Ris­ing china, hos­tile PaK bring u.s. and in­dia closer: Jeff smith

‘In­dia and Pak have been de-hy­phen­ated and now the US is very aware of, and sen­si­tive to, In­dia’s con­cerns.’

The Sunday Guardian - - Covert -

In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi and US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump may be in midst of a great po­lit­i­cal churn­ing in their re­spec­tive po­lit­i­cal con­stituen­cies—In­dia and Amer­ica— as one gears to stake claims for the sec­ond term in PM’s of­fice while an­other works to re­tain his most pow­er­ful of­fice for the sec­ond ten­ure. Still, the com­mon point is the lead­ers of th­ese two largest democ­ra­cies in the world are en­gaged in strength­en­ing their bi­lat­eral diplo­matic and de­fence ties and take it to a level, which not only strength­ens In­dia’s own po­si­tion in South Asia and Asia Pa­cific re­gion, but also stamps it as an “in­valu­able strong ally” of the US, ben­e­fit­ting South Asia and the Indo-Pa­cific Ocean re­gion sig­nif­i­cantly. Both lead­ers, who, co­in­ci­den­tally, com­ple­ment each other and main­tain close re­la­tions, are out to pace up this part­ner­ship for a larger ob­jec­tive in the re­gion, en­sur­ing se­cu­rity, growth and jointly thwart­ing threats from China and Pak­istan. MANEESH PANDEY, Se­nior Ex­ec­u­tive Ed­i­tor of ITV Net­work spoke to JEFF SMITH, an ex­pert on South Asia and Asian se­cu­rity mat­ters at the Her­itage Foun­da­tion in Wash­ing­ton DC on a range of is­sues con­cern­ing the re­gion and the na­tions in­volved. Ex­cerpts: Q: Do you see the US call­ing In­dia as a “ma­jor de­fence part­ner” a big shift in Indo-US ties and will the tenures of PM Naren­dra Modi and Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump take it to the next level? What are the ar­eas where both na­tions can work to be strong part­ners? A: The de­ci­sion to la­bel In­dia a “Ma­jor De­fence Part­ner” by the Barack Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion in 2016 was both sym­bol­i­cally and prac­ti­cally sig­nif­i­cant. I don’t think it marked a “shift” in de­fence ties so much as a con­sol­i­da­tion and ac­cel­er­a­tion of ex­ist­ing trends and mo­men­tum. In truth, the US has been grant­ing In­dia ex­cep­tional treat­ment as a non-NATO de­fence part­ner since the mid-2000s un­der the Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion. Wash­ing­ton has made Delhi the first for­eign user of ad­vanced de­fence plat­forms, set up an In­di­aspe­cific “rapid re­ac­tion cell” in the Pen­tagon, and signed sev­eral unique de­fence and in­tel­li­gence co­op­er­a­tion agree­ments be­fore the Ma­jor De­fence Part­ner la­bel was ap­plied. The des­ig­na­tion was more an at­tempt to cod­ify this spe­cial re­la­tion­ship, en­sure con­ti­nu­ity across ad­min­is­tra­tions, and pro­vide top-level guid­ance to the bu­reau­cracy to en­sure that In­dia con­tinue to be treated with ex­cep­tional sta­tus.

For­tu­nately, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has con­tin­ued to build mo­men­tum, tak­ing sev­eral mean­ing­ful steps to fur­ther ad­vance the de­fence re­la­tion­ship. Per­haps most im­por­tant, it granted In­dia STA-1 sta­tus, which eases reg­u­la­tions and elim­i­nates ob­sta­cles to ex­port­ing ad­vanced de­fence tech­nol­ogy to In­dia. It also signed a sec­ond “foun­da­tional” mil­i­tary agree­ment with In­dia, the COMCASA, which fa­cil­i­tates the ex­port of ad­vanced com­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­nol­ogy and al­lows the US and In­dian mil­i­taries to com­mu­ni­cate over en­crypted chan­nels.

Fur­ther­more, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has agreed to sta­tion an In­dian de­fence at­taché with Cen­tral Com­mand in Bahrain, im­prov­ing co­op­er­a­tion on de­vel­op­ments in the Mid­dle East and West­ern In­dian Ocean. Q: And on the for­eign pol­icy front for both na­tions? A: Fi­nally, on the for­eign pol­icy front, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has fa­cil­i­tated the re­vival of the “Quad”—the in­for­mal group­ing of Aus­tralia, In­dia, Ja­pan, and the US—which will meet for a third time in mid-Novem­ber on the side­lines of the East Asia sum­mit in Sin­ga­pore. No­tably, the ad­min­is­tra­tion has also adopted a tougher line to­ward Pak­istan and its sup­port for ter­ror­ism, as well as to­ward China and its Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive (BRI). Both po­si­tions bring In­dia and the US into greater geopo­lit­i­cal align­ment on some of the key re­gional and global for­eign pol­icy chal­lenges of our time. Q: Any sig­nif­i­cant pacts on anvil to strengthen fur­ther the pace of part­ner­ship build­ing? A: Look­ing ahead, the two gov­ern­ments are hop­ing to sign a deal for In­dia to pur­chase Amer­i­can armed sea guardian drones. Ne­go­ti­a­tions are also un­der­way to reach agree­ment on the fi­nal “foun­da­tional” mil­i­tary agree­ment, a Ba­sic Ex­change Co­op­er­a­tion Agree­ment (BECA), which would al­low the two to ex­change sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion on tar­get­ing and nav­i­ga­tion. Mean­while, the De­fence Tech­nol­ogy Trade Ini­tia­tive ( DTTI) be­gun un­der the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has been re­formed un­der Pres­i­dent Trump as the two coun­tries con­tinue to search for op­por­tu­ni­ties to con­duct joint de­vel­op­ment of mil­i­tary plat­forms. Co­op­er­a­tion in mis­sile de­fence and air­craft car­ri­ers could see sig­nif­i­cant growth in the years ahead. Q: What do In­dia and the US need to do to fire­wall against Pak­istan’s ter­ror and at­tempts to desta­bilise the re­gion? Also what can the US do more to strengthen In­dia in its war against ter­ror­ism? A: In­dia-US co­op­er­a­tion on Pak­istan has al­ready made some very sig­nif­i­cant strides. There was a time in Wash­ing­ton when one could not men­tion In­dia with­out also men­tion­ing Pak­istan. A time when al­most ev­ery event on In­dia was some­thing re­lat­ing to Kash­mir. That is no longer the case. The two coun­tries have been de- hy­phen­ated for some time and now the US is very aware of, and sen­si­tive to, In­dia’s con­cerns about Pak­istan and Pak­istan- based ter­ror­ism. Of course, that’s largely be­cause the US shares many of th­ese con­cerns and has ex­pe­ri­enced first­hand how deadly and desta­bil­is­ing Pak­istan’s sup­port for ex­trem­ist mil­i­tants can be.

The US has al­ready formed sev­eral bod­ies to share in­tel­li­gence and co­or­di­nate with In­dia on ter­ror­ism and home­land se­cu­rity mat­ters. It has also be­come much more as­sertive in at­tempt­ing to sanc­tion and pres­sure Pak­istan to ap­pre­hend and ar­rest known ter­ror­ists op­er­at­ing from its soil. Ear­lier this year, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion was suc­cess­ful in get­ting Pak­istan added to the “grey list” of the Fi­nan­cial Ac­tion Task Force ( FATF), an in­ter­na­tional watch­dog for ter­ror­ist fi­nanc­ing and money laun­der­ing. If Pak­istan is not able to im­prove its record it could be moved to the “black list” next year, which could be ac­com­pa­nied by var­i­ous forms of sanc­tions. Over time, the US has be­gun to take a much less tol­er­ant ap­proach to Pak­istan’s sup­port for ter­ror­ism, not only those groups that are tar­get­ing US and Afghan in­ter­ests, but those groups like LeT and JuD that have an In­dia fo­cus with Kash­mir as an agenda. Joint state­ments be­tween US and In­dian of­fi­cials nearly al­ways in­clude ex­plicit men­tion of those groups now.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has al­ready adopted sev­eral mea­sures to ap­ply greater pres­sure on Pak­istan, in­clud­ing cut­ting off large sums of se­cu­rity aid and ap­ply­ing greater scrutiny to re­quests for loans from the IMF. If Pak­istan proves un­will­ing to more ag­gres­sively com­bat the mil­i­tants op­er­at­ing within its borders, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion should be ex­pected to con­tinue es­ca­lat­ing the pres­sure and sig­nalling to Is­lam­abad that it can no longer ex­pect “busi­ness as usual” with Wash­ing­ton. Q: Do you think that the US en­gag­ing In­dia in In­dian Ocean will be more pro­duc­tive than drag­ging it in South China Sea and Pa­cific wa­ters? How will the strate­gic af­fairs then be if In­dia gets more en­gaged with the US in In­dian Ocean? A: I don’t think ad­vanc­ing In­dia-US co­op­er­a­tion in the In­dian Ocean and Pa­cific/ South China Sea is mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive. Both coun­tries have in­ter­ests in both are­nas and, crit­i­cally, their in­ter­ests are largely con­gru­ent. There was a time when In­dia, among other re­gional cap­i­tals, was very un­com­fort­able with the pres­ence of the US mil­i­tary in the In­dian Ocean. Now that is no longer the case. The two coun­tries are not only con­duct­ing nu­mer­ous joint mil­i­tary ex­er­cises to­gether and shar­ing a lot of in­tel­li­gence on ac­tiv­i­ties in the In­dian Ocean, they are also in­creas­ingly co­or­di­nat­ing their for­eign pol­icy ini­tia­tives and re­sponses to re­gional de­vel­op­ments, in­clud­ing re­cent bouts of po­lit­i­cal tur­moil in the Mal­dives and Sri Lanka.

Ul­ti­mately, I think In­dia is more com­fort­able op­er­at­ing and pur­su­ing new ini­tia­tives in the In­dian Ocean vis-à-vis the South China Sea. It would like to fur­ther strengthen co­or­di­na­tion on de­vel­op­ments in the Mid­dle East and West­ern In­dian Ocean, where In­dia has im­por­tant sea lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and where China-Pak­istan mil­i­tary co­op­er­a­tion has been in­ten­si­fy­ing. The US has been largely amenable to the idea. In­dia’s in­ter­ests and pres­ence in the South China Sea are more mod­est but in­creas­ing. The US has wel­comed In­dia’s re­peated calls for free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion, re­spect­ing the rule of law, free­dom from co­er­cion, and its sup­port for the other pil­lars of the Free and Open Indo-Pa­cific strat­egy. It’s also wel­comed In­dia’s grow­ing en­gage­ment with Viet­nam, Ja­pan, and other re­gional part­ners. Q: China’s Bor­der & Road Ini­tia­tive (BRI) is a ma­jor worry for the United States and its part­ners. Can In­dia play a role along with the US in putting a fire­wall against the Dragon’s de­signs? How? A: In­dia has al­ready played an out­sized role in shap­ing the US and even in­ter­na­tional nar­ra­tives sur­round­ing the Belt and Road and its po­ten­tial costs and con­se­quences. From the point at which the BRI was un­veiled in 2013 un­til mid-2017, In­dia was the lone voice in not only re­fus­ing to en­dorse the BRI, but pub­licly crit­i­cis­ing sev­eral as­pects of the Chi­nese ini­tia­tive. No­tably, In­dia’s op­po­si­tion to the BRI played a role in the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion even­tu­ally aban­don­ing a rel­a­tively neu­tral po­si­tion on the Chi­nese ini­tia­tive and be­gin­ning to is­sue its own crit­i­cism last fall. Since then, sev­eral ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials have crit­i­cised nu­mer­ous as­pects of the BRI and the “preda­tory lend­ing” model China has adopted.

Not only is the ad­min­is­tra­tion more con­cerned about the risks of debt traps, cor­rup­tion, and poor stan­dards and ac­count­abil­ity that have ac­com­pa­nied the BRI, in co­or­di­na­tion with In­dia and Ja­pan it has be­gun to more proac­tively pro­mote a vi­sion for re­gional in­fra­struc­ture that is more open and trans­par­ent. The ad­min­is­tra­tion has funded new ini­tia­tives specif­i­cally de­signed to fa­cil­i­tate greater US pri­vate­sec­tor in­volve­ment in re­gional con­nec­tiv­ity projects, as well as pro­vide new ca­pac­ity-build­ing as­sis­tance to re­gional cap­i­tals. It wants to help gov­ern­ments eval­u­ate the full scope of mon­e­tary and non- mon­e­tary costs that can ac­com­pany large in­fra­struc­ture in­vest­ments. Q: How are In­dia and the US co­op­er­a­tion on re­gional con­nec­tiv­ity ini­tia­tives in the In­doPa­cific? A: In­dia, Ja­pan, and the US have formed an in­fra­struc­ture work­ing group un­der their tri­lat­eral strate­gic di­a­logue, and US gov­ern­ment agen­cies and pri­vate in­sti­tu­tions have be­gun new part­ner­ships with In­dian and Ja­panese en­ti­ties to pro­mote fur­ther in­fra­struc­ture co­op­er­a­tion in the Indo-Pa­cific. While the three Indo-Pa­cific democ­ra­cies can­not com­pete with Chi­nese in­vest­ments one-for-one, they can do a bet­ter job pro­vid­ing al­ter­na­tives to re­gional cap­i­tals in need of in­fra­struc­ture, but wary of debt traps and threats to their sovereignty and au­ton­omy.

‘In­dia has al­ready played an out­sized role in shap­ing the US and even in­ter­na­tional nar­ra­tives sur­round­ing the Belt and Road and its po­ten­tial costs and con­se­quences... In­dia’s op­po­si­tion to the BRI played a role in the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion even­tu­ally aban­don­ing a rel­a­tively neu­tral po­si­tion on the Chi­nese ini­tia­tive and be­gin­ning to is­sue its own crit­i­cism last fall.’ ‘US-In­dia co­op­er­a­tion in mis­sile de­fence and air­craft car­ri­ers could see sig­nif­i­cAnt growth.’

REUTERS

Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi and US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump hug each other dur­ing the for­mer’s visit to the White House, in Wash­ing­ton, US, on 26 June 2017.

Jeff Smith of Her­itage Foun­da­tion in Wash­ing­ton DC.

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