The contrast in India’s and Pakistan’s fortunes was quite clear in the way their Prime Ministers have been received in America.
By Dr Raj Kumar Sharma
India’s growing stature in international politics in general and the US politics in particular was on full display as Prime Minister Narendra Modi met President of the United States Donald Trump during his first US visit in his second term. The two popular leaders, having more than 50 million Twitter followers, for the first time jointly addressed a gathering of 50,000 Indian-Americans at the Howdy Modi event in Houston, where a large number of US lawmakers were also present.
PM Modi and President Trump share a good personal bond and they have invested substantial political capital to take forward India-US relationship. The affluent and powerful 4 million strong Indian Diaspora could play a critical role in the re-election of President Trump to White House in 2020. PM Modi, on the other hand, could leverage their influence to iron out some wrinkles in Indo-US ties with the incumbent US President. Of late, there have been problems in India-US ties, like issues of trade and India’s relations with Russia and Iran.
PM Modi’s US visit comes as at a time when his government scrapped the special status given to Jammu and Kashmir by abrogating Article 370. Ever since, Pakistan has been making a lot of hue and cry and Prime Minister Imran Khan has also reached the US, mostly with one-point agenda, to raise the Kashmir issue at the UN General Assembly. India’s top envoy to the UN, Syed Akbaruddin has made it clear that New Delhi would use the UN platform to express its views on global issues, thereby, depicting India’s desire to shape global governance.
The contrast in India’s and Pakistan’s fortunes was quite clear in the way their Prime Ministers have been received in America. PM Modi, in presence of President Trump said that India had bid farewell to Article 370. Without naming Pakistan, he said that India’s move had irked a country which is not capable of managing its own affairs. He even drove home the point that Pakistan was the main source responsible for terrorism in the US and India. These comments made by the prime minister in front of President Trump are important, as Trump had earlier offered to mediate between India and Pakistan, neglecting the issue of terrorism. Pakistan had tried to link developments in Afghanistan with Kashmir, as the US President was desperate to pull out of Afghanistan before the US elections. Possibly, this had prompted President Trump to offer mediation to India and Pakistan on Kashmir issue. The cancellation of talks between the US and Taliban exposes Pakistan’s intentions and ability to bring peace to Afghanistan.
India, for the moment, can take a sigh of relief as a sudden American withdrawal would have worsened the security situation in Afghanistan with potential implications for Kashmir. Not finding expected support from the international community, perhaps, Pakistan needs to stop running like a headless chicken and see the writing on the wall.
The script during the Howdy Modi event went as planned for India. President Trump did not mention either Kashmir or Pakistan in his speech and kept a tight focus on India-US ties, the contribution of Indian Diaspora to the US and praise for PM Modi’s domestic policies. He also mentioned that border security is vital for both, the US and India and both are committed to fighting against Islamic radicalism to protect their innocent citizens. On the issue of terrorism, the US has been supporting India and after Pakistan sponsored Pulwama terrorist attack this year, the US upheld India’s right to self-defense. Later, India conducted the Balakot strike in response to cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan. The US also played a key role in getting Masood Azhar designated as a global terrorist. President Trump also struck a personal note with the Indian-Americans at Houston, saying India never had a better friend than him.
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These are clear signals that the US is unlikely to encourage Pakistan on the Kashmir issue and would again suggest sorting out issues with India through dialogue, not terrorism. PM Modi, while addressing the US Congress in 2016 had said that the India-US relationship has overcome hesitations of history. Indeed, under his government, India has been willing to work with the US on a range of issues.
A trade deal is likely to be signed between the two sides that would be a major booster to India-US ties at a time when President Trump continues to target China over trade problems. These efforts notwithstanding, a feeling of transactionalism seems to have crept in India-US relations. Given their democratic foundations, India and the US can have a sustainable relationship in the long-run if they are able to minimize areas of differences and maximize convergences. In PM Modi, India has a leader with a strong mandate to achieve a defining partnership with the US.
(The author is Consultant, Faculty of Political Science, IGNOU, New Delhi. Views expressed are personal.)