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The Trump administration has approved the sale of unarmed surveillance drones to India, the manufacturer of the drones said Friday, as the two leaders in Prime Minister Modi and President Trump prepare for their first face-to-face meeting on Monday in Washington.

India requested to buy 22 Guardian MQ-9B unmanned aircraft for maritime surveillance last year. The deal which is worth $2 Billion is yet to be approved by the Congress.

“We are pleased that the US government has cleared the way for the sale of the MQ-9B Guardian to the Indian government,” Linden Blue, CEO of the manufacturer, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, said in a statement. Blue added that it would “significantly enhance India’s sovereign maritime domain awareness in the Indo-Pacific.”

India requested to buy 22 Guardian MQ-9B unmanned aircraft for maritime surveillance last year. The deal which is worth $2 Billion is yet to be approved by the Congress.

Read more: Lockheed Martin in India: Strategic implications for Pakistan

At a time when Delhi was apprehensive of Trump’s low focus on India, this is a good reassurance that both countries are important strategic allies with healthy defense ties.

Prime Minister Modi tweeted ahead of his visit “my USA visit is aimed at deepening ties between our nations. Strong Indo-US ties benefit our nations and the world.”

“I look forward to this opportunity to have an in-depth exchange of views on further consolidating the robust and wide-ranging partnership between India and the United States,” the prime minister said.

In a statement posted on the Facebook, Modi said his two-day visit to Washington from June 25 was at the invitation of Trump.

“President Trump and I have spoken on the telephone prior to this. Our conversations have touched upon our common intent to take forward our productive all round engagement for the mutual benefit of our people,” he said.

“I look forward to this opportunity to have an in-depth exchange of views on further consolidating the robust and wide-ranging partnership between India and the United States,” the prime minister said.

Read more: Growing regional cooperation: Will the USA be driven out of South…

Officials of the White House have asserted that US ties with India and Pakistan were not a zero sum game. “We are certainly eager to deepen our strategic partnership with India,” a US official told reporters. He added that relationship with Pakistan and India is not a zero-sum game and can stand-alone.

The US upping the ante against Pakistan

Washington and New Delhi share concerns about China’s rise as a military power. However, both countries also have similar views regarding controlling what they call an unbridled Pakistan. Islamabad developed its ties with the US in its early years in order to obviate Indian threats. Pakistan has always taken exceptions to Indo-USA closeness, especially in the field of defense.

The focus of the bill, however, is on canceling the MNNA status, which was granted to Pakistan in 2004 by then-President George W. Bush to encourage Islama­bad to help the United States fight Al Qaeda and the Taliban. If passed, the legislation will greatly hurt military to military relations between the two countries.

According to US officials, President Donald Trump’s administration appears ready to harden its approach toward Pakistan to crack down on Pakistan-based militants launching attacks in neighboring Afghanistan, US officials told Reuters.

 

Read more: SCO membership of India & Pakistan brings challenges and opportunities

The Administration has a few options on the table. They include expanding US drone strikes, redirecting or withholding some aid to Pakistan and eventually downgrading Pakistan’s status as a major non-NATO ally, the officials said.

However, pandering to the majority in Washington two  US lawmakers have introduced a bipartisan bill in Congress, seeking to revoke Pakistan’s status as a major non-Nato ally (MNNA) owing to Pakistan’s alleged inability and unwillingness to halt forces inimical to US interests.

The focus of the bill, however, is on canceling the MNNA status, which was granted to Pakistan in 2004 by then-President George W. Bush to encourage Islama­bad to help the United States fight Al Qaeda and the Taliban. If passed, the legislation will greatly hurt military to military relations between the two countries.

Both countries are at loggerheads due to constant reserves faced by the Afghan and US forces in Afghanistan at the hands of the Taliban. The US blames Pakistan for most the troubles in Afghanistan and is hence including Pakistan in its impending policy for Afghanistan.

Read more: Can India actually win a war against Pakistan?

“Pakistan must be held accountable for the American blood on its hands,” said Republican Congressman Ted Poe, who introduced the bipartisan bill along with  Congressman Rick Nolan, a Democrat.

The increasingly obvious tilt in favor of India will not be likened by Pakistan, something which will hamper much-needed Pak-US cooperation. However, the US will most likely strengthen India as a bulwark against the expansive Beijing, an interest common to both countries but against Pakistan.

He added ““From harboring Osama bin Laden to backing the Taliban, Pakistan has stubbornly refused to go after, in any meaningful way, terrorists that actively seek to harm opposing ideologies.”

The bill may be resisted by lawmakers who still feel that Islamabad is not only needed as a route for military troops in Afghanistan but also in bringing about a negotiated end to an otherwise unwinnable war. The increasingly obvious tilt in favor of India will not be likened by Pakistan, something which will hamper much-needed Pak-US cooperation. However, the US will most likely strengthen India as a bulwark against the expansive Beijing, an interest common to both countries but against Pakistan.

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