Lotus Potus – Is the United States of America, India’s new fair-weather friend?

An unprecedented trip to the airport to pick up the guests of honour, an evening stroll and tea in the gardens, a bear hug or two and the stage is set. President Obama and Prime Minister Modi met only 4 months back in Washington DC with another meeting in Myanmar soil thereafter. With President Obama being back on Indian soil as guest of honour for India’s 66th republic day – Mridulya Narasimhan examines what this visit signifies for India and its neighbours.

Why the fuss?

123 Agreement: Both, India and USA are finally on the same page with regard to the Indo-USA nuclear deal. It is a step forward for American suppliers to be able to invest in Indian civil nuclear energy without the fear of being held liable in case of an unforeseen accident. The deal, signed in 2008, was put on hold pending negotiations on two fronts – the liability and the traceability issue. The two governments have now agreed upon establishing an insurance pool to address the issue of liability. The USA has also rescinded the demand to be able to trace all nuclear materials. The very same Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India’s ruling political party that vehemently opposed the bill from 2006 to 2010 has now made it the ‘centrepiece’ of bilateral relations with the United States.

© Darrel Ronald/Creative Commons License

© Darrel Ronald/Creative Commons License

Indo-US defence cooperation: India remains uncontested as the world’s largest arms buyer. And now with the US as its largest supplier, both countries see the possibility of co-development and co-production as the way forward. This move is suggestive of stronger military ties in the future between the two nations as India weans away from its reliance on Russia for military equipment. As per the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), both countries shall jointly work on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), military kits, electric hybrid power sources and Uniform Integrated Protective Ensembles.

Going green: PM Modi was expected to announce a limit on carbon emissions during President Obama’s visit including a peak year for a new climate treaty to be signed in Paris later in the year. Instead, the talks steered in the direction of a $1 billion investment in solar-energy plants in India owing to India’s fears of being perceived in the same bracket as China on carbon emissions.

Harnessing soft power: Countering terrorism has been on the agenda of both nations. And while both nations refrained from name-calling in their individual statements, the joint statement was more direct in referring to Pakistan. Both countries agreed to ‘enter discussions to deepen collaboration on UN terrorist designations, and reiterated their call for Pakistan to bring the perpetrators of the November 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai to justice’

Good fences make good neighbours

Two visits to New Delhi, and on both occasions, Obama managed to bypass Pakistan. Just as surprising is the fact that the White House occupants have dropped by only when Pakistan has been at the beck and call of generals. With the bullets and hostility flying across borders between India and Pakistan in Kashmir, and President Obama expressing his intent to  form ties with India, it comes as no surprise that Pakistan’s Army Chief, General Raheel Sharif, chose this as a time to make an official trip to China.

Pakistan’s message is simple – to have the support of the west would’ve been nice, but if not the west, then Pakistan will not hesitate to forge ties of friendship with the perceived super power of the east; China. And with that in mind Pakistan has invited China’s president Xi Jinping for Pakistan’s military day to be hosted on the 23rd of March.

China has not only agreed to this effort but has also gone on record to call Pakistan its ‘irreplaceable all-weather friend’. After Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit in February, President Xi Jinping’s visit shall reiterate the importance of China and Pakistan’s coordinated efforts to provide Afghanistan stability.

The Aftermath

© Oxfam International/Creative Commons License

© Oxfam International/Creative Commons License

Now weeks after President Obama’s visit, India still seems to be making a buzz. President Obama has reiterated his support for India making it as a permanent UNSC member, a move that has clearly not gone unnoticed. During his speech at the Indian Parliament, President Obama expressed his intent to see “a reformed UN Security Council that includes India as a permanent member”.

While this endorsement has been seconded by China and Russia, Pakistan is clearly not in favour. In a conversation with President Obama, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif expressed his disapproval of USA’s support to India as a permanent member stating that India has not complied with UN resolutions on Kashmir.

The 66th Republic day for India was yet another exhibition of PM Modi’s mastery over symbolism. Clearly, yet again, Modi does what he is best at – showmanship. Some see it as him being the unequivocal face of ‘Brand India’ and others see it as his way of establishing and gaining legitimacy amongst Indians – either way, things seem to be working. And while India may accept to be USA’s liaison of the East, it needs to be careful not to let its new-found ‘friends’ view it  as strategically positioned to act out on geopolitical games.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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