There are many ways of travelling from India to America. One of them is via Japan. That indeed is the quickest way to the richest parts of USA, the west coast; and the only option if you are headed towards the heart of America’s strategic presence in the Pacific, Hawaii.
The Pacific, overlapping the Indian Ocean, is far closer to us than the Mediterranean or the Atlantic. Our popular, and policy, reflexes so far have been so embedded in attitudes formed during the British Raj that we have stopped thinking of the Pacific as the bridgehead to anywhere.
Japan, China, Australia and America are Pacific mercantile and military powers. This quadrilateral is at the top of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s foreign policy.
September 2014 will sparkle in the history of Indian diplomacy. Modi began the month with a triumph in Japan. He returned to welcome Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, with whom he signed a significant civil nuclear deal that will permit the sale of Australian uranium to India. Within two days the leaders built a rapport that will prompt a quick return visit to cement a vital relationship. In the third week of September, Chinese President Xi Jinping will arrive in Delhi to add important building blocks to investment as well as security cooperation.
When in the last week of September Prime Minister Modi goes to the White House, India will not be a supplicant nation. America will converse with an empowered India.
All sides are never equal in any multilateral partnership, but harmony is essential for the careful construct to hold. India and Japan may have stronger bonds than India and China, but the three Asian giants know that they have much to gain by maximising complementary strengths and minimising conflict zones. It is this matrix that can turn the 21st into an Asian century. This is the rationale and objective of India’s “Look East” policy; and if you look far enough into the east, across the Pacific, you can see America.
For those few in Delhi who also want to “Look West”, my suggestion is: Don’t. Unless you are looking for trouble. If the east is vast with economic opportunity, the immediate west, beginning with Pakistan, has become a wasteland bloodied by multiple civilian wars, and a base to terrorist clans that have only one mission: to spread chaos within the civilised world in the name of frenzied theocracy. Terror is Pakistan’s principal export; and now there are other forces in borderless countries itching to compete in the violence stakes.
For decades Pakistan has done everything it could to smother economic cooperation with India, even as it fortifies a wall that blocks India from Afghanistan and central Asia. India no longer has time to fritter on a catastrophe disguised as a country.
India may not be alone in reaching such a conclusion. Pakistan’s oldest ally, China, has delinked India from Pakistan. Xi Jinping has cancelled the Pakistan part of his south Asia tour because of the “security situation”. Left unsaid is that this threat is seeping into China through its Muslim-majority Xinjiang province. China has a future to build for its people, and Pakistan is not present on such a route map.
Modi will carry some news from the immediate west of India when he talks to Obama: bad news. Al Qaeda, which did not die along with its founding father Osama bin Laden, has declared formal jihad against India, along with a host of other nations. Those who provided sanctuary to Osama continue to provide a safe haven for his remnant disciples, so it would be unwise to dismiss this threat as a gesture from a desperate maverick in search of rhetorical relevance. Al Qaeda feels sufficiently reinvigorated to open yet another front in the multi-pronged proxy war that has been waged against India ever since 1947. The malevolence and intensity of this proxy war varies, but never its purpose.
Obama might seek passing comfort in distance; he leads a nation that is tired of carrying the international military burden, after having secured its frontiers. India does not have that luxury. The interesting variable is that Beijing has sat up to think. The Chinese do not reveal their worries readily, but they cannot hide the growing fret-lines anymore. When Prime Minister Modi’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval visits Beijing in the coming days for preparatory talks, he will — hopefully — be discussing more than tensions along the Himalayan border between India and China. Al Qaeda might, in fact, be the weak link in terrorist chains nurtured within the homeland of terror. Other, stronger, and even more vicious groups have emerged within the Sunni south-west and west Asia.
The message from India, Japan, Australia and hopefully China is that we will not permit the commanders of chaos to prevail. We want the joy of a garden, not the ghosts of a graveyard.