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From Afghanistan to China: India must avoid US foreign policy plans

From Afghanistan to China, the US is pushing India to back its plans but PM Narendra Modi should avoid these self-harming pursuits.

When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited former American president Barack Obama as the chief guest to India’s Republic Day celebrations in 2015 or received multiple standing ovations while delivering a speech at the American Congress the next year, pundits of Indian foreign policy had applauded him for bringing in a touch of realism, something New Delhi’s thinking had been missing over the decades.

It was being believed that the Indian leadership was finally showing signs of pragmatism by drawing closer to the world’s only superpower and the oldest democracy which would help the country gain in terms of politics, economy and technology.

Does America wish India to become its poodle?

But as the realities in the US started changing drastically over the last couple of years, New Delhi’s new found pragmatism is gradually seeming not just futile but also detrimental to its own interests. While the administrations of George W Bush and Obama had seen India as a friend in need in its scheme of things against odds like terrorism and the rise of China, the current presidency of Donald Trump has gone a step ahead to turn India into a poodle of sort to safeguard its own jeopardised interests in Asia. Prime Minister Modi needs to take a strong stand on this and tell an emphatic NO to the American no-brainers before his own country faces a considerable harm.

From Afghanistan to China, Trump is pushing India

In August this year, Trump invited India to join the Afghanistan crisis as its friend as he envisioned New Delhi as a replacement for strategically more significant Islamabad to improve things in the war-ravaged country. In November, the US president, during his visit to Asia, uttered the term “Indo-Pacific” to drag India into security matters related to Asia. The end goal is to use India as a counterbalance against China, especially in Southeast Asia.

Washington’s dual aims of using India as an ally against terror emanating from Afghanistan-Pakistan region and against China in Southeast Asia are not new. Ever since the 9/11 attacks changed the narrative of international politics, the US has found a reliable partner in India and as Washington has continued to fail in matters related to Asia, this reliance has only grown.

The onus thus lies on India today to draw the lines where necessary. The tragedy of India’s foreign policy is that it befriends the power which loses favour of the time. During the Cold War era, New Delhi’s choice for the erstwhile Soviet Union wasn’t exactly helpful as Pakistan reaped the benefits of an alliance with the US, resulting in the Cold War touching the shores of South Asia and pitting India against the Washington-Islamabad-Beijing axis. Pakistan’s choice to remain dependent on the US never allowed it to come of age. India, on the other hand, has made a place for itself in the international fraternity. Is there a need for it today to become an unconditional ally of the US?

India has revised its course today to take a U-turn and draw closer to the US but the reality is that Washington is now in a state of retreat. The likes of China and Russia might not straightaway fill in the void being left behind by the Americans but in a truly multipolar world as it stands today, giving an unconditional backing to the Americans is not going to help India much in matters of military and security. The Modi government though seems to be putting too much emphasis on those factors and not really taking on the American leadership on issues that matter more – stricter visa regime for example.

Why “fulfil” US’s expectations?

During his recent visit to Manila where he met Trump and other world leaders, Modi remarked that India would “try its best to fulfil the expectations that the US and world has from it”. It is not a healthy precedent. If non-alignment with an inclination towards the former Soviets is being evaluated as an impractical foreign policy stance today, the eagerness to fulfil Americans’ expectations is akin to disaster. India should know by heart that the Americans will never fulfil India’s expectations. Why the love, then?

The idea of Quad is useless

The idea of joining the Quadrilateral alliance or Quad featuring Japan and Australia besides the US is of no benefit either. The Modi government must know that such an arrangement was tried earlier as well and it never delivered.

China has consolidated its power further over the last decade and looks to storm more barriers in the days to come under the powerful leadership of Xi Jinping. India has already erred in not welcoming China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which in itself is a major diplomatic game-changer and its hopes in respect of the Quad to corner China would hardly be successful.

The Americans’ retreat from East Asia has already made countries like Japan focus on bettering relations with China while Australia too has an economic relationship with the Chinese to ruin. India is the only country of the Quad to have a common land border with China and there is a massive potential in the two populous countries’ economic relation to achieve in the days to come. Why allow the negativity to rule the roost and side with an American presidency which several in the US itself consider inefficient and futile?

Prioritisation is a big task to accomplish in international relations and the Indian leadership needs to do it cautiously, especially in today’s conditions where there are no clear friends and enemies and where the thinking of the Cold War days will not work. The US has made too many enemies around the world, thanks to its thoughtless pursuits and Modi needs to understand that backing it blindly could damage India’s own well-nurtured relations with many countries besides worsening the already worse ones.

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