US president Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s summit in Ahmedabad marks a major shift not just in the history of the bilateral relationship between the two countries but also in the geo-politics of Asia.
The symbolism of the two leaders coming together in Ahmedabad was unmistakable. The world’s largest and oldest democracies are philosophically, ideologically and strategically aligned in a world that faces the threat of multi-polarity from non-democratic states.
Trump, in Modi’s home state on Monday, without naming China and Russia, rebuked powerful states that exercise coercion, intimidation and threats. At the same time, he commended India for accomplishing growth in every sphere from science and technology to cultural influence through the ‘soft power’ of Bollywood.
The narrative that Trump built was in line with the long-term outlook of the US that the largest democracy in Asia is required to contain China, which the US deems as a threat. Since India’s Independence in 1947 till Al-Qaeda’s 9/11 terror attacks against the US, America considered Pakistan its greatest ally in South Asia while New Delhi shared a close relationship with Russia. However, the exceptional and rapid rise of China and impressive economic growth in India in the preceding decade along with the terror strikes, led to reconfiguration in the US foreign policy in the region.
In the last two decades, India always got hyphenated with Pakistan in almost all equations and decision-making following the US war on terror in Afghanistan. In its war on terror against global Islamist terror outfits, the US needed Pakistan to capture Osama bin Laden, and defeat Al-Qaeda, which required Pakistan's participation in its war. Washington didn’t have much use for India since New Delhi persistently sought a role for itself only in the peace-building and development efforts in Afghanistan.
Until Trump came to power, America remained reluctant to unsettle the Beijing-Washington cart due to China’s incredible hold over the US economy. China is the biggest trading partner of the US and also has the largest reserves of US currency. It is only due to Trump’s persistent arm-twisting in the last three years that a resultant trade war led to renewed negotiations over business deals between the two countries. Yet, the Trump administration has made it clear that it does not see China as an ideological ally.
In Trump's scheme of things, the threat posed to his 'Make America Great Again' by China is bigger than Islamist terrorism - the common enemy of India and the US. After the first round of trade deal (negotiations?) with Beijing, US secretary of state Mike Pompeo made a similar pitch against China’s communist regime. In other words, Trump sees a uni-polar world headed by the US as a safer and better place.
The US president’s Ahmedabad declaration of securing the Indo-Pacific region, in partnership with India, was thus in accordance with his world view. It was therefore not surprising to hear him say that the US shares a good relationship with Pakistan and was working closely with India’s hostile neighbor to curb terrorism.
The 18-year-long ‘war on terror’, which lasted longer than the Vietnam war, has added $2.4 trillion to US's debt. While over 2,400 US soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq led to the killing of over 4,400 soldiers. The Trump doctrine is that the US can’t aspire to retain its hegemony in the world while being economically drained by China on one front and by war on terror on the other.
Clearly, for this twin-objective, Trump needs Modi’s support both with respect to Pakistan and China. In exchange, the prime minister on Monday seemed to have secured support from Trump on all his major decisions that have drawn tremendous criticism from the opposition in India and abroad. Trump refrained from mentioning the nullification of Article 370 that granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which fast-tracks citizenship of persecuted religious minorities from three neighboring Islamic theocracies.
If the optics— Trump’s stand-alone state visit to India, a first for any American president — are any indicator, the two leaders have already had a deal. That’s probably why Trump repeatedly called Modi a "tough negotiator".
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Updated Date: Feb 25, 2020 12:12:29 IST