India first

| Updated on January 12, 2018 Published on June 27, 2017

Modi’s fifth US visit has been surprisingly productive

Donald J Trump did it his way. He took to his favourite medium Twitter to signal he wouldn’t be flinging any metaphorical grenades into the delicately nurtured India-US relationship. “Look forward to welcoming India’s PM Modi to @WhiteHouse... Important strategic issues to discuss with a true friend,” Trump told his 32 million followers. Hours after Modi’s arrival on Monday, following his meetings with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis, the Americans sent out an even stronger signal all was well, by declaring Hizbul Mujahidden chief Syed Salahuddin a global terrorist.

In terms of the atmospherics —and bear hugs — so crucial in the world of diplomacy, Modi’s joint press conference followed by cocktails and dinner couldn’t have gone more favourably. Incidentally, Modi is the 46th world leader to meet Trump, but the first to get a dinner invitation. More crucially, the language on Pakistan was tougher and more direct than before. In a joint statement, the leaders called on Pakistan to ensure its territory is not used to launch terrorist attacks on other countries. They further called on Pakistan to “expeditiously bring to justice perpetrators” of the 26/11 Mumbai, Pathankot, and other cross-border terrorist attacks by Pakistan-based groups. By contrast, the language on China was toned down, possibly because Trump wants to preserve the balance with the Chinese who he needs both for trade and to rein in the North Koreans. In terms of defence, India got the 22 Guardian drones it’s been keen to add to its arsenal and significantly, it’s the first non-Nato ally to be allowed to buy these hi-tech weapons. Trump, who has made jobs his first priority, also noted pointedly India’s shopping for a large consignment of Boeing jets. On the economic front, India came under increased US pressure on IPRs, and the HIB visa issue remained unaddressed.

For India, which kept expectations muted for the visit, it was clearly a moment of triumph. But India can’t afford to be lulled into diplomatic complacency and must make its moves on the global chessboard with redoubled caution in coming months. Indeed, India’s already keeping a wary eye on the Chinese. China made it clear it frowns on the blossoming India-US friendship which it reckons, is aimed squarely at encircling it. China’s Global Times didn’t mince its words: “Washington’s pursuit of closer ties with New Delhi is mainly driven by its strategic need to utilise India as a tool to counterbalance China. How many practical interests (sic) can India gain from it?” More ominously, Indian and Chinese troops were involved in a border stand-off a few days ago and, in retaliation, the Chinese have closed the Nathu-La Pass for pilgrims to Kailash Mansarovar. The move, coming as it did when Modi was in Washington, appeared to be aimed at sending a message — one India cannot ignore.

Published on June 27, 2017
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