Jul 26, 2019, 11.41 AM
Just when India and the US had begun to address the uneasiness in bilateral ties due to high tariffs imposed by the two sides, President Donald Trump saying that Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought his help in resolving the Kashmir issue with Pakistan has increased the temperature in New Delhi.
Realising the impact of the false statement, US officials swung into the damage control mode, saying that Kashmir is a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan. The fact, however, remains that the damage has been done.
The latest statement by Trump needs to be examined in the light of his ambiguous and regressive policy towards India in recent times.
Sure, India has been given a preeminent position in US Indo-Pacific strategy. The Trump administration has renamed its Pacific Command as the Indo-Pacific Command, largely in recognition of India’s increasing military and economic might in the region.
The US has also shown interest in treating India on a par with its NATO allies, deciding to sell India an MTCT Category-1 Unmanned Aerial System, Terminal High Altitude Area Defence System (THAAD) and Patriot Missile Defence System.
While these initiatives point towards the Trump administration’s ardent desire to strengthen defence and security ties with India, the fact remains the offer of THAAD has been made only to prevent India from buying the S-400 missile system from Russia.
This and other defence offerings by the US also underscore the Trump administration’s efforts to secure a large portion of the Indian defence market. Understandably so, because India is the world’s second-largest arms buyer.
While US is keen to see India play a vital role in the Indo-Pacific region, Washington is not a bit concerned about addressing India’s security threats emanating from Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, the continued insecurity in Afghanistan and the conflict between the US and Iran, among other issues.
In fact, there is a sea change in the Trump administration’s South Asia policy. In 2017, Trump’s South Asia Policy mentioned that the US will deploy more troops in Afghanistan without fixing a timeline for their return. Now, the US is holding talks with Taliban terrorists to secure a respectable exit from the 18-year-long Afghan war.
All this is happening without Washington consulting New Delhi on the issue. This unilateral action by the US indicates that it is not interested in protecting the interests of its allies and partners.
This becomes further clear from Trump’s Iran policy, which has resulted in India ending all oil imports from Iran. The possibility of India facing sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) is very high because it allows the US to impose economic sanctions on countries buying Russian military weapons.
If these initiatives still do not give a clear picture of the direction of Trump’s policy towards India, look at the high tariffs that Washington has imposed on Indian products. While the Modi government resisted taking retaliatory measures initially, the latest move by the US finally forced India to raise the tariffs on the import of 28 US products. This, in turn, further intensified the tension between the two sides.
In the meantime, the massive victory of the BJP-led alliance under the leadership of Modi witnessed some positive changes in the US’ attitude.
Speaking at the India Ideas Summit and the 44th Annual Meeting of the US-India Business Council, secretary of state Michael Pompeo said, “Modi Hai to Mumkin Hai,” alluding to the necessity of taking concrete efforts to address each other’s concerns. Subsequently, Pompeo’s visit to India and the meeting between Modi and Trump during the G-20 in June infused fresh air into the relationship.
However, the recent development has once again derailed the momentum of improvement in the relationship. Now it remains to be seen how the US tries to engage with India, while attempting to chart out a new approach towards its ties with Pakistan and the Taliban terrorist group in Afghanistan.