Despite the influence of known GHQ Rawalpindi proxies in the Biden camp and less so in the Trump set-up, it will no longer be possible for any administration to untangle the two interlocking DNA strands that form the India-US partnership.
New Delhi: The signing of the final defence and security foundation agreement between the United States and India has placed on a firm and fast track the Indo-Pacific partnership between Washington and New Delhi. It is instructive to note that the initiation of formal engagement and interlocking of the US and Indian militaries began in 2001 with the signing of the military information protocol between the two sides, but was set back by the granting of “Major Non-NATO Ally” status to Pakistan in 2004. The same offer was made to India, which refused to accept the longstanding US policy of being equated with Pakistan. Appointing the arsonist (the Pakistan army) to head the Af-Pak Fire Department after 9/11, was among the long list of errors committed by the George W. Bush administration in its haphazard battle against Wahhabi terrorists in Afghanistan. Another was the permission given to Pakistan to evacuate terrorists as well as their GHQ Rawalpindi trainers from Kunduz in the early stages of the 2001 conflict in Afghanistan. This was an astonishing decision, which in its subsequent consequences ought to have led to the censure of President Bush by the US Congress. The US followed the path taken by the USSR in not understanding that the key to success in Afghanistan vested in holding Pakistan accountable for its actions in that country, and taking action against GHQ Rawalpindi rather than rewarding that military for having nurtured terror groups even after 9/11. A US request to send a division of Indian troops to safeguard the Kurdish zone in Iraq following the defeat of Saddam Hussein in 2003 was turned down by the A.B. Vajpayee government owing to domestic political calculations. Earlier in the 1990s, the Clinton administration had brushed away feelers from Prime Minister Narasimha Rao for a de facto alliance between the US and India to replace that which had collapsed with the fall of the USSR in 1991. Instead, President Clinton doubled down on pressurising India to dismantle its nuclear and missile program. It also backed officials such as Robin Raphel, whose mentor in Pakistan (Shafquat Khakhakel) converted the brainy and hard-working US diplomat into a lifelong apologist for GHQ Rawalpindi and a foe of Indian interests. In 2004, the UPA came into power in India, and security and defence cooperation between India and the US slowed to a crawl. They were speeded up by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, who came to office after the influence of the Clintons was on the wane within the Obama administration. The foundational logistics agreement (LEMOA) was signed in 2016 through a cutting away of Pentagon and State Department red tape by Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, and the communications agreement (COMCASA) in 2018. After another gap of two years, the final foundational defence and security agreement (BECA) has been signed last month. This makes the Indo-Pacific Partnership between the US and India an operational reality, and was made possible by the leadership and insight of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the close relationship that President Donald J. Trump established with him, exactly on the same lines as was done by his predecessor Barack Obama.
INDIA AND US COMPLEMENT EACH OTHER
Neither India nor the US can by themselves secure the Indo-Pacific against the vigorous and well planned drive by the Xi-Putin alliance to establish primacy over the Indo-Pacific. Both the US and India have complementary capabilities that need to be jointly harnessed and deployed in offensive and defensive roles. While India has been a laggard in developing its own advanced defence platforms, except for its space and missile capability, the US has developed long-range precision munitions capable of inflicting crippling damage on enemy forces and fortifications. Examples are the Precision Strike Missile and the Naval Strike Missile. Under President Trump, the Marine Corps has been transformed into a deadly first responder in cases of aggression. Within the Indian military as well, there are substantial reserves of manpower (including a growing cohort of fearless women) who can be deployed along with US forces in future contingencies, once inter-operability gets perfected and the flow of US equipment to the Indian armed forces multiplies in a manner that reflects mutual security needs rather than narrow commercial considerations. Such a shift in priorities will save rather than increase costs for the US even in the short run, and these savings would increase in the medium and long term.
With the signing of BECA, the two sides have established the US-India Indo-Pacific Partnership. This construct transcends the boundaries of partisan divides in both democracies. In the US with the exception of fringe elements. Despite the influence of known GHQ Rawalpindi proxies in the Biden camp and less so in the Trump set-up, it will no longer be possible for any administration to untangle the two interlocking DNA strands. This fixity of tenure irrespective of political changes is possibly among the reasons why Prime Minister Modi refused to delay the signing of BECA till after the polls. He went ahead with an agreement that is central to security in India, given the expansion of offensive and defensive capabilities that it creates. The foundational agreements signed with India are different from others that have been entered into by the US, and it was this insistence on the uniqueness of a country of a billion and more people that caused the Obama administration during its Clinton-heavy phase to continue to insist on India accepting conditions similar to those offered to states with much lower geopolitical potential. It goes to the credit of the Trump administration that the exceptionality of India was recognised so that agreement was reached to sign two more foundation agreements (COMCASA and BECA) during President Trump’s current term in office.
Both in the Beltway as well as in the Lutyens Zone, bureaucracies are used to operating in silos that have tunnel vision. The larger picture is either not factored in or not understood, while the short run consequences of any policy or action get precedence over longer-term interests. Such a mindset has caused the substantial underperformance over the years in the US-India relationship. Both countries have differences that are short term but have similar long-term visions of what constitute desirable future situations. Another issue relates to tactics. The US and India usually agree on objectives but differ on how to get there. An example is Iran, where Washington has been slow to understand that it could pay a high price (in terms of loss of its overall interests to the PRC) by arm-twisting India into stopping purchases of crude oil from Iran. This decision has been a disaster for India and also for the US, and has affected the Chahbahar project as well. India’s central role in this port and link project is essential for both countries (India and the US) in ensuring that Afghanistan remain free of the danger of being choked of supplies by proxies of GHQ Rawalpindi with the assistance of Beijing.
INDIA AS PRODUCTION PLATFORM
In 2014, soon after the Lok Sabha polls, the Merkel administration in Germany suggested to the incoming government that India could in effect replace China as the production platform for much of the manufacture of products by European consortiums. This is an offer that it would be wise to relook at, and if found feasible, to consent to. Along with that, US defence companies should be incentivised to shift part of their manufacturing to India, now that manufacturing them in China is out of bounds for security reasons. Such a move would also expand the markets for US products that compete with those turned out by the Sino-Russian alliance. The establishing of a strong partnership between the US and India is a security and defence imperative. These measures, including the signing of the foundation pacts, have opened the door to investment by countries and companies that are de-coupling from the PRC. Much work needs to be done to bring administrative and other systems in India to the standards required for seamless decision making and operation of facilities, and hopefully this will be a priority during Modi 2.0. The crony capitalism of past regimes needs to be wholly eliminated, as crony capitalists are known for becoming rich at the expense of the enterprises they run on money borrowed from the public banking system, not to mention concessions made at the cost of the exchequer. Eliminating crony capitalism needs to be a high priority during Modi 2.0, and sharing of information between India and the US on financial flows would greatly facilitate such a process.
INDIA, US TOGETHER DOMINATE IN CAPABILITIES
Establishing primacy over the Indo-Pacific and ensuring a multi-polar Asia (as expounded by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar) mandates the joint presence in an expanded range of situations between not just the US and India but between all four members of the Quad. This would cover not just the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) but, where needed, other parts of the Indo-Pacific as well. Now that situational and intelligence awareness can be shared extensively, the Beltway in Washington will need to come to terms with the fact that an expansion of capacities by the Indian military is essential for US interests, and that this has to be done in a manner that is financially sustainable for the smaller economy. Such activity would have both a demonstration as well as a deterrent effect. Rather than provoke a war (as apologists for the Sino-Russian alliance argue), it would deter conflict. With the signing of BECA, the way is open for the US and India to partner in strategic capabilities in a manner that has not been attempted in the past. At least six new nuclear submarines need to be built in India as per government. Surely it would be in Washington’s interest that the reactors for these be made in the US rather than in Russia. Also in the field of atomic energy, the use of thorium as feedstock and fusion rather than fission energy could be jointly explored by India and the US. The Beltway needs to understand that India is in key respects a co-equal partner of the US, and work on that basis rather than seek to follow a routine that is more familiar, of regarding the other country as subsidiary. Once the principle of acceptance of Indian exceptionalism is established, biotechnology, cyber and space could be other frontiers of cooperation that would reduce overall costs to the US while maintaining if not enhancing quality. Over the horizon radar technology could be developed by India as part of the joint production of defence platforms between the two biggest democracies.
Should there be another war over the Himalayan massif, J-STARS aircraft may fly across the Line of Actual Control to assist in offensive and defensive moves by the Indian military. Targeting information by the US military could be passed on to Indian airborne, naval and land shooters. Stockpiles of essential equipment could be kept ready across the Himalayan theatre for use in an eventuality. A war that involves India and China will give indications of whether it is Beijing or Washington that will prevail in the 21st century contest for primacy between the two. The Indo-Pacific partnership with India begun under Obama-Modi and completed during the Modi-Trump era will be a deciding factor in the outcome of Cold War 2.0.