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US can Ill-afford to send Confusing Signals on South Asia to India in 2019

Paper No. 6572                   Dated      23-July-2019

By Dr Subhash Kapila

The United States in 2019 stands geopolitically and strategically challenged by China in Indo Pacific, Iran in the Middle East and Russia in Eastern Europe, Northern Tier of the Middle East and has a strategic nexus with China. The US can therefore ill-afford to send confusing signals to India in 2019 on sensitive issues like Kashmir when India is the only Asian Power with Major Power national attributes is friendly to United States.

The US-India Strategic Partnership took two decades to evolve into a substantial strategic partnership cutting across political divides in both US and India, cannot be endangered or with even the minutest distrust to creep-in by careless assertions made by IS President Trump on Kashmir in response to Pakistan PM Imran Khan’s leading entreaty at the White House on July 23 2019.

India is aghast at President Trump’s assertion that Indian PM Narendra Modi two weeks back at Osaka enquired whether US President would wish to mediate on Kashmir. Indian media reflecting that India is incensed at such insensitivity by US President has been in over-drive in critically censuring President Trump’s assertions as ludicrous and a lie. Simply, because no Indian Prime Minister, leave alone PM Narendra Modi, would countenance making such a request to the US President or to any other foreign leaders.

Even within the United States, ranking US Congressmen have termed President Trump’s assertions as ill-advised, delusional and damaging to the United States relations with India.

India’s External Affairs Minister today refuted US President’s assertions that PM Narendra Modi had made the purported request to President Trump and that there is no change in India’s stand on Kashmir and dialogue with Pakistan. As far back as the 1990s, then US President Bush a departure from past US policies had first declared that the Kashmir issue is a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan and that both countries have to find a resolution between them. That US position has continued so far thereafter and US President would have been advised accordingly.

Logically, India besides being aghast at US President’s claims on PM Modi and Kashmir mediation has left India confused and confounded. How should India read US President Trump’s assertions? Were they careless remarks, callous remarks or calculated remarks by the US President in presence of Pakistan PM in the full glare of TV cameras and the visuals that would incense India?

Answers to the above would invariably call into question the value of the US-India Strategic Partnership. All right thinking people in India and the United States would not favour that the US-India Strategic Partnership so laboriously crafted should now be endangered by some odd diplomatically careless remarks not by some relatively junior level dignitary but by the US President himself.

Damage control has been resorted to by US State Department by not reflecting in its press release US President’s claims of Kashmir mediation requested by PM Narendra Modi at Osaka. However, incalculable damage has been done to United States image and that of its President in India. And that revolves back to the question—can the United States afford to send confusing signals to India in its South Asia priorities? The short answer is a flat NO.

In the geopolitical churning underway when the United States stands challenged in various strategically sensitive regions of the world vital for US national security interests and with no Major Power in Asia with comparable power attributes to those of China, the United States would be hard pressed replacements for India if it is forced to walk out on the United States because of American insensitivities at the highest levels.

Comparably, India has many other alternative options to offset its walking out on the United States. Russia is eagerly waiting to resurrect its earlier privileged strategic relationship with India after a short dalliance with Pakistan. That Russia-Pakistan honeymoon spawned by Russia in a moment of pique as reverberation for growing US-India proximity now seems to have been jaded.

China too despite its strategic concubinage relationship with Pakistan has read the straws in the wind in terms of simple Major Power power-play and arithmetic and has come to the same and pragmatic conclusion that Pakistan notwithstanding, China‘s interest would be best served by having an accommodative relationship with India.

The United States at highest levels of decision-making must appreciate and recognise that India cannot be ‘balanced’ by adding US strategic ballast to Pakistan. China tried it for decades and was unsuccessful. The United States would be well-advised not to embark on its 1950s-1970s strategic formulations in South Asia. India is the regional power in Southern Asia and not only in South Asia.

Concluding, it needs to be stressed that India is not inclined to give sermons to the United States on maintaining sensitivity in South Asian diplomacy and South Asia foreign policy formulations. It is for the United States to decide where its strategic interests are best safeguarded—by India or Pakistan in relation to China, Indo Pacific security and the Indian Ocean. The choice is with the United States policy establishment. But in pursuit of whatever directions the United States adopts what must not be forgotten is that India is in 2019 is highly proud, sensitive and nationalistic India, and that reality cannot be wished away as United States attempts to enlist Pakistan to facilitate its undue hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan.