Political leaders are driven by four considerations national interests, domestic audience or vote bank, party ideology and personal convictions. While there is normally a strong overlap between party ideology and personal convictions, in situations where there is a tussle between the two, it is the latter that prevails in the case of strong, charismatic leaders. Both Narendra Modi and Donald Trump belong to this category. Also, international relations are need driven and ideology of the visionary sort plays little role. Further, in international realpolitik the stronger party calls the shots. Given this back drop, one can well imagine that the Modi Trump Summit will be shaped by the latter’s compulsions, predilections and if one may add, idiosyncrasies.
2. True to his background, the issue foremost on Trump’s agenda will be US business interests. This was best illustrated recently by the whopping $ 3 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia and the supply of $7.5 billion worth of jets to Qatar in spite of their well known role in financing Islamist terrorism. As such, India will be expected to facilitate American FDI, place orders for mega defense deals and reduce protectionist barriers for US imports. The deal to supply 22 unarmed Guardian surveillance drones announced recently is a case in point; also, the proposed joint production of F-16 fighter jets in India. In fact, in his speech to the NRIs, Modi had stressed upon the business opportunities that India’s 1.3 billion strong market offers American industry and the steps taken by his government to make India a top investment destination.
3. Secondly, Trump would be interested in promoting American interests in the region and will look forward to cooperation from India in this regard. Counter terrorism operations and intelligence sharing would fall in this area. Additionally, Trump’s best option to counter China both in Af Pakistan as also in the South China Sea is to use India as a bulwark against Chinese expansionism. One can expect greater intelligence sharing as well as some support to India’s concerns.
4. From Modi’s viewpoint the expected takeaways would be greater US pressure on Pakistan so as to curb its sponsorship of terrorism in Kashmir, easing restrictions on H1B visas so as to safeguard the interests of India’s IT sector, transfer of high end defense technology, support for NSG membership, revitalization of the US India nuclear deal. As was pointed out by an American CEO after Modi’s meet with American industrialists, the Indian side has taken the right preparatory steps. Coincidentally, two nations which are often at odds with American interests and policy have provoked India on the eve of the summit China by denying Indian pilgrims access to Mansarovar and Iran by exhorting Muslims all over the world to support Kashmiri insurgency.
This affords a convenient opportunity for Modi to leverage towards greater American support in India against its two belligerent neighbours. Modi’s visit to Israel next month and that country’s warm response shall also enlist the support of the powerful Jewish lobby in India’s cause. The personal chemistry between these two strong willed leaders will have a strong bearing on the outcome and if all goes well one can expect some kind of a tacit understanding on how the Kashmir problem can be solved to India’s advantage. If so, one can legitimately expect some decisive action by the Indian government next month. The Indian home Minister too had hinted earlier this week that peace will dawn soon in the Valley.
5. India will do well to avoid at this stage any emphasis on the two thorny issues that may bedevil the negotiations US walkout from the Paris climate agreement and the restrictions on H1B visas. Both these issues are dear to Trump supporters and are likely to be red rags to the bull, to use a rather impolitic expression.
On the face of it, the Modi-Trump Summit went on expected lines. India avoided the twin thorny issues of H1B visas and climate change an understand able tactic looking to Trump’s irascible unpredictability. India also refrained from pursuing its agenda on the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the Security Council membership. There was thus a complete accommodation of American sensitivities on India’s part.
There was talk of freedom of navigation in the south east Asian region that was an outcome of the convergence of interests of the two countries visa vis Chinese expansionism there. There was an expression of their common concern for stability and orderly governance in Afghanistan.
The above would suggest that both sides were keen to avoid ruffling feathers of the other party. The concessions to each other’s interests was also reciprocal. Thus the US got the order for drones and the prospects of Westing house building nuclear reactors to India and Lockheed Martin F-16 jets. To the delight of Indian media, the US State Department designated Syed Salahuddin at global terrorist. Both these announcements came just prior to the meeting between the two leaders. From there on the one on one meeting between the two followed by the delegation level talks did not reveal any further surprises.
Thus on the surface it was a meeting between the two leaders did not alter the status quo ante in any significant manner. One can assume that the high point of the summit the personal meeting was inconsequential and to that extent Modi’s trip failed to deliver. But this would be a facile assumption, even unwarranted, given the emphasis by both leaders on curbing radical Islamic terrorism, mentioning safe havens afforded by Pakistan to terrorists and all but terming that country a terrorist state. Given the sensitive nature of the issue any headway or breakthrough in this regard would understandably be kept under wraps. Perhaps the real takeaway for India could not have been spelt out overtly in the joint statement or press meets. Behind the oblique reference to turbulence in the “Indian Valley of Kashmir” and the Pak sponsored terrorism there in the presser and the joint statement may lie the real gains of Modi’s trip to the US. If this is really so, then with Kashmir burning like never before we can expect some really decisive action by the Indian government in the coming months. And that may well sound the death knell of Kashmiri separatism.
– Dr Pradeep Bajpai