How Indo-US military cooperation got kick-started in the Nineties
Lt Gen. V.K Sood (retd)
The starting point of India’s participation in Pacific Armies Management Seminar was perhaps my first meeting with Lt. Gen. Claude M. Kicklighter during my visit to the United States in 1989. I was accompanying the then defence minister K.C. Pant. Gen. Kicklighter was then a director in the Pentagon. We got along pretty well. Subsequently, he took over as the Commanding General, United States Army Pacific (USARPAC). Since India comes in the area of responsibility of the US Pacific Command, as against Pakistan which falls within the orbit of the Central Command, Gen. Kicklighter came to India in 1990. He met with the army chief Gen. S.F. Rodrigues and brough up the subject of army-to-army relations between the two countries. Those days, we had a miniscule army to army interaction, with few Indian officers going to the US for various courses and vice versa. Gen Rodrigues agreed with him in principle, and he gave us a broad canvas on which this relationship could be built. Later he called on me, as I was the vice chief then. When he went back to the US, he must have met up with experts from Pentagon, State Department and the US Army Headquarters. The result of theses various meetings was that in less than a month of his first visit, he came back to India. This time, he again met the army chief and me to discuss the nature of cooperation between the two armies. He made it clear that the US was more interested in a military-to-military relationship rather than only army to army. He said, to begin with, why India does not participate in the forth coming PAMS. Such invitation had come in the past also, but India had always declined. We told him that we would consider the invitation but did not commit ourselves in any way.
After that, Gen. Kicklighter became a regular visitor to India. In the course of his subsequent visits, we sent him to Nathu la. The following day, we sent him to the desert. He was amazed at the versatility of the Indian soldier. He was all praise for the regimental system that the Indian Army follows. During one of his visits, he showed a lot of interest in our expertise in High Altitude warfare and medical support. Subsequently, their doctors came to Ladakh on an attachment to understand what we had achieved in High Altitude medicine and healthcare. I feel that the recent joint exercises in Alaska and Ladakh were the result of their interest in our achievements in the area of High Altitude.
On one of Gen Kicklighter’s visit, we told him that India would like to participate in the coming PAMS, which was being held in Seoul and co-hosted by South Korea along with the US, They were very enthusiastic about India’s response. The American army chief personally went an invitation to Gen. Rodrigues inviting me to present a paper. I was not part of the Indian Army delegation. I was called as a special invitee, and I presented a paper on low intensity conflict.
My visit to Seoul was very good. I and my wife were their guests for 10 days and they really looked after us very well. I could see that they had a lot of respect for us. Normally, at PAMS, after the inauguration, the delegates break into different syndicates, to discuss issues of common concern in different rooms. I was keen to see what was happening in these various syndicates. I spoke with Gen Kicklighter and he saw no harm in my visiting these syndicates. I heard the discussions and offered my inputs whenever I felt I could contribute something.
Following this experience, India and the US formed the first Executive Steering Group in 1991 and our first meeting was held in January 1992 in Delhi. But before the meeting also, a few US pilots had come to Agra for some joint exercise with the Para brigade. I led the Indian delegation and this meeting laid the foundation for the future relationship. Both sides agreed that we have to move cautiously. Something like building blocks to a sound relationship in the future. We both were aware of the heavy historical baggage of mistrust and wariness. In this meeting, India also agreed to co-host the next PAMS in 1993.