NEW DELHI: Taking their strategic ties to a new high, India and the United States on Thursday signed a long-negotiated defence pact that will enable the Indian armed forces to buy more sensitive military equipment from Washington while also urging Pakistan t do more to contain terror operating from its soil.
During the first 2+2 dialogue, the two sides pledged to cooperate for ensuring "a free, open Indo-Pacific" region to contain China`s expansionist aspirations.
India and the US asked Pakistan to ensure that its territory is not used to launch terror attacks and expeditiously bring to justice the perpetrators of cross-border terror strikes, including those on Mumbai, Pathankot and Uri.
The stern warning to Pakistan came after India and the US held their first 2+2 dialogue here during which External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman held wide-ranging deliberations with US Secretary of State Michael R Pompeo and Defence Secretary James Mattis.
"The ministers announced their intent to increase information-sharing efforts on known or suspected terrorists and to implement UN Security Council Resolution 2396 on returning foreign terrorist fighters," a joint statement issued after the talks said.
"The ministers denounced any use of terrorist proxies in the region, and in this context, they called on Pakistan to ensure that the territory under its control is not used to launch terrorist attacks on other countries," it said.
Ahead of the 10th anniversary of the 2008 Mumbai attack, they also called on Pakistan to expeditiously bring to justice the perpetrators of the Mumbai, Pathankot (2016), Uri (2016), and other cross-border terrorist attacks, the statement said.
Addressing a joint press conference, Swaraj said the Indo-US counter-terrorism cooperation has acquired a new "qualitative edge and purpose".
"We welcomed the recent designations of Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorists by the United States. They underscore the international community's scrutiny over the threat of terrorism emanating from Pakistan, which has affected India and the United States alike. In the 10th anniversary of the 26/11 attacks, we recognised the importance of justice and retribution for the masterminds behind this terrorist attack," she said.
Sitharaman, in her remarks, said India and the US were committed to work together to combat the "persistent threat of terrorism" and other shared security challenges.
The ministers committed to enhance their ongoing cooperation in multilateral fora such as the UN and Financial Action Task Force (FATF), and reaffirmed their support for a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism that will advance and strengthen the framework for global cooperation and reinforce the message that no cause or grievance justifies terrorism, the joint statement said.
"The ministers welcomed the launch of a bilateral dialogue on designation of terrorists in 2017, which is strengthening cooperation and action against terrorist groups, including Al-Qaida, ISIS, LeT, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Hizb-ul Mujahideen, the Haqqani Network, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, D-Company, and their affiliates," it said.
The two sides further reaffirmed their commitment to ongoing and future cooperation to ensure a stable cyberspace environment and to prevent cyber attacks.
Swaraj said India recognises the value of the Terrorists Designations Dialogue established last year as well as other mechanisms to promote cooperation in counter-terrorism and homeland security.
"We also discussed the situation in South Asia in some detail. India supports President Trump's South Asia Policy. His call for Pakistan to stop its policy of supporting cross-border terrorism finds resonance with us," she said.
The talks among other key outcomes culminated into the signing of Communications, Compatibility, Security Agreement (COMCASA). Sitharaman and Mattis signed the pact as two of the most powerful men in the world negotiated with two top women ministers of India.
Addressing the media after the talks, Swaraj and Sitharaman said the two sides have concluded the COMCASA pact, taking their already close strategic and defence ties to an advanced level.
"Defence came out as the single-most important aspect of our discussions today," Sitharaman said.
"We are also putting in place an enabling framework for closer cooperation between our defence forces. The signing of COMCASA today will enable India to access advanced technologies from the US and enhance India`s defence preparedness."
The pact guarantees India access to critical US defence technologies and communication network to help the militaries of the two countries in their interoperability.
Indian armed forces will now also be allowed to install US-made high-security communication equipment on defence platforms sourced from America.
COMCASA is the second of the three foundational agreements needed for interoperability with the US. The two countries had earlier inked the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement in 2016. However, the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement remains pending.
Secretary Pompeo told the reporters that the US and India shared a commitment to "a safe, secure, prosperous, free and open Indo-Pacific region" -- the region in India`s backyard where China has expanded its military presence, threatening trade on the key maritime line.
"The two sides also agreed to boost the rule of law, national sovereignty, peaceful resolution of maritime and other issues. We decided to elevate our strategic relations for more cooperation. We also agreed to increase military cooperation with India."
Sitharaman said maritime security was one of the focuses of the ties and "to deepen our cooperation in this area, we will expand our interactions on maritime domain awareness".
She recalled that the US had renamed its Pacific Command responsible for relations with India as Indo-Pacific Command which reflected "our wider global partnership" and would "enhance our interactions with the US military`s Central Command".
Secretary Mattis described the inaugural 2+2 dialogue "productive and forward thinking" to boost "our bilateral relationship and our shared future".
(With Agency inputs)