(Modi arriving in Bishkek)
Prime Minister Modi’s flight took some 2-3 hours longer to reach Bishkek from New Delhi, having to go around Pakistan and the northern Arabian Sea and over Iran than if his plane had just flown north directly over and across the neighbouring state to the west, permission for which overflight though delayed by Islamabad was ultimately given.
Why did the PM decide to take the longer route and stay in the air so much longer? Because MEA veterans on Monday June 10 — Vivek Katju in an op/ed and his compatriot KC Singh at a ‘strategic seminar’ in Kasauli (the latter on a panel with this writer) — wondered why Modi was refusing to restart talks with Pakistan but seeking permission to overfly that country. Caught out on this supposed inconsistency, the PM swiftly reversed course and the Air India aircraft lumbered for hours before landing in Bishkek for the annual SCO bash.
Couldn’t, shouldn’t, he have graciously accepted instead the Pakistani decision and overflown that country and while doing so telegraphed the customary Good Wishes to Imran Khan and the Pakistani people? It would have been an indirect sign of his desire to resume a dialogue, which would in no way have diluted India’s formal position he voiced at the plenary session about no real possibility of an advance towards normalcy if the Pakistani Army-qua-state continued to rely on terrorism as a diplomatic tool because far from bringing Delhi to the table it was driving it farther away from it. That gesture plus this message would have left open that wee little space for the “back channel” to become active once again and it’d have been in sync with Imran’s cooing to the Press about a negotiable Kashmir solution. That didn’t happen. Perhaps because that would have been a dissonant note in his policy of cultivating Pakistan as a bogey to beat up on.
Trouble is Modi is ever mindful of correcting small inconsistencies but entirely oblivious to the larger inconsistencies of his foreign policy approach. He seeks to retain a degree of warmth in relations with Putin and Russia and not upset the apple cart with Xi and China while leaning over so much towards the US as to fall right into America’s lap. In fact, that’s exactly where Washington hopes India will be with Modi as the willing tool. This much was signaled by the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Even as Modi was characteristically hugging a somewhat uncomfortable Putin — no matter how many times one is hugged it is hard to get used to!, and a more skeptical Xi was holding him at arm’s length, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was repeating a Modi election slogan — “Modi hai toh mumkin hai” (Every thing is possible with Modi there) before the US-India Business Council in Washington. Clearly, the Trump Admin expects that Modi — hand-held by his chief minion and foreign minister S. Jaishankar — will do whatever the US government asks him to do.
The US has made clear its priorities where India is concerned. Pompeo, besides aping Trump, his vocabulary-challenged boss, who repeats the word “incredible” quite often, mostly to describe himself and his presumed successes by mouthing “incredible” twice in the first minute of his speech, he explained that during his Delhi trip later this month he will push (1) the F-16/F-21 for the IAF and the F-18 Super Hornet for the Indian Navy, to enable India, he said, “to become a full-fledged security provider throughout the Indo-Pacific”, (2) to eliminate tariffs on max number of American goods and services exported to India, (3) to remove curbs on the functioning of social media companies (Facebook) and American firms doing commerce over the Net (Amazon) and, most significantly, (4) Delhi to finalize the sale of Westinghouse nuclear power plants and increased imports of LNG and crude oil from the US to, as Pompeo put it, “give Indians reliable, affordable, diversified energy independence so they will no longer have to rely on difficult regimes like those in Venezuela and in Iran.”
What Pompeo naturally failed to concern himself with was, for instance, the cost to the Indian armed services of two additional and new types of combat aircraft in an already horribly, and counterproductively, diversified air-order-of-battle. Or, the effect of alienating Iran which may end up depriving India of access to cheap oil at concessionary rates, but also to Chabahar port around which pivots this country’s long term and long-reach strategy for Gulf and Russia, and Afghanistan and Central Asia. Such willful distancing by Delhi from Tehran will also lose India the shia counterpoise and leverage to potentially use against the sunni Arab bloc led by the wahabbism-promoting Saudi Arabia.
It is astonishing just how ignorant Modi and his chief minion, Jaishankar, seem to be regarding the basic logic of India’s geopolitics which, in no way, is convergent with that of the United States, and how cavalierly they are going about undermining India’s strategic options, national interest and national security.
Were the Modi government not so top-down driven, there would be a point in urging the PM to restrain his foreign minister from jumping on to the American coattails on every issue and otherwise turning India into a virtual banana republic. But this is Modi’s thoughtlessly pro-US reflex too.