The visit the world was observing has concluded. President Donald Trump has come, visited and left. Much happened over the two days that he was here. The crowds in Ahmedabad, his visit to the Taj, meetings in Delhi, his interaction with the media and signing of mega defence deals, all happened while parts of Delhi were engulfed in sectarian violence. Maximum efforts to force Trump to issue his standard loose cannon statements especially concerning internal Indian decisions including the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), Kashmir and violence in Delhi were made at his media interaction.
Simultaneously, his comments on Pakistan were twisted by Pakistan’s media to display the opposite meaning to their own populace as a facesaving measure. Simply put, the visit had much beyond the normal. A few comments by Trump need to be expanded for clarity. He stated during his media interaction, “Modi is a very strong person and very tough, actually. He has got that foremost in his mind (to deal with terrorism). He will take care of it.” This was a clear message to Pakistan that India will not accept any terrorist strikes on its soil. It will rebound and hit back, and the US will back it.
The fact that Indian defence procurements are also for employment against Pakistan indicated US backing India for strong action in case of Islamabad’s misadventures. Trump also acknowledged that terrorist actions are emanating from Pakistan. There was no comment on the lockdown in Kashmir, nor on CAA, both of which he considered as India’s internal decisions. By this action, Trump rebuked his own senators and anti-India caucus in the US which had urged him to raise these topics while on his visit to India. It was also a rebuke to Pakistan which had been desperately projecting to the world to push India into lifting communication restrictions in Kashmir.
Simultaneously, Trump backed India on its religious freedom when he stated that Modi gave him a powerful answer on the subject. Trump made his intention of enhancing ties with India more important than commenting on actions which India would never reverse. His offer to mediate between India and Pakistan was on deescalating tensions between the two countries, not on Kashmir, as has been stated in the Pakistani press. He even clarified that he has not offered to mediate on Kashmir. It is believed that he briefed Modi on multiple requests for mediation on Kashmir by Imran Khan, which he rejected.
Despite claiming to have a ‘good relationship’ with Pakistan, Trump stated, “But there has been ‘difficulty’ in Pakistan. We are seeing what we can do about it.” It implied that the US would continue to pressure Pakistan to act against terror groups. He also claimed to have discussed Pakistan at length with Modi, thus conveying that the US supports India on its Pakistan policy. This was reinforced in the joint statement which mentioned, “(Modi and Trump) denounced any use of terrorist proxies and strongly condemned cross-border terrorism in all its forms. They called on Pakistan to ensure that no territory under its control (implying POK) is used to launch terrorist attacks, and to expeditiously bring to justice perpetrators of Mumbai and Pathankot.”
At the joint press conference Trump stated, “Prime Minister Modi and I affirmed our two countries’ commitment to protecting our citizens from radical Islamic terrorism. In this effort, the United States is also working productively with Pakistan to confront terrorists who operate on its soil”. This sentence never found a mention in any Pakistani media reports on the visit. Afghanistan also came up for discussion between Modi and Trump. The joint statement stated, “They support an Afghan-led and Afghanowned peace and reconciliation process that results in a sustainable peace; cessation of violence; elimination of terrorist safe havens; and preservation of the gains of the last 18 years.”
This implies that India agrees with the US on its Afghan policies. There was no mention of Indian boots on the ground. The awaited trade deal did not happen. Not that it truly mattered. The two leaders stated that it is still on the cards and could happen after the elections. However, a mega defence deal for USD 3 Billion was signed. Chinese actions were a major discussion point. Evidently, both nations view China as a threat. The Quad and Blue Dot project were mentioned. The Blue Dot, which also found mention in the joint statement, is an initiative launched by Washington to bring governments and private sectors of the US, Australia and Japan together as a counter to the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative. It cannot succeed without India’s cooperation.
The joint statement mentioned, India “expressed interest in the concept of Blue Dot Network.” What were the major takeaways? Firstly, India and the US need each other militarily and economically. India has the financial ability to procure its defence needs and the US seeks to be a major defence provider. Trump understood the power of the Indian defence market. Secondly, the US understands that India has an independent mind and it cannot pressure India to limit Russian ties and military procurements as it could do to others. Thirdly, India will never accept any interference in its internal affairs, especially from allies. Nor would India accept any mediation on Kashmir.
Fourthly, unless India is involved, major US projects in Asia like the Blue Dot project and QUAD would never succeed. Finally, India will respond hard to any terrorist strike from Pakistan and would never venture for talks unless Pakistan curtails its support for terrorist groups and the US would back Indian actions. The fact that Trump mentioned that he would not make any loose statements at the commencement of his press conference indicates that he has developed a rapport and relationship with India which he does not want to damage. The visit more than conveyed the importance of India, both economically and militarily, to the global community. It also conveyed the strength of Indian democracy and national leadership. Finally, India and the US are closer allies than ever before.
(The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army)