Prime Minister Narendra Modi has personally congratulated President-elect Joe Biden on his success and used the occasion to emphasise on the importance of strategic partnership between the two countries. There is little doubt that the change of regime in the US will not affect the tested foundations of this friendship that were in fact laid with Obama administration declaring India as a major defence partner of the US.
The deep convergence that Modi government struck with the US in the Presidentship of Donald Trump on most matters relating to security and economic development established a bench mark in Indo- US relationship and this will have to be sustained by the two sides through a new set of interactive meetings at various levels.
Much water has flown down the bridge since the times of Obama-Biden rule in US and the government of Dr Manmohan Singh in India -the geo- political changes revolving round Xi Jinping’s China and the transition of ‘war on terror’ to a broader global conflict between Islamic radicals and the US -led West, warrant a new effort by the two nations to steer the democratic world towards greater safety and security. India would keenly watch President Joe Biden unfolding his foreign policy agenda. So far he has not spoken on Pakistan or on the rise of Islamic militancy on the latter’s soil. Also, his approach to China may be firm without replicating the hard line of Trump while in respect of Putin’s Russia- with whom Trump seemed to have an even tie – Biden’s view is that the former superpower is an adversary that should be made to pay for its alleged interference in the last US election. Unlike Trump who was cool towards Europe, Biden wants to restore American ties with it- this fits in with his attitude towards Russia. Biden does not share the visceral dislike of Islamic militancy that Trump displayed through his tenure. The stand of the Democrat President on Pakistan, China and Afghanistan will therefore be of great strategic interest for India.
The President elect has in his statements and write ups focused entirely on the domestic scene that prevails in the US in the aftermath of a bitterly contested election and pledged to unite the nation, get on with the effective handling of Covid and work for restoring ‘decency’ in America’s socio-political life. It is a fact that the political divide has been sharpened by ideological, demographic and class polarisation cumulatively caused by the appeal of America First, economic downturn resulting from the pandemic and the tensions on the street generated by the campaigns. Some analysts term this as the after effect of ‘Trumpism’ on American politics. The democratic environ at home will reestablish itself with passage of time but for the world outside, particularly India, Biden’s foreign policy package would be eagerly awaited as that would have to define the new regime’s stand on a vast spectrum of global hot spots like America’s trans- Pacific policy, security of Indo- Pacific, trade imbalance between US and China, peace in Afghanistan and climate change. President Trump would be remembered for breaking from the traditional polity to confront the new challenges of the present, for shifting the focus from the international politics to the economic situation of Americans at home and for being straightforward about not letting the growing threat of Islamic militancy reach the US soil again.
An area of possible strain for India could crop up in the Biden administration at some point of time because of the ideological proneness of a Democrat dispensation to getting easily influenced by the motivated campaign of liberal lobbyists who had lately become active also against Modi government in India -particularly in its second spell. A politically inspired combine is forming in India around the so called left liberals including Maoists, practitioners of minority politics who ran down nationalism and some sections of the opposition, with the aim of somehow pulling down the Modi rule. This axis is rapidly linking up with forces outside – led by the Pak lobby against India- and building a narrative that human rights were in jeopardy in the Modi regime. It is significant that this anti-Modi ‘alliance’ has suddenly assumed a high profile in Kashmir – well after the completion of an year since the abolition of Articles 370 and 35A of the Constitution by the Indian Parliament. It comprises the pro-Pak separatists, the valley based politicians seeking to benefit from an anti- India stance and some forces in the national opposition. They are inclined to invite the intervention of the Sino-Pak alliance to keep Kashmir separated from India. Somewhere these desperate elements might be thinking that a democrat regime in US – unlike the Trump presidency- would be easier to influence with a narrative of ‘suppression of Kashmiris’. If the past conduct of Pakistan is an indicator a desperate attempt would be made by that country also to precipitate violence in Kashmir to draw attention of the new US President. India will no doubt take an early opportunity to convey it to the Biden administration that the problem in Jammu and Kashmir- that was an integral part of India -was one of infiltration of Mujahideen by Pakistan from across the LoC and not of democratic pro-development governance of the state that the Centre was now ensuring. If necessary Biden-Harris leadership would have to be reminded that there was no room for a third party intervention in the affairs of Kashmir.
The big picture about the likely course of Indo- US relationship under Biden regime is that the strategic partnership between the two countries will remain undiminished at the level of complete interoperability and exchange of military intelligence that had already been reached- this is primarily because the two largest democracies do share a common threat from an ambitious China. However, in respect of the forces of radical Islam which considered the US as their prime enemy, ambiguities may arise if the Democrat leader underestimates the potential for global disruption that Pakistan- known to be harbouring Islamic extremists and radicals on its soil- carried today. The old legacy of American administration looking at Pakistan as an ‘ally’ who had ensured success of the anti- Soviet armed campaign in Afghanistan and therefore ignoring the Pak mischief of unleashing cross border terrorism against India in Kashmir, might play out again because of the reliance Biden might still put on the ‘helpful’ role of Pakistan in Afghanistan. Indian diplomacy is on test on Afghanistan since Pakistan with its special relationship with Taliban could regain its say at the cost of democratisation of that country and to the detriment of India’s strategic interest there.
It is good that former President Barak Obama has in his just published book revealed that Pakistan Army knew of the hideout near Abbottabad where Osama bin Laden was living before the American SEALs took him out in a covert operation conducted at the back of that army. Indian diplomacy has this challenge of counselling the new policy makers in US of the increasing hold of radicalisation in the Muslim world- enlarged by the trio of Pakistan, Turkey and Malaysia acting as its patron and doing this at the cost of US-led West, ultimately. The threat of faith-based terror arising from within the Muslim world should not be allowed to be diluted – the experience of Europe in recent times and the play of Islamic card by Pakistan in South Asia should be taken note of. Interactions between US and India at the official level as also through credible think tanks must adequately focus on this danger of the future facing the democratic world. Once it is understood that the problem in Kashmir was caused by the plan of Pakistan to replicate the Afghan Jehad there to lay claim on the territory and also by the communal agenda of the valley based parties to join hands with the pro- Pak separatists to gain political power, it would become clear that the repeal of temporary Art 370 was necessitated by the desire of India to give the state its due as an integral part of the nation. The valley- based parties have never condemned Pakistan for infiltrating terrorists in Kashmir and China for illegally occupying a large part of undivided J&K and their expression of support for these enemies of India has finally exposed them for what they are- a set of anti- India leaders not deserving of any latitude from this nation.
India should be prepared to face a situation where Biden presidency is fully geared to dealing with Chinese aggressiveness in Indo- Pacific region militarily through QUAD but is not able to see the threat of Sino-Pak collusion against this country with the same alarm. India has to continue building its defence forces to counter any joint mischief by Pakistan and China on our borders even as our military level talks with China for disengagement on LAC in Ladakh are kept up. Also, India has to use all international forums to warn the democratic world against the grave threat of terrorism that it faces on account of the spread of radicalisation not only in the Islamic countries but also in the countries that had significant Muslim minorities. It is also necessary to expose the trend developing in India of pro-Pak lobbies working with the left liberal- anti-Modi opposition combine to play up Minority politics here on issues ranging from CAA to Kashmir. The political calculation that drives this trend is that so long as the majority community was divided in multiple ways the minority was a match winner in an electoral contest. This is the time for reaching out to the minorities with assurances of development without discrimination and equal protection of law to everybody in India on one hand and coming on with a ton of bricks on those who filled the community with exclusivist and communal thoughts and even disparaged the idea of nationalism as a uniting factor for the country, on the other. Biden-Harris team must understand that India puts all citizens on the same footing regardless of creed, class or region and that this was an example other democracies would do well to follow.
(The writer is a former Director Intelligence Bureau. The opinion expressed are personal)
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