[Modi and Pompeo]
The Swiss Pilatus P-7 trainer aircraft for the air force was a new government’s turn away from becoming a full-blown public scandal. (Please refer all my past posts on the Pilatus in the ‘Indian Air Force’ section of this blog.) The only real surprise is that the Modi regime in its first term did nothing to pursue the arms middleman Sanjay Bhandari who, along with Deepak Talwar, kept a whole bunch of politicals and babus during the Manmohan Singh era liquid. Talwar is the man who ensured the Air India buy at high rates of passenger aircraft and the preferential treatment of various Gulf airlines until now when the latter all but monopolize the lucrative to- and fro- traffic and also the onward routing of growingly large numbers of Indians to Europe and North America. Both Bhandari and Talwar can expect no leniency unless they begin leaking detailed information, especially of the beneficiaries of the secret flow of monies to offshore accounts and diverted to property purchases in London, and so on.
While newspapers report that certain MOD and IAF officers have also been collared, there is no mention of any names. The real question is how high do the investigating agencies want to go in bringing senior IAF officers to book? Or, rather what’s the level of military officers the Modi dispensation would consider politic to bung into jail? This is the most intriguing part because, at the time the Pilatus contracts were signed, some very senior officers were rumoured to have been on the take.
June 25th sees the American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo alighting in Delhi to try and smooth out ruffled feathers at both the India and the US ends. The danger is that the foreign minister S. Jaishankar, a khandaani babu, is more adept at taking orders, following instructions, and embroidering the policy line dictated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. And where the US is concerned, Modi has shown himself a pussy, always angling, this way and that, to be in the good books of the current resident of the White House — Barack Obama, initially, and now Donald Trump. To therefore expect that Jaishankar will do anything unusual like drawing a firm line and telling Washington where to get off and telling him that India would not be kicked around as it has been for the last decade and more, is to expect the unthinkable. Because remember, Jaishankar is the person who delivered to the US what it desperately sought for decades — a denatured Indian nuclear deterrent in perpetuity (vide the nuclear deal)
Have written two big books (Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet), and Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition) detailing and analysing at great length why India should be wary of the US and why distrust of America (or Russia and China and Western European ) should be this country’s default option. Indian diplomats and MEA staffers who, according to one of their own, Natwar Singh, are not known to read books after joining Service — his exact words and so featured in one of my books, were — “The last time they read anything was when they sat for the UPSC exam!” mean that they are unwilling to learn anything except what they pick up during their careers. This leaves a whole world of analyses and insights out of their reckoning. To top it all, like the Americans with Trump, we have Modi who reads little but, nevertheless, is his own fount of foreign policy wisdom and ideas.
Iran is the sticking point here. The Modi government has done enough by siding with the US to not only rile Tehran but also Moscow. If this trending policy is not soon righted India will pay a heavy strategic price. India may be well advised then to prepare for a future in which, as I have repeatedly warned, it is America’s regional appendage.
Thus with Modi satisfied that the US is all good, benign and into furthering shared interests — the sort of thing that Jaishankar would enthusiastically second, despite a meager body of evidence — helping get Azhar Masood in the dock, putting the FATF squeeze on Pakistan, with these events touted by a compliant Indian media as outstanding diplomatic achievements denoting the heights the Indo-US relationship can supposedly scale, the Indian government willfully ignores the larger American game plan that’s in play. It is a plan the motivated caucus in Delhi — the Delhi chapters of Carnegie/Brookings-led camp of Indian commentators in the media, thinktankers and and academics, and hordes of retired civil servants and, increasingly, military officers, all eager to cadge invitations to the “seminar circuit” in the US by saying and writing stuff supportive of the current Washington stance. How else to explain the routine, mindless and ill-informed writing by former Indian officials and the like over the years extolling the virtues of the as-is hobbled Indian nuclear arsenal?
In this flood of subservient opinions and verbiage backed by no real knowledge within and outside government, the basics of the US plan for India never get forensically addressed. So what’s the US strategy?
It is as follows: The US needs to
- have a sub-par nuclear weaponized India armed with second-rate American conventional weaponry to hold up the western end of the Indo-Pacific to complement a conventionally militarized Japan that has improved on first rate US equipments, but not one to be trusted with its own nuclear weapons which will only spin that country out of Washington’s control, at the other end of Asia to prevent a hegemonic China from emerging.
- by fear of consequences and threat of sanctions prevent India from resuming thermonuclear testing in order to, by and by, have the Indian government rely on the US for its strategic security, in other words, to outsource the country’s meta-strategic concerns to Washington’.
- sever India from its Russian arms supply links and place US Companies to provide military technology that the US armed services have either phased out or, for good reasons, never inducted. Such as the Guardian sea drones, the F-21/F-16 combat aircraft, the unaffordably expensive EMALS (electro-magnetic aircraft launch system) for Indian navy’s aircraft carriers, and the long-in-the-tooth M-777 light howitzers for use against the PLA on the Tibet front, and the offer of the vastly inferior NASAM/Patriots missile systems instead of the Russian S-400 which costs less! This when China is negotiating for the still more advanced S-500. The bigger aim being that via military supply links to gain the political edge in Delhi that Moscow has enjoyed.
- begin capitalizing on the foundational accords — LEMOA and COMCASA signed by a clueless and gullible Indian government, and prepare the ground for the US military to permanently access Indian military bases, facilities, installations and communications capabilities as prelude to staging all-year, all-weather operations out of India in the Indian Ocean arc Simonstown-Western Australia, with the Indian armed services acting as backup.
But how to get around the real differences on trade, H1B visas, etc? As stressed in my book and writing to-date, these are less hurdles than things to get around by small-time and contingent gestures to mollify the Indian government. In this respect, first imposing sanctions and then removing them piecemeal is portrayed as great concessions by the US. Washington has realized it can get anything past the foolish and shortsighted Indian government if small benefits are dressed up as big American giveaways — the result, it is put out, of “hard negotiating” by the likes of Jaishankar.
Thus, the H1B visa door is all but closed to Indian IT professionals. But on the eve of the Pompeo visit Trump announced that the US immigration service would hold off on hunting down unregistered aliens — there are over 700,000 Indians in the US who have overstayed their visas or been smuggled into America via Mexico and elsewhere — and evicting them. And the Modi-Jaishankar duo would feel great about these kinds of US tactics? Likewise, re: data portability and GOI’s insistence that all commercial and other electronic data generated through the Net and various portals, be housed in-country, Pompeo is here to pressure the Modi regime into giving in — in the name of India’s role in globalization. But at the same time he will reject India’s demands for free movement of labour and services, and to follow WTO guidelines. The give on the US’ part, in this particular instance, will be a certain dilution of the Generalised System of Preferences as applied to India. The US is also seeking GOI measures in intellectual property rights that will end up crippling the Indian pharmaceutical industry — among the biggest export revenue earners, and denying the world cheaper but equally effective medicines derived from Western pharma formulae.
On Huawei and the 5th gen communications gear, however, it may be no bad thing if the Indian government, lacking any sense of how to promote Indian telecom technology competitiveness, is pushed by Pompeo into terminating Huawei sales and rolling back the presence of this and other Chinese companies specializing in mobile telephony. The fallout of this will be to reduce Beijing’s capacity to wage cyber warfare through electronic bugs and Trojan Horses embedded in the Chinese communications systems that the Indian government has so far allowed free entry, which in an instant can disrupt financial networks, power grids and of course, communications systems, including critical ones. If Delhi doesn’t have the brains to see the onrushing Chinese cyber warfare train, better it removes India from the tracks even if at Washington’s prompting.
So tips to Modi-Jaishankar:
- In pure geostrategic terms, the US needs India far more than India needs America. Internalize this basic fact into all negotiations and prepare to shut down all channels.
- The US does not any more have the will or the wealth to be security provider to littoral and offshore Asia, so to rely on America when all its traditional allies (NATO, Japan) are exploring arrangements to defend themselves the best they can by themselves, is to be perversely foolish.
- Stop obsessing about Pakistan and start worrying meaningfully about China, and absolutely end the pattern in place of contentment with being fobbed off by the US with pinpricks against Pakistan. If you think FATF, etc will convince GHQ, Rawalpindi, from rethinking terrorism as tool of symmetric warfare, then India is in greater trouble than anybody thought possible.
- Alternative arrangements to bolster India’s national security oriented to China and solely China (so Pakistan will ipso facto be taken care off) have to be put in place. It will require that, at a minimum, the roles of both the US and China in Asia be minimized. In this respect, the most promising sets of loose security coalitions are offered by BRIS (Brazil-Russia-India-South Africa), i.e., BRICS without China, and the modified Quadrilateral or Mod Quad of India, Japan, Australia and a select group of rich and militarily capable Southeast Asian states led by Vietnam and Singapore, i.e., the Quadrilateral without the US. BRIS and Mod Quad are detailed in my book ‘Staggering Forward’. In the last, the US can come in as and when it cares to without this coalition making its concerns central to the working of the Mod Quad.
- The hankering for cutting edge US technology is a fool’s errand. India will not get it, no matter what. Remember, the US has not parted with the source codes of the F-35 aircraft the UK, its most intimate friend and partner, has chosen for its air force and navy, and which programme it invested in. That’s a fact of life. Where realistically should India then be placed with respect to the UK, say, in America’s affections?
- Appreciate the leverages India has and start using them, rather than treating them as free goods for Delhi to squander to win Washington’s attention. India has an unsurpassed geographic location as the central strategic pivot in the Indian Ocean region and landward in Central Asia, its vast manpower that however require to be rapidly and massively upskilled can become a national resource, and its market for all kinds of manufactures and capital goods, ranging from Boeing and Eurobus transport aircraft — just the order of 243 Eurobus aircraft by Indigo Airlines is going to keep European aviation companies in the clover for a long time, and denial of access to which can be a powerful means of bringing US, China and, even more, any European state, to heel.
- The above mandates Jaishankar talks with Pompeo and US interlocuters from a position of strength rather than, as has been the case to-date, from a presumed position of weakness.
- Above all else, the Indian government has to understand that the biggest stick India wields is its inherently strong status as an independent actor on the world scene that can no more fit into the American bandwagon than into the Russian or Chinese basket. That keeping a distance from Washington will serve the national interest, in the short as well as long term, immensely better than jumping into bed with America. Because doing the latter will only gain for India the passing advantages of a harlot, a country to hire by the hour.