Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s enunciation of India’s world view at the 11th G20 Summit held at Hangzhou in China’s heartland, has established his leadership on the world stage, put the focus of global attention on India and shaken the international community out of its prolonged ambiguity on the biggest threat—terrorism—facing the world today. The very fact that G20 primarily devotes to global economic issues made it notable that the Prime Minister was able to tell the world that “one single nation in South Asia” was spreading terror in the region and also suggest that “those who sponsor and support terrorism must be isolated and sanctioned, not rewarded”. PM Modi was being upfront about voicing India’s national security concerns and demanding a satisfactory response from countries interested in doing business with this country.
Modi’s statement gave a message to both US and China. While US is yet to hold Pakistan totally responsible for cross border terrorism targeting India, the Sino-Pak axis, already elevated to the level of a military alliance, is encouraging Pakistan to sustain and harbour terrorists wanted in legal cases in India. The personal bonhomie between US President Barack Obama and PM Modi seemed as strong as ever at Hangzhou. Unless there was already a turn in the American attitude on the issue of Pak-sponsored cross border terrorism, it would not have been possible for India-US relations to advance so rapidly.
US Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Delhi for the India-US annual strategic dialogue and Manohar Parrikar’s presence in Washington around the same time to sign a key military logistics agreement, LEMOA, together marked a quantum jump that takes India-US friendship to a new geo-political convergence on issues of global security. John Kerry laid the political turf for enabling the two countries to pitch their military cooperation at a new high, by endorsing what India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had pointedly stated that Pakistan deserved to be reprimanded for acting as a safe haven for terrorist organisations and that the world community needed to stop making any distinctions between “good terrorists” and “bad terrorists”. Of greater significance for India is the acceptance by the US of the former’s strategic say in Afghanistan implicit in the announcement of a trilateral dialogue on Afghanistan to the exclusion of Pakistan.
Parrikar put it on record that the accord with Washington gave no basing rights, only access to logistics such as fuel during joint exercises and relief operations. However, the two sides highlighted the fact that the US had agreed to elevate defence trade and technology sharing with India to a level commensurate with “its closest allies and partners”. India, it seems, would substantially gain in terms of enhancing its economic strength in return for facilitating US military logistics, without entering into a defence pact.
In the new post-Cold War era, India’s national policy and strategy need not carry the old baggage, as cooperation amongst countries on national security will depend entirely on their shared perceptions in today’s world, of who their adversaries were. Since there are no permanent friends and enemies, it should be possible for India to subject security strategies to a course correction in future, whenever new circumstances crop up.
Today, the prime external threats to India’s national security are the cross border terrorism emanating from Pakistan and the anti-India bearings of Sino-Pak axis. For the US, a long-range strategy of dealing with a possible aggression of China in Asia and South Pacific was important, but so far US was not bothering about the deepening relationship of Pakistan with China. In what would be regarded as a weak response, John Kerry said during his India visit that he had spoken to the Pakistan leadership about the need for Islamabad “to deprive any terrorist group of sanctuary”, but went on to add that “in recent weeks and months Pakistan had been moving more authoritatively in tackling the challenge of terrorism”.
Obviously for US, the Pakistan army’s role in the combat against Islamic radicals still remains its main requirement, which is understandable, while India’s prime concern is about the body of militants used by the Pakistan army as the instrument of cross border terrorism against it. The kind of pressure on Pakistan that India expects the US to bring into play is still to come. We should handle Pakistan with stern reciprocity even if the US continued to show an inclination towards the Pakistan army because of its continued dependence on the latter for fighting the threat of radicals operating under ISIS and Al Qaeda-Taliban combine.
India and US are “natural friends”, being the two largest democracies of the post-Cold War world. Elevation of their friendship to the level of strategic partnership that ensures cooperation on the issues of global terror, cyber security and technological advancement is welcome. Hopefully Prime Minister Modi’s interactions with world leaders at the G20 would help to isolate Pakistan. Beyond a point however, India has to pursue its own strategy of national defence and security as a sovereign power. National security is not a theoretical construct and India has a right to reach out to all friendly powers to strengthen it on the basis of shared interests.
D.C. Pathak is a former Director, Intelligence Bureau