Washington, DC – With US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper hosting their Indian counterparts External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Defense Minister Rajnath Singh here for the highest level dialogue (2+2) between the two countries, the two democracies showed greater collaboration in many fields.
Singh, on his maiden visit as the Indian defense chief, got a 21 gun salute welcome at the River Side entrance of the Pentagon and then discussed with his counterpart Esper issues related to not only defense cooperation but also about the Indo-Pacific region.
On the other hand, Secretary Pompeo hosted Minister Jaishankar at the Foggy Bottom headquarters of the State Department, to discuss again not only bilateral issues but also cross-border terrorism and allied issues in the Indian neighborhoods.
The latest 2+2 dialogue followed earlier one held in New Delhi in September last year after the mechanism was approved by US President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The four leaders appeared in a joint press conference and highlighted ongoing cooperation in different sectors including defense and couter-terrorism measures. The questions were generic about defense trade and collaboration but one question on large protests going on in India against the newly adopted changes to the citizenship laws and allied subjects, was handled with diplomatic acumen-ship by the political leaders.
While US journalists did try to ask about the student protests and other unrest plaguing Indian society today, Pompeo said, “We honor Indian democracy as they have a robust debate inside of India on the issue that you raised, and the United States will be consistent in the way that we respond to these issues, not only in India but all across the world.”
With that Pompeo threw the ball in his Indian counterpart’s court while he never really addressed the issue of religious freedom which his department has been championing in recent months.
Former top Indian diplomat and now Minister Jaishankar diverted the answer to the discussion on the subject back home, telling journalists: “If you had followed the debate on that particular legislation carefully, you would see that it is a measure which is designed to address the needs of persecuted religious minorities from certain countries.”
Ironically, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) expressed deep concerns over the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB), calling it running “counter to India’s rich history of secular pluralism and the Indian Constitution, which guarantees equality before the law regardless of faith.”