U.S. To Help India Combat Terrorism, May Get Access To Military Bases

By T.C. Malhotra | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

New Delhi (CNSNews.com) - With the strengthening of security ties between the United States and India, Washington may offer the South Asian nation help in countering terrorism, while New Delhi has not ruled out the possibility it may allow the U.S. access to military bases.

A two-day meeting of an Indo-U.S. joint working group (JWG), beginning in Washington Monday, is expected to take a final decision on whether the U.S. will help India set up a Center for Counter Terrorism.

Its aim would be to facilitate government efforts to coordinate the actions of various security agencies and effectively implement a national anti-terrorism strategy.

The JWG, set up last year, has acted as the principal forum for facilitating bilateral cooperation between the two governments on counter- terrorism. This will be its first meeting since the change of administration in Washington.

India has been fighting a long and bloody battle in divided Kashmir against Islamic terrorist groups, some of which enjoy support from Pakistan and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The State Department said a year ago that the locus of international terrorism seemed to be moving from the Middle East to South Asia.

Security agencies in India and the U.S. are upbeat on the progress made during two previous rounds of JWG talks and are determined to build upon it.

In this third round, they are expected to agree on an intensification of intelligence sharing on combating international terrorism, with the focus being on sharing information in real time and in enhancing its operational value.

Indian foreign ministry officials said that the two sides were also likely to discuss the implications of a possible use of advanced weaponry by terrorist groups.

The JWG meeting comes closely on the heels of the arrest of four people in India on suspicion of conspiring with the Saudi dissident, Osama bin Laden, to blow up U.S. embassies in India and Bangladesh.

In another sign of improving Indo-U.S. strategic relations, Indian Defense Minister Jaswant Singh has said military cooperation with the U.S. was possible, and he did not rule out the possibility of U.S. access to military bases in India.

India is expected to finalize a long-term strategy on military cooperation during a visit to India next month of the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Henry Shelton.

Indian defense analysts say the U.S. has been working for several years now to improve military cooperation with India and ensure access to military bases in the strategic region.

There has, however, been criticism from some quarters within the country to any plan to facilitate American military access to Indian bases.

"This is against national interests," said lawmaker Sitaram Yechury, a senior member of the left-wing political party CPI-M.

"We do not favor any joint military exercises with the U.S., and we do not want any military base to be given to the U.S.," he said.