“In politics, there is nothing like permanent friends or permanent enemies. There is only permanent interest”, succinctly said Benjamin Disraeli. Each nation endeavours to fulfill its aspirations. India and the US are no different. The current visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to USA, his fourth visit since 2014, symbolizes the same intent and vigour. The Indian PM, on an invitation from the US President Donald Trump, was on USA visit on June 25-26, 2017. This was the first meeting between the two leaders after Donald Trump took over as President and Modi even went to the extent of saying that it was a perfect meeting of minds between the two as the discussions held seem to provide a new direction for deeper bilateral engagement on issues of mutual interest and consolidation of multi-dimensional strategic partnership between India and the US. A guided white house tour, a working dinner and a red carpet welcome further reflects the bonhomie between the two leaders of the oldest and the largest democracies in the world respectively.
A True Friend and an Indispensable Partner
US President Trump, during the discussions, made all the right noises on terrorism, economic cooperation, maritime exercise with India, promised to invest in India’s future and vowed to live up to his campaign promise of being India’s ‘true friend’ at the White House. He also made it a point to mention their common affinity towards social media that helps them “hear directly from the elected members.” Declaring the official meeting a success, Trump said, “I have always had a deep admiration for your country and your people, the rich culture and traditions,” further adding that the relationship between India and the United States has “never been stronger, has never been better.”
The prime minister adequately returned the gestures and extended cooperation in areas where the US seeks greater participation from India — such as committing to peacekeeping efforts in Afghanistan and imposing sanctions against North Korea. In the same breath, Modi called the US ‘an indispensable partner’ of India. On the first day of his visit, PM Modi talked about ‘Make in India’ with the top American CEOs and discussed on an array of subjects and issues ranging from visas, investment and job creation assuring them that India’s growth is a win-win situation for both the countries. Earlier, a Tata group company – Tata Advanced Systems Limited inked a deal with US aircraft maker Lockheed Martin. Although this is not directly linked to the Modi-Trump meeting, the message is explicit. The Americans have entered the fray and will be strong contenders when the global competitive bids are announced by the Department of Defence, Government of India.
The talks between the two leaders also touched on the topic of maritime security and data sharing. Both the leaders announced their intention to build on the implementation of the “White Shipping” data sharing arrangement. The agreement allows countries to share data on maritime traffic and domain awareness. They also spoke about the upcoming MALABAR naval exercise. “Noting the importance of the upcoming MALABAR naval exercise, the leaders determined to expand their engagements on shared maritime objectives and to explore new exercises,” the joint statement said.
Terrorism and Pakistan
The biggest synergy between the two during the discussions, of course, was on terrorism, and both leaders reserved their strongest words to address it. Trump said US, in conjunction with India, will target the radical ideology behind terrorism. “The security partnership between the US and India is incredibly important. Both our nations have been struck by the evils of terrorism and we are both determined to destroy terrorist organisations and the radical ideology that drives them. We will destroy radical Islamic terrorism,” he said. Modi said, “Eliminating terrorism is among the topmost priorities for us,” and told the media that delegation-level talks discussed “terrorism, extremism and radicalisation and agreed to cooperate on this. Fighting terrorism and doing away with the safe shelters, sanctuaries, and safe havens will be an important part of our cooperation,” he said. Before this, the US declared terror outfit Hizbul Mujahideen’s leader Syed Salahuddin as a global terrorist which India had long been seeking. Besides terrorism, trade and economy also featured majorly in the meeting. To cement this, the US cleared the sale of 22 predator Guardian drones to India in the wake of similar security interests across borders and sea, a first by a non-NATO country, the report said. This sale of 22 Guardian unmanned aerial systems is being termed as a “game changer”. The deal is estimated to be worth $2-3 billion.
Modi’s US visit brought a renewed American position on Pakistan. In a joint statement, “the leaders called on Pakistan to ensure that its territory is not used to launch terrorist attacks on other countries. They further called on Pakistan to expeditiously bring to justice the perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai, Pathankot, and other cross-border terrorist attacks perpetrated by Pakistan-based groups”. The two leaders, while maintaining that terrorism is a global scourge, further gave out a call to root out terrorist safe havens in every part of the world. They said that they were ‘committed to strengthening cooperation against terrorist threats from groups including al-Qaeda, ISIS, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, D-Company, and their affiliates. India appreciated the United States designation of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen leader as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist as evidence of the commitment of the United States to end terror in all its forms’.
What lies ahead?
Prime Minister Modi assured the US President that in the joint journey of the two nations towards development, growth and prosperity, India will remain a driven, determined, and decisive partner. In a goodwill gesture, Modi invited the President’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, to lead the US delegation to Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) in India later this year. GES is a key foreign policy initiative of former President Barack Obama to bring together global entrepreneurs and innovators, and India will be hosting its next edition. The event, expected to be a show of solidarity between the two countries, would gain grounds with Ms. Trump’s participation. Modi’s backdoor diplomacy, in the form of formal invitation to Trump to visit India, is one of the biggest takeaways from his US visit.
PM Modi was also indicative of the narrative he was carrying for his country when he said: “My new India vision and President Trump’s ‘make America great again’ vision will open new doors in cooperation between both the countries.” The meeting delivered plenty of symbolic deliverables. Trump’s body language and words also spoke volumes about his preferences. Modi was also successful in breaking the myth that the Indian PM occupied a mid-to-low ranking in trump’s transactional worldview. The chemistry between the two giant leaders is bound to establish terms of engagement along with calculated diplomacy. India, thus, can hope to build on the equations Modi has managed to establish with Trump to secure India’s interests, though that would depend on a host of factors such as what Modi can offer to remain a “true friend” and “a great Prime Minister”. Much lies ahead to be achieved to maintain the tag of a ‘true friend’ as the trade deficit of $ 30 billion is knocking. Mere cliché will not do. India and the US must work together for better regional and global structure and standing.
(The author is Ph.D from JNU)
by Dr Nishu Sharma