Prime Minister Narendra Modi shared India’s “serious concern” at the “mainstreaming” of Mumbai terror attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed, who carries a $10 million bounty, in Pakistan’s recent elections, when he met US Vice President Mike Pence on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in Singapore on Wednesday.
Stressing that there was some discussion on the issue of terrorism and Pence referred to the coming 10th anniversary of 26/11, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said the Prime Minister reminded him that “in one way or another, all the traces or all the leads in global terror attacks ultimately lead to a single source, a single place of origin”. And, in that context, Modi pointed out that “the mainstreaming of the people involved in Mumbai terror attacks in a
political process, which had taken place in a recent election in Pakistan, should be a matter of serious concern not just to the two countries, that is, India and the US, but to the international community,” Gokhale said.
The banned Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) led by Hafiz Saeed, a front for the Lashkar-e-Taiba, had fielded its candidates from the platform of Allaha-u-Akbar Tehreek (AAT), a little known political entity. Gokhale said there was “some good understanding” on how the two countries should move forward in building cooperation on counter-terrorism, and both recognised that this is a challenge they will have to fight together, and with the rest of the international community.
Modi also urged Pence to consider India as a manufacturing base for defence equipment, and develop it as a hub for exports in the regional market.
While there has been substantial enhancement in the defence relationship and India’s import of equipment from the US, Modi stressed that there was a great opportunity for the US for setting up defence industry in India. “Not only is India a substantial market, but because of the way we are placed regionally, we can become a hub for exports to the rest of the region,” Gokhale said in Singapore.
“So he conveyed to Vice President Pence that he hoped the Trump administration would recognise this as a new opportunity, as a new economic opportunity as well,” he said.
Concerned about the Trump administration’s intention to tighten H1B visa norms, Modi highlighted that Indians in the US not only bring economic value to the country, but also enrich the social and political fabric.
“There was some discussion which originated from the appreciation the Prime Minister expressed on President Trump hosting the Diwali event, on the contributions made by Americans of Indian origin, the Indian-American community, for the last three decades, economically, culturally, in terms of integration, in terms of building or helping the building of democracy. In this context, the Prime Minister conveyed to the Vice President that Indians, when they come to the US, not only bring their talent and capacity to innovate, to excel, but they are also imbued in democratic values… The Prime Minister, therefore, expressed the hope that this would be the approach the US takes when it looks at the whole issue of the H1B visa, and this was appreciated by Vice President Pence,” Gokhale said. Making a case for the need to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific, Pence felt that India is a positive factor in regional and international relations, and said the US looks forward to working with India on various issues — both political and economic — to ensure that “we have a fair rules-based international order”, he said.
The two sides “agreed that on the international forums, we should, on the basis of the shared values, build a possible cooperation in a number of areas.” The officials from the Quad grouping, comprising India, US, Japan and Australia, will meet in Singapore on Thursday.
“Spoke about our shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific & reaffirmed our commitment to strengthen security and counter-terrorism cooperation and coordination,” Pence tweeted after his meeting with Modi.
The Indo-Pacific region also came up for discussion and Modi referred to his June speech in Singapore, in which he had outlined India’s vision on the issue. He conveyed to Pence that his vision of Indo-Pacific was gaining acceptability and “we should utilise the forthcoming East Asia Summit to further build on that,” Gokhale said, amid China flexing its muscles in the East and South China Seas.
Pence spoke of a free and open Indo-Pacific. He felt that India’s contribution in ensuring this would be important. “We then discussed how both sides can strengthen cooperation in this area to ensure that this is an area of growth, prosperity, development and benefit for the countries of the region in the future,” Gokhale said.
The two leaders had a “productive discussion on all aspects of global strategic partnership, based on growing convergence of interests on regional and global issues” on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit here, Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Raveesh Kumar said.
In a readout, Pence’s office said he encouraged “free, fair, and reciprocal trade with India”.
“We agreed that in a new relationship we are building with the US, where trade is expanding, we need to find ways in which we can help that process to take place,” Gokhale said.
Modi said that in the last two years — after President Trump assumed office — American exports to India have grown by 50 per cent and it is perhaps one of the top 10 countries with which the US has a trade deficit, where the deficit has actually reduced last year and is on course to further reduce this year, Gokhale said.
“There was a lot of discussion on energy. This is a new sector in India-US relations. We have begun importing oil and gas from US worth about $4 billion this year. We expressed our readiness to import more oil and gas from the US as a way of expanding our trade,” he said.