When it rains, it pours has never been truer than it is now for India.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in Moscow to prepare the ground for Prime Minister Modi’s state visit in November, got a proper, if cold, reception. Her defining Russia as India’s closest friend did little to temper the message that, according to sources, was conveyed by Kremlin that Delhi’s taking Russia for granted will hereafter come at a cost. Swaraj was told, for instance, that unlike his other tours, the Indian PM while in Russia can expect no frills and hoopla — just business-like meetings shorn of all ceremony. Secondly, that while Moscow was, by and large, attentive in the past to Indian security concerns, it cannot afford India a veto on arms supplies to Pakistan — starting with the sale of attack helicopters and MiG-35 combat aircraft. Thirdly, depending on how things progress or don’t, Russia’s participation in sensitive strategic DRDO and DAE projects will be re-thought, as will the offer on the table for a while of the second Akula-II class SSN, the Iribis, that Moscow had agreed to upgrade to Akula-III standard before leasing it to the Indian Navy.
Given its own leanings, the BJP regime is thoughtlessly pandering to the Indian military’s institutional tilt and desire towards Western armaments and, hence, Western arms suppliers, without calculating the strategic costs to the country of going over so completely to the other side, as it were, simply boggles the mind. If Modi really believes that the US and Western European states will happily insert themselves in technology-transfer and indigenous tech-development role that Russia had heretofore specialized in, he has a rethink coming sooner than he believes. In the interim, until that light switches on, an awful lot of goodwill and policy ground for foreign and military policy maneuver will have been lost.
It is providential, in fact, that Pak PM Nawaz Sharif’s trip to Washington has happened at the same time as Swaraj’s to Moscow. It points to precisely the problems India, loosening its links to Russia, will face in dealing with a US now confident that Delhi has nowhere else to go.
Consider the ‘2015 Joint Statement By President Barack Obama And Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’ dated Oct 22, 2015 (accessible at
https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/10/22/2015-joint-statement-president-barack-obama-and-prime-minister-nawaz) at the end of Nawaz Sharif’s parleys with Obama in Washington. The US Government has acquiesced in describing Pakistan “as one of the largest Muslim democracies [that is utilizing] its influence in support of peace, security, development, human rights across the world” and the US-Pak relationship as “enduring”, and “bilateral defense cooperation” as “robust”. While recognizing Pakistan’s role, albeit inferentially, in containing terrorism by referring to “Pakistan’s positive efforts to counter improvised explosive devices” — THERE WAS NOT A HINT ANYWHERE OF TERRORIST OUTFITS TARGETING INDIA, SUCH AS LeT LED BY THE ABOMINABLE HAFIZ SAYEED, NURSED BY PAKISTANI AGENCIES AND OPERATING OUT OF PAKISTANI TERRITORY.
In the most telling portion of the Nawaz-Obama. Statement, under the sub-section “Strategic Stability, Nuclear Security, and Nonproliferation”, the two leaders “acknowledged the importance of regional balance and stability in South Asia” and, in an obvious dig against India, talked of the need for “uninterrupted dialogue in support of peaceful resolution of all outstanding disputes.”
Worse still from the Indian national interest perspective, the US kept its options to assist Pakistan militarily and otherwise keep its hand hot in South Asian affairs. In this respect, the Statement, most significantly, recognizes “the importance of regional balance and strategic stability in South Asia”, thereby accepting the point Islamabad has always made that “regional balance” is what leads to “strategic stability” which construction, it turns out equates Pakistan with India, and is a license for America to assist and help Islamabad by whatever means to maintain a “regional balance” in the subcontinent. The transfer of the most advanced Harpoon antiship missiles, fast patrol craft able to launch durable motorized rubber dinghies for sneak attacks of the kind mounted by terrorists on Mumbai 26/11, and six F-16s is the down payment on this US line of advance. Incidentally, this merely amounts to reviving an old US policy but one that’s been kept alive by the Washington thinktanks, such as Henry L. Stimson Center, which has provided one of its senior staffers (Joshua White) to the Obama NSC, whose South Asia head is Peter Lavoy, a known Pakistan sympathizer and one of the Americans who early preached reconciling to a nuclear-armed Pakistan by plying it with American largesse!
Combine this considerable Pakistani political-diplomatic success with India being unmoored from its historical Russian military technology anchor, and one can see India heading for a strategic crash-landing. Tighten your seat belts!