India could play a role in battling Islamic State, the White House said on Monday during a visit to New Delhi by President Barack Obama, underlining Washington’s confidence that India is increasingly prepared to engage on global security issues.
U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said India’s involvement could focus on intelligence on the flow of money and militants to the radical Islamist group active in Syria and Iraq rather than deploying troops on the ground.
“When you look at our broader counter-terrorism cooperation and how we’re tracking the flow of fighters and terrorist financing, there I do think we want to find space for cooperation,” he told reporters.
The comments came hours after Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi together watched a dazzling parade of India’s military might and cultural diversity, capturing the two countries’ determination to put decades of brittle relations behind them and forge a robust strategic partnership.
It rained on the Republic Day parade through the heart of New Delhi, but excitement nevertheless ran high over Obama’s visit, which began on Sunday with a clutch of deals to unlock billions of dollars in nuclear trade and deepen defence ties.
Most significant was an agreement on issues that, despite a groundbreaking 2006 pact, had stopped U.S. companies from setting up nuclear reactors in India and had become one of the major irritants in bilateral relations.
“Mobama breaks N-deadlock,” ran the front-page headline of the Mail Today newspaper, which carried a photograph of Modi and Obama hugging each other warmly.
The bonhomie was a remarkable spectacle given that, until a year ago, Modi had been banned from visiting the United States after deadly Hindu-Muslim riots in 2002 in a state he governed.
Obama was the first U.S. president to attend India’s Republic Day parade, a show of military prowess that was long associated with the anti-Americanism of the Cold War.
He and Modi sat behind a rain-spotted screen as the parade unfolded along Rajpath, an elegant lawn-bordered boulevard dating from the British colonial era that connects the presidential palace to India Gate.
Helicopters showered petals on the crowds, and then tanks, missiles, stiffly saluting soldiers, brass bands and dancers filed past the guests.
Security was tight across the city, where tens of thousands of police and paramilitary personnel were deployed on street corners and rooftops.
Obama’s presence at the parade – at Modi’s personal invitation – marks the latest upturn in a roller-coaster relationship that a year ago was scarred by protectionism and a fiery diplomatic spat.
Counterweight to China
The United States views India as a vast market and potential counterweight in Asia to a more assertive China, but has frequently been frustrated with the slow pace of New Delhi’s economic reforms and unwillingness to side with Washington in international affairs.
Elected last May, Modi has injected a new vitality into the economy and foreign relations and, to Washington’s delight, has begun pushing back against China across Asia.
“The larger goal that the United States should be pursuing here is to convince India to join a coalition of democracies to balance China’s rise,” former U.S. ambassador to Beijing Jon Huntsman and the South Asia Center’s acting director, Bharath Gopalaswamy, wrote in a joint opinion piece for Reuters.
India, with the world’s third-largest population of Muslims, has not openly engaged so far in international efforts to combat the spread of Islamic State. Indian Muslims have largely shunned radical causes, and police say only four Indians are known to have joined the group.
Analysts say that, under Modi, India appears more willing to engage on issues beyond its borders, including security in the South China Sea and Islamist militancy.
Modi and Obama on Sunday committed to close consultation on global crises, including in Iraq and Syria.
“The leaders agreed to exchange information on individuals returning from these conflict zones and to continue to cooperate in protecting and responding to the needs of civilians caught up in these conflicts,” they said in a joint statement.
They also agreed to a 10-year framework for defence ties and struck deals on cooperation that included joint production of drone aircraft and equipment for Lockheed Martin Corp’s C-130 military transport plane.
Other deals ranged from an Obama-Modi hotline – India’s first at a leadership level – to financing initiatives aimed at helping India use renewable energy to lower carbon intensity.