkere pointed out adding:
With LEMOA and CISMOA signed, and BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geospatial Cooperation), all but signed, USA would expect US-India joint military operations launched from Indian soil, against the attacker. The world is witness to US president George Bush initiating military action in Iraq, based upon unsubstantiated accusations of WMD. An attack on a US military base would certainly draw retaliation against the attacker.
Further, the recent formation of AUKUS has caused China no little disquiet. India already being a member of USA-Australia-Japan-India QUAD, China is wary of India becoming the "sixth eye" of the western powers existing Five Eyes (USA, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand). With PM Modi joining a QUAD summit meeting in Washington on 24 September, and meeting with US president Biden separately, Afghanistan will be in sharp focus.
In this emerging scenario, USA seeking a military base in India is certain. Some may opine that the foregoing is an unlikely scenario, but strategic good sense dictates that India must think-through the consequences of acceding to a US military base in India, General Vombatkere argued and added:
'India's subordinate status in its strategic partnership with USA is the sad reality. However, from being USA's subordinate strategic partner, allowing a US military base will lower India's status to that of USA's vassal state. Allowing a US military base on Indian territory could well be the final nail in the coffin of India's political sovereignty.
"In the context of USA's request for a military base in India, it is worth emulating PM Vajpayee. In July 2003, US president George Bush requested India to send 17,000 Indian troops to assist US troops in Iraq. Although some of his cabinet colleagues were in favor of sending Indian troops, political and public opinion was intensely hostile to the proposal. PM Vajpayee refused the US request, insisting that the decision must be based on national consensus, thus showing his commendable respect for the people and the principles of democracy.
"A US base established in India may send a message of India's strategic subordination to USA, and its political and military helplessness to the world. It will certainly compromise India's aspiration to a permanent seat in UNSC, and India's ambition to be recognized as a leading regional power."
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