INDO-US PARTNERSHIP : LOOKING AHEAD AT THE MILITARY DIMENSIONS

After Mr. Modi’s recent trip to Washington in June this year — and despite the apprehensions — it appears that the Indo-US strategic partnership, particularly in the geo-political and military areas of cooperation is likely to continue forward uninterrupted, even as President Trump has otherwise been aggressively dismantling the legacies of President Obama. This would be addressed at three levels.

First, at the geo strategic level, the US expects the Indian Navy to primarily be the cornerstone of America’s focus towards the Indo-Pacific region to counter the Chinese shadow in the Indian Ocean and possibly in the South China Sea. In the past, India has essentially viewed its security threats from a territorial perspective, largely focused on the China-Pak nexus on India’s borders and Pak sponsored terrorism. But the time has now come for New Delhi to look at the map of the subcontinent top down and view the entire expanse of the Indian Ocean, with the Gulf countries on its right and South East Asia on its left, as potentially the space where India could play a vital role (along with the Americans). This is truly a geostrategic challenge because the sea lanes in this Ocean are vital for the maritime trade, that is in excess of USD 5 trillion and for the energy security of India, Southeast Asia, China and Japan. No wonder, China is already making plans to dominate this region with its Belt and Road Initiative (OBOR).

Secondly, at the regional level, with the US now keen to adopt a new strategy for Afghanistan, it could involve India, to Pakistan’s annoyance, in Afghanistan. And while some in India would welcome this as an opportunity to put greater pressure on Pakistan, there are many questions that remain unanswered. For one, would this lead to an Indian troop deployment in the quagmire of Afghanistan, and if so at whose cost and under whose command? Moreover, this could bring India in confrontation not just with the Pakistani sponsored Taliban, but the Russians and Chinese who are keen to use Pakistan to dominate this resource rich but war torn land. And finally, how would this decision impact on India’s relations with Iran, and Delhi’s initiative to build a corridor from Chabahar port via Afghanistan to Central Asia? More so, as the US is unwilling to abandon Pakistan even though it has — perhaps to please India — declared Syed Salahuddin as a terrorist.

Thirdly, at a bilateral level, the Indo-US strategic partnerships in the coming years would see US technologies playing a greater role in the ‘Make in India’ initiative and in the inventory of India’s Armed Forces, since hi-end technologies would only be transferred to India if New Delhi keeps up its arms purchases from the US, which is very keen to provide India the F-16 aircraft platforms (though old and one that the PAF knows very well, but suitably upgraded with technologies) and US aircraft carrier technology for the subsequent variants of aircraft carriers in India. This could lead the US to dominate India’s naval hardware inventory, (with stuff like the Guardian drones), just like the Russians are still omnipresent across India’s land warfare capabilities. However, the window for India to acquire other non-US defence related technologies would not entirely be closed.

While critics of the deepening of ties between the US and India, have often said that the US will never give us state of the art military technology; but that applies to all other countries that India does business with, as well. The issue for New Delhi is to either go completely into America’s fold or continue to play a hard to get country which has for too long being an aspiring power and cannot make it on to the high table of big powers entirely on its own. The question for India is, can it trust the US, if a military standoff with China turns into a conflict, under a Mr Trump, to stand up for India?

For more details on Maroof Raza, visit: https:/ /www.maroofraza.com.

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