BY RSN SINGH
The jibes from Modi’s detractors about the lukewarm press coverage that he received during his recent visit to the US was unwarranted, rather motivated. Some of these detractors suffer from pathological anti-Modi ‘foot-in-the-mouth’ disease. It clearly escaped their good sense that for the first time an American President wrote a ‘joint editorial’ with the visiting prime minister of India in a leading US daily.
The import of the joint editorial was that the two leaders were to do business as equals, a major departure from the ‘patron-client’ or ‘benefactor-beneficiary’ or ‘superior-subordinate’ relationship. This was possible because it is impossible to subvert Modi or leverage on him, for Modi has no background of World Bank (primarily a US dominated enterprise) nor he has undeserving or financially ambitious children to be settled in the West.
The evenness of the level of diplomatic discourse between the US and India was manifest in President Obama’s decision to have interlocution with Modi on not one but two occasions, and even more by his gesture of making an impromptu visit to accompany his guest at the memorial of Martin Luther King. It was also evident from the body-language of the two leaders. Few years back, the sight of an American President putting his arms indulgingly round an elderly Indian Prime Minister rocked the confidence of Indians.
President Obama was dealing with an Indian Prime Minister steeped in Indian civilization, possessing fierce but pragmatic nationalism, and character – neither weakened by his station nor by the punishing ‘Navratra’ fast.
Mr Modi spoke at the UN General Assembly on various issues including the need to alter the very character of our present international system to include G-All and a role for troop contributing nations in UN Peace Keeping Missions in decision making. The canvas of his UN speech included all regions, i.e. South Asia, West Asia, Africa, Latin America, Asia Pacific and Southeast Asia. He spoke about terrorism, rivalry in space and cyber space. His canvas also included technology, energy security and environment. He utilized the forum to reach out to Pakistan and reiterated that talks cannot be conducted in the shadow of terror. If the intent was benign, the message was stern.
The fact is that Mr Modi visited US after his visit to Japan and immediately in the wake of hosting the Chinese President Xi Jinping, served as formidable diplomatic leverage. In the prevailing geopolitical situation, India’s weight can decide the scales of US-Japan-South Korea-Vietnam alliance vis-à-vis China-Pakistan-North Korea. To the US, India’s strategic stance is also decisive with regard to the geopolitical evolution of Russia. Mr Modi played these strategic leverages deftly and with consummate diplomatic skill.
Mr Modi, unlike most former prime ministers, has not been duplicitous in dealing with Israel. He met the Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of the UN meet. This meeting between prime ministers of the two countries was after a gap of 10 years. In addition to the perspectives of the two countries on the situation in West Asia, defence cooperation was also on the agenda. Significantly, Mr Modi invited Israel to setup defence industries in India and be part of ‘make in India’ programme. It may be mentioned that India and Israel have a very robust relationship and currently bilateral trade stands at approximately dollars six billion. Therefore, Mr Modi has finally demolished the relationship between the two countries in what one Israeli diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid described: “…Israel was always the mistress in the sense that the relations were strong but everything was under the carpet and not public”.
One of the biggest achievements of Mr Modi was to emphasize on India’s security concerns with regard to Afghanistan. With great candour, Mr Modi during his speech at Council of Foreign Relations said: “I have requested the US to not make the same mistake as was made in Iraq, when American troops were withdrawn too quickly. The withdrawal process in Afghanistan should be very slow”. Fortunately, for India, the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) between the US and the new dispensation led by President Ashraf Ghani in Afghanistan has been signed. According to the BSA some 10,000 US troops can remain in Afghanistan from 01 January 2015 to end of 2024 ‘and beyond’. It may be mentioned that Afghanistan also signed a similar agreement with NATO on September 30, 2014 to allow 4,000 to 5,000 troops to stay in Afghanistan after 2014.
Speaking on the scope of the BSA, President Obama said: “This agreement represents an invitation from the Afghan government to strengthen the relationship we have built over the past 13 years and provides our military service members the necessary legal framework to carry out two critical missions after 2014: targeting the remnants of al-Qaeda and training, advising, and assisting Afghan National Security Forces.”
The continued American presence in Afghanistan is of vital security interest to India. A sudden withdrawal by the US and its allies would have created a vacuum to the advantage of Pakistan. A geopolitical vacuum would have ushered in demonic forces like Al Qaeda and Taliban, to the detriment of India. As a consequence, Kashmir would have witnessed massive impetus to terrorism. The American presence may also ensure that the shift of epicenter of ‘global jihad’ is confined to the Iraq – Syria region only. It will also test the commitment of the US in dealing with the jihadi elements nurtured and supported by Pakistan. The former Afghan National Security Advisor Rangin Dafdar has aptly suggested: “If it’s legitimate to attack ISIS in Syria and Iraq even though it’s against international law, why is it not right to destroy the sanctuaries and bases of al-Qaida, Taliban and the Haqqani Network in Pakistan without UN permission?” The same logic can be posed that why cannot India act in a similar manner against the jihadi machines like LeT in Pakistan?
Probably and one sincerely hopes that the US has realized that Pakistan will continue to be mired in terrorism, violence, and instability. Rather Pakistan has nothing to offer but instability in the region. Pakistan’s instability becomes pernicious to the global community when considered in the backdrop of its nuclear weapons that may be eventually available to state (like Saudi Arabia) and non-state entities like Al Qaeda or even ISIS. Apart from Afghanistan, the Central Asian Countries and China too have much to worry about this instability being exported to them.
Again, Mr Modi did not mince his words when he said that there was a time in the early 90s, when the US refused to see terrorism being faced by India and labelled it as ‘law and order problem’.
The distinction that the Americans made between ‘terrorism’, ‘internal security’, and ‘law and order’ seems to have blurred. The joint-editorial by President Obama and PM Modi vindicates the Indian position, it says: “As global partners, we are committed to enhancing our homeland security by sharing intelligence, through counter-terrorism and law enforcement cooperation…”. The emphasis on homeland security by means of intelligence and physical (security forces) cooperation should not be missed. Homeland security in the Indian context implies ‘internal security’, which includes ‘proxy war’ by Pakistan. Law enforcement cooperation logically should include US cooperating with India to secure Dawood Ibrahim and Hafiz Saeed.
Further the joint editorial also says: “… while we jointly work to maintain freedom of navigation and lawful commerce across the seas…”. This is more than veiled reference to preposterous claims by China in South China Sea, which is vital to Indian economy in respect of Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOC) and energy investments in South China Sea at the behest of littoral countries like Vietnam.
A subverted lobby in India has been exaggerating and fabricating Chinese incursions in India in run-up during Mr Xi Jinping’s visit in India and later up to Mr Modi’s visit to the US. In an earlier article, this author had categorically asserted that the day the Prime Minister leaves for the US, the stories about ‘incursions’ will begin to attenuate. The purpose being solved, there is no wonder that these stories have died. What is abominable is that the subverted lobby can mislead Indians to such an extent based on ‘fabricated photographs of intrusions’.
While leverages to secure national interests is legitimate in diplomacy, statecraft demands that the imperatives imposed by geography, history and ethnicity of neighbours are not ignored. The subverted lobby, which had vested interests in fabricating incursions, got a befitting reply from Mr Modi during his question & answer session at the Foreign Affairs Council. When asked the loaded and mischievous question, whether India would accept a tribunal to mediate dispute between China and India, Mr Modi said: “I have good personal relations with Mr Xi Jinping and could resolve our differences by bilateral talks, which is going to be soon, we do not need tribunal”. This answer gives insight to the machinations of latest ‘Chinese incursion’ lobby.
India and the US extended the framework agreement for defence cooperation for a further 10 years. The US will cooperate as knowledge partner for India’s planned National Defence University. Mr Modi also said: “I want to welcome US defence companies to invest in India”. The emphasis obviously is on ‘make in India’.
This follows the government’s decisions to raise the FDI in defence sector from 26 to 49 percent. This is a major policy departure from the past, wherein India received most of its defence equipment through Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route. The FMS route has been fraught with anxieties and improbables for the buyer, despite dishing out valuable foreign exchange. The FMS route strictly involves ‘Cash-n-Carry’ and is averse to ‘transfer of technology’.
During the last regime, defence equipment worth US $ 10 billion was procured/under-consideration through FMS route. Most of these items like ANTPQ-37 fire founder counter battery artillery radar, C-130J, C-17, and Chinook and Apache helicopters (attack) are not priority items for the armed forces. The absences of the most critical items, inescapable for our national security are MMRCA and utility helicopters. The MMRCA deal with France has been stalled for the last two years at the culmination stage. Even as this article is being written a Cheetah helicopter of 60s vintage has crashed near Bareilly.
The procurement of 197 light-utility helicopters was cancelled, when it was about to fructify. It may be mentioned that the Cheetah and Chetak helicopters are the lifeline for troops in high altitude and Siachen, but they have surpassed the obsolete phase years ago. Which are the quarters responsible for this sabotage? Isn’t it queer that at the very time when there was apparently abysmal diplomatic acrimony between the US and India on Khobragade issue, India signed for acquisition of six more C-130J aircraft.
In run-up to Mr Modi’s visit, one media house, which has been spearheading the ‘Chinese incursion’ lobby, came out with an exclusive issue devoted to India’s dire defence needs. Indeed, there are! But most patriotic Indians should feel insulted when it is attributed that India is a $100 bn or $200 bn arms market. Our legitimate security concerns and requirements should not be allowed to reduce to ‘arms market’. Mr Modi, therefore, has made a tectonic shift by inviting US arms manufacturers to ‘make in India’.
The US deserves great respect for many of its accomplishments especially in the field of science and technology through people of diverse nationalities. India, however, in dealing with the US should not forget that the construct of that country is basically rests on the military-industrial complex. Its global strategic agenda is purely guided by the imperatives of the military-industrial complex. For instance, it would be naïve to think the American war on ISIS has no imperatives of manipulation of global oil prices. Nature has been very bountiful to India, but it is hugely energy deficit country. Its dependence on 80 percent of energy imports is a drag on the economy. It obviates most well intentioned measures towards reduction of budgetary deficit. Why should this deficit be further burdened by importing items that we can easily do without. Baby Johnson soap and powder, Lux, Fair & Lovely, Pepsi, potato chips and Iskcon – the assault by US is from ‘cradle to grave’. We need to introspect what should be imported and what we can do without.
(RSN Singh is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research & Analysis Wing. The author of two books: Asian Strategic and Military Perspective and Military Factor in Pakistan, he is also a Guest Blogger with Canary Trap. The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of Canary Trap or any employee thereof)