Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump have spoken! And, it seems that we can all look forward to deeper Indo-US ties with both Modi and Trump inviting each other to their respective countries. According to PM Modi, Trump and he had a “warm conversation”. On his part Trump said that the US considers India as a “true friend and partner”.
That security in the region of South and Central Asia and the fight against terrorism featured in their first conversation after Trump assumed office would tend to indicate that the new US President is likely to be more supportive of India’s counter-terrorism measures against Pakistan. One would also hope that given his somewhat anti-China stance, Trump’s support would help India check China’s growing influence in the region. But is the equation really that simple? Can India expect full US support in countering the rising threat from Pakistan and China? Not really!
Pakistan – it’s complicated!
As Abhijnan Rej, Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation points out, Trump government does not have a united view on Pakistan. According to Rej, many people have “naive expectations” when it comes to Trump’s possible crackdown on Pakistan. “There are three things in my view that make the equation more complicated than it seems. For one, Trump has spoken to Nawaz Sharif which signals an openness to talking. Secondly, James Mattis, the new Secretary of Defence under the Trump government has in the past worked closely with Pakistani military and some of his recent remarks reveal his somewhat soft stance on Pakistan,” he cautions. “But, one factor that counters this is that the new security adviser to Trump, Michael Flynn, has an instinctive dislike for Islamic terrorism,” he tells FE Online.
“All in all, I believe that the Trump administration, which does not seem to have a united stance on Pakistan, is unlikely to be exceptionally different from earlier US governments. In that sense, India may be naive to expect that Trump will be antagonistic to Pakistan,” he believes.
But, the fact remains that Trump has asked the CIA to be ready for a war against ‘Islamic terrorism’. In this backdrop is it wrong to expect that Trump will not look too favourably towards Pakistan? No, says Sreeram Chaulia. The Dean of Jindal School of International Affairs and a renowned Strategic Affairs expert, Chaulia tells FE Online that India will benefit from Trump’s ‘blunt’ view. “With Donald trump as the US President, I expect greater convergence and deepening of Indo-US military and intelligence ties. I believe that US may increasingly marginalise Pakistan and take out terrorist groups. If India conducts any surgical strikes, then my view is that Trump is likely to welcome them rather than have a balanced stance,” he says.
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Chaulia feels that unlike his predecessor Obama, who used to walk the middle path, Trump will be blunt, especially given his remarks on eradicating Islamic terrorism.
China – it’s even more complicated!
Trump has been openly anti-China. If he acts on his words, then China would end up being even more hostile towards the US than currently. But how does India fit into the whole picture? On the geo-political front, India may take comfort from Trump’s open opposition of China, but when it comes to solving long-standing issues, experts believe that India will have to chart its own course with the neighbour.
With respect to China, I think Trump will be neutral to net positive for India, says Rej of ORF. “He will be more aggressive on the South China Sea topic among a host of other issues. Given India’s growing concerns on China’s expansionist policies, this may bode well for us. So geo-politically, India may very well end up being a beneficiary,” he adds.
Chaulia is not so optimistic, though. “As far as China goes, I am not sure that Trump will help India’s cause. China is likely to be even more obstructionist and hostile towards the US now. In that sense, I believe that India will have to work at its own equation with the neighbouring country,” he concludes.