The United States and India will talk about Pakistan during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US capital this week, claimed a senior US lawmaker.
Prime Minister Modi is scheduled to arrive in Washington on Monday on a three-day visit, his fourth since coming to power two years ago.
Mr Modi begins his engagements in the US capital with a visit to the Tomb of Unknown soldier on Monday. US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter will accompany him.
On Tuesday, the Indian prime minister meets President Barack Obama at the White House where the two will have a working lunch.
On Wednesday, Mr Modi will address a joint session of the US Congress, the fifth Indian prime minister to do so.
He flies out to Mexico on Wednesday afternoon.
In between, Mr Modi will meet a host of American industrialists and investors, urging them to increase their investments in India.
In 2014, American firms invested more than $28 billion in India, and 30 American companies invested over $15bn in the past year and a half, while 50 US firms are expected to sign more than $27bn worth of deals over the next year.
Reports in the Indian media suggest that the United States and India could also announce a major defence deal during Mr Modi’s visit.
India’s defence trade with the US too has increased substantially from a mere $300 million just over a decade ago to close to $14bn.
At a congressional hearing last week, ranking Democratic Senator Ben Cardin hoped that Prime Minister Modi’s visit would also pave the way for greater understanding of the US position on Pakistan.
“And, clearly, Pakistan is going to be in the discussions,” he added, while urging two of his witnesses at this hearing to explain how to further expand the US partnership with India without annoying Pakistan.
“How do we advance the regional security, and how do we handle what India can do in regards to the Pakistan relationship?” Senator Cardin asked.
“We continue to encourage both countries to try to keep that dialogue open,” said Alyssa Ayers, an American expert of South Asian affairs at the US Council on Foreign Relations.
Ms Ayers noted that despite “hiccups” in continuing India-Pakistan talks, the “Indian government does come back and try to keep that channel open”.
She said that Prime Minister Modi visited Lahore on the Christmas Day to continue India’s engagement with Pakistan but shortly after that a terrorist attack in Pathankot stalled the process.
“The challenge here is finding a way to press Pakistan so these terrorist attacks don’t derail the process because that is the other part of the pattern that we continually see,” she said.
“I think more fundamentally to impress upon Pakistan that terrorism cannot be used as an equaliser. This has been the single sorest point,” said Sadanand Dhume, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, Washington.
Mr Dhume, an Indian-American, however, urged the United States not to sell to Pakistan “advanced weapons which are of doubtful value in targeting terrorists but are of immense military value in targeting another country,” such as the F-16s.
“I think that becomes very hard for the Indian leadership to then sell to their people,” he added.
But Mr Dhume said that India understood the US desire for maintaining a relationship with Pakistan because “that’s simply a reality that has been in the past and will continue”.
Senator Bob Corker, who heads the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, where this discussion was held, noted that half of Pakistan’s military budget was oriented towards India and asked the witnesses to explain India’s posture towards Pakistan.
“From a Pakistani perspective, whatever India puts into defence is viewed by Pakistan with alarm,” said Mr. Dhume while urging the United States to reassure Pakistan that India was “essentially a status quo power”, which was not seeking to “redraw the maps in that part of the world”.
Mr Dhume also said that it was in the US interest for India to be spending more on defence … “keeping in mind the very dramatic rise of China, particularly over the last 25 years”.
While responding to Mr Dhume’s comments, Senator Corker explained that last month he prevented the Obama administration from using US funds to subsidise an F-16 deal with Pakistan.
“My position on the F-16s really had nothing to do with how it would be perceived in India,” he said. “It was solely about what Pakistan was not doing relative to the Haqqani network.”