Wednesday, 22 June 2016

New Delhi plans counter-attack against Beijing

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 22nd June 16

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is preparing to leave for a Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) plenary meeting in South Korea on June 23-24, for a last-ditch attempt to gain India membership of that body. Meanwhile, an international arbitration court is finalizing a ruling that would allow New Delhi to strike back at Beijing, if it continues to oppose Indian membership.

Within days, the United Nations’ Permanent Court of Arbitration, located in The Hague, is likely to rule against China in a case filed by the Philippines in 2013. Manila has challenged Beijing’s militant claim over much of the South China Sea. A ruling against China would give New Delhi the opportunity to directly criticize Beijing.

China has claimed the UN court does not enjoy jurisdiction on this issue, which it says should be resolved through bilateral talks. It also claims that 60 countries, including India, support this position. So far, just seven countries have confirmed support to China. India has withheld comment, a restraint it would be in a position to abandon.

While never having criticized China directly, New Delhi has demanded “freedom of navigation” in the western Pacific, especially the South China Sea. Earlier this year, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar spoke at the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus, forthrightly demanding that “freedom of navigation” be respected in these waters. Parrikar struck the same note at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore in May. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his speech to the US Congress, went so far as to suggest a “US-India partnership [to] anchor peace and stability from Asia to Africa, and from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific.”

The Philippines has taken before the UN arbitration court competing claims by six countries --- China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan and the Philippines --- in a 3.5 million square kilometer stretch of ocean, stretching from Taiwan to Singapore. China has the most expansive claim, expressed through the so-called “Nine-Dash Line” that it bases on historical domination dating back 2,000 years.

The multiple claims centre on two island chains --- the Paracel and Spratly islands --- and rocky outcrops and shoals near the Philippines called the Scarborough Shoal.

These areas are believed to hold abundant natural resources, including oil, natural gas, minerals and fishing grounds. Half the world’s trade passes through shipping lanes in this region.

Manila has appealed to the United Nations court that China’s claim violates the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which allocates each country an “exclusive economic zone” (EEZ) within 200 nautical miles (370 kilometres) of its coastline. China claims significantly more.

With each claimant country vigorously pursuing its claims, the region has been heavily militarized, most of all by China. Besides the People’s Liberation Army (Navy) and a well-trained and equipped Coast Guard, Beijing provides its fishermen military training for decades, according to numerous press reports from the region.

Meanwhile, the United States, which has separate treaties with Japan and South Korea and has instituted a “rebalance to the Asia-Pacific” to bolster its military presence in the region, has declared its intention to station fighter aircraft in the Philippines.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

American patience is stretched

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 21st June 16

Both Indian and American media gushed over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech to the United States Congress last fortnight. There was potent symbolism in his invocation of American soldiers who had fought and died abroad “to protect the torch of liberty”, just as Indian soldiers had “fallen in distant battlefields for the same ideals”. There was also a powerful message in Mr Modi’s statement that “our relationship has overcome the hesitations of history” and that America is “an indispensable partner.” He even sent out a message to Beijing by declaring that “In Asia, the absence of an agreed security architecture creates uncertainty” and that “A strong US-India partnership can anchor peace and stability from Asia to Africa, and from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific.” But words, even those of Mr Modi, are only a limited substitute for action.

A few days later, one of the people who had listened to Mr Modi’s speech, displayed his impatience by declining to back an India-specific amendment, the “Advancing US-India Defense Cooperation Act”, which requires the American president to “formalize India’s status as a major partner of the United States.” Introduced by senate heavyweights that included Senator John McCain and the co-chairs of the India Caucus, Mark Warner and John Cornyn, this amendment is a companion to an almost identical document, entitled “US India Defense Technology and Partnership Act”, that the House of Representatives, the lower house of Congress, had already passed. The plan was to tag this amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), to save the India clause from the fate of most bills introduced in the bitterly divided US Congress --- which is to stall amidst acrimony, and eventually fade away into oblivion.

However, the irate Senator Bob Corker, who chairs the powerful Foreign Relations Committee, was not willing to let the bill go through Senate. Corker is amongst a growing number of American Congressmen who believes New Delhi continues to spurn Washington’s outreach to India since 2005. These legislators ask: “What has India done so far in response to the US?” Corker also happens to be an active campaigner for ending “modern day slavery”, or the trafficking and exploitation of people from places like Nepal for exploitation as sex workers or domestic servants --- in which India does not look good. So Corker made it clear that on the India amendment to the NDAA, which had a substantial foreign relations component, he would not waive his jurisdiction as the Foreign Relations Committee chief, even though the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee chief had done so. As it turned out, Corker’s opposition was not needed to scuttle the India amendment. Other Senate leaders decided, at a particular stage of discussion, that no more amendments would be passed. So, along with about a hundred other amendments, the India amendment too was set aside. The Indian media, predictably, went to town again. Some sections saw this as a snub to Modi, while anti-US sections tut-tutted about how foolish it was to trust the Americans.

The India amendment will be discussed further and may yet be passed. However, we would be unwise to ignore the building resentment in the US Congress amongst legislators who believe India is freeriding on the defence partnership. New Delhi seems to assume that America’s outstretched hand to India will remain outstretched forever, while we debate at leisure about whether Uncle Sam deserves our trust and friendship.

To be sure, this Indian insensitivity is not just directed at America. Even as New Delhi keeps Washington dangling, Indian diplomats and bureaucrats deal just as disdainfully with Moscow, Paris, London and other capitals. Ironically sensitivity and consideration seems reserved for India’s adversaries, with Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj explaining carefully on Sunday that Beijing was not really opposing India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG); it is only linking India’s NSG membership with that of Pakistan because of its concern for procedure and due process.

Noting such blows to Indian interests, and China’s increasingly undisguised support for Pakistan, Washington wonders what it will take for New Delhi to take a tougher stance against Beijing. US policymakers acknowledge preliminary signs of a stronger Indian policy. A Pentagon official cites Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s “forward leaning” statement (code for critical of China) on the Asia-Pacific at the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus (ADMM+). This column took note last fortnight of Mr Parrikar’s relatively forthright comments at the Shangri-La dialogue in Singapore last month. Mr Modi’s speech to US Congress also contained statements implicitly critical of China that would have been welcomed in Washington. But this is too little, too late, and patience is running out in Washington. US legislators and policymakers are watching closely for New Delhi’s reaction to the impending verdict of a UN arbitration court on the maritime dispute in the South China Sea between the Philippines and China. The UN court is widely expected to rule in favour of Manila, providing an opportunity for New Delhi --- which normally supports UN bodies --- to speak out against Beijing. China has claimed that sixty countries, including India, supports Beijing’s position that the UN body has no jurisdiction over a bilateral dispute. Only eight of those countries --- which include Vanatu, Togo and Lesotho --- have confirmed supporting the Chinese position. Delhi is one of the countries that has neither confirmed, nor denied, Beijing’s assertion on its behalf.

Also galling to Washington is India’s continued foot-shuffling on signing the three “foundational agreements” for defence cooperation --- a Logistics Support Agreement (LSA) for easy accounting of cross-servicing of defence units; the Communications and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) for safeguarding cutting edge American-developed communications equipment and a Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) for exchanging geospatial (or mapping) data. After years on the back burner, this has come alive again, and Mr Modi undertook during his visit to Washington to sign an LSA. To detoxify the agreement, which many had unfairly criticized as an infringement of India’s sovereignty, Washington proposed it be called a Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA). While this will now be signed, BECA should follow, since it contains little that New Delhi can object to, while providing Indian forces access to American maps and data --- which proved extremely useful when the two countries’ militaries conducted relief operations together in Nepal after a massive earthquake. That leaves CISMOA, which is a major roadblock to realizing the operational potential of valuable defence platforms --- like the C-130J Super Hercules special forces transporter; and the P-8I Poseidon maritime mission aircraft --- that India has already paid billions of dollars for. True, CISMOA entails intrusive provisions, such as the stationing of US inspectors alongside CISMOA-covered equipment; and that too at Indian expense. However, if New Delhi and the Indian military are comfortable with stationing US military equipment, distrusting an American inspector amounts to shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.

Mr Modi declared before the US Congress:, “the constraints of the past are behind us… and the foundations of the future are firmly in place”. It is time New Delhi focused on the present as well.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Boost for “Made in India”, HAL demonstrates new trainer aircraft to Parrikar

(Photo credit: Rana, Aeronautical Development Agency)

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 17th Jun 16

Emphatically underlining its capability to design and fly aircraft, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) staged the “inaugural” flight of its Hindustan Turbo Trainer – 40 (HTT-40) before Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar on Friday.

In doing so, HAL has conclusively made its point against a skeptical Indian Air Force (IAF), which opposed the HTT-40 project, blocked funding, and imported an expensive Swiss trainer, the Pilatus PC-7 Mark II, rather than backing the indigenous HTT-40.

“There is no need for [the HTT-40 trainer]”, IAF boss, Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne, said dismissively at the Aero India show in February 2013. “We have the Pilatus PC-7. It’s a proven aircraft. The project HAL plans is from scratch. Our indications are that the cost will be too high. There is no need for all this.”

HAL came back punching. Former chairman, RK Tyagi, and the current boss, T Suvarna Raju, threw their weight behind the trainer project and committed Rs 350 crore of internal HAL funds to the development project. A team of young, talented HAL designers worked without IAF assistance to bring the aircraft to flight.

On Friday, as Parrikar watched the HTT-40 smoothly take off and circle the HAL airfield in Bengaluru, his own support to the indigenous project, and that of his predecessor, AK Antony, were vindicated.

Congratulated the HAL designers, Parrikar said: “The young team has taken a calculated risk and they have flown the aircraft within one year and kept their assurance. The indigenous content on HTT-40 is close to 80 per cent. Almost 50 per cent of the components on HTT-40 are manufactured by private players of the Indian aerospace ecosystem. Here, the role of private players and MSMEs has been significant in the production of parts. The IAF is positive in all these developments”.

Preceding this “inaugural flight”, the HTT-40 had already made its first flight on May 31. Since then, test pilots have expanded its flight envelope, to clear it for flying at 300 kilometres per hour and for 4-G turns. It has validated its glide tests (flying without engines), instrument landing, and demonstrated its ability to land in heavy rain.

Said HAL chairman, Suvarna Raju today: “The project will now go in full throttle as we aim to get the aircraft certified in 2018. Towards this, HAL will be manufacturing three prototypes and two static test specimens”. It is remarkable feat that the aircraft in its inaugural flight carried out low speed pass, a series of turns, high speed pass and short-landing using reverse thrust which is a unique feature available on this engine-propeller combination.”

The HTT-40 is a propeller-driven, turbo-prop aircraft for “Stage-1” training of rookie pilots, learning to fly their first aircraft. After 80 hours of basic training on the HTT-40, pilots move on to “Stage-2” training on the HAL-built Kiran Mark II jet trainer. Those selected to fly fighter aircraft move on to “Stage-3” training on the Hawk advanced jet trainer (AJT), after which they graduate to frontline fighters in the IAF’s combat squadrons.

The IAF has calculated it needs 181 basic trainer aircraft. It has already bought 75 Pilatus PC-7 Mark II trainers and the purchase of another 38 is being processed. That leaves space for 68 HTT-40s in IAF training schools.

For HAL, the challenge now is to certify the trainer by 2018, putting it through a challenging regimen of stall and spin tests.

After that, HAL projects it will build the first two HTT-40 trainers in 2018, eight in 2019, and reach its capacity of 20 per year from 2020 onwards.

The advanced systems in the HTT-40 include a pressurised cockpit (which allows flight at high altitudes), “zero-zero” ejection seats (which allow ejection even from a static aircraft), and a state-of-the-art cockpit display with “in-flight simulation” that permits flight instructors to electronically simulate various system failures, allowing the rookie pilot to handle the “emergency”. 

Video of inaugural flight of the HTT-40 trainer


As Broadsword had reported on May 30th, the first flight on the HTT-40 took place on May 31st. Since then, the trainer has expanded its flight envelope, prior to demonstrating it before Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar today, on June 17th, 2016

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

From tackling terror to NSG inclusion, Modi-Obama make headway on range of issues

By Ajai Shukla
Philadelphia, US
Business Standard, 8th May 2016

India and US to be “priority partners” in the Asia-Pacific
Text finalised of logistics agreement (LEMOA)
Additional defence agreements like CISMOA possible
High technology sharing with “major defence partner” India
Additional projects to be taken up under DTTI
US cooperation for designing indigenous aircraft carrier
India to assist in repatriating WWII US pilots’ remains
Counter terrorism: arrangement for sharing information
US support for India’s entry into global non-proliferation agreements, most immediately Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG)
US finance for six nuclear power projects; contracts by 2017

After Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s discussion on Tuesday with US President Barack Obama in Washington, a joint statement described what it billed as their “third major bilateral summit”, after earlier meetings in September 2014 and January 2015.

The statement noted a new military logistics agreement, made common cause in the South China Sea, revealed growing American involvement in helping India build an indigenous aircraft carrier, and announced additional co-development projects for defence equipment. There is a new agreement for sharing terrorist-related information. India will be buying six 1000MW nuclear power plants from Toshiba-Westinghouse, with the contract to be signed in 2017. And Washington has thrown its full weight behind India’s candidature for membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).

Asia-Pacific cooperation

US officials privately lament New Delhi’s poor follow-up of strategic agreements. This joint statement pins India down to specific action, announcing “a roadmap for cooperation under the 2015 U.S.-India Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region, which will serve as a guide for collaboration in the years to come.”

In a subtly-worded statement that takes the US-India partnership beyond the 2014 Vision Statement and 2015 Declaration of Friendship, Modi and Obama “resolved that the United States and India should look to each other as priority partners in the Asia-Pacific and the Indian Ocean region.”

The leaders also welcomed last month’s inaugural meeting of the US-India Maritime Security Dialogue, which was instituted in April during US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s visit to New Delhi.

In an indicator last week that New Delhi was shifting closer to Washington in its confrontation with China in the South China Sea, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, had hardened his tone against China’s unilateralism and bellicosity.

The long expected announcement about a US-India logistic agreement duly came, with the statement noting “the finalization of the text of the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA).” The actual signing will take place shortly at a lower official level.

Washington will be delighted with an indication that New Delhi is open to other agreements, such as the Communication and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement, which it has so far resisted. The statement noted that Modi and Obama “expressed their desire to explore agreements which would facilitate further expansion of bilateral defense cooperation in practical ways.”

Defence technology

Washington has promised to ease the transfer of defence technology to India, a pledge it has made earlier in less explicit terms. The joint statement says: “United States hereby recognizes India as a Major Defense Partner… The United States will continue to work toward facilitating technology sharing with India to a level commensurate with that of its closest allies and partners.”

Without mentioning specifics, Modi and Obama said they had “reached an understanding under which India would receive license-free access to a wide range of dual-use technologies, in conjunction with steps that India has committed to take to advance its export control objectives.”

The statement also welcomes “the establishment of new DTTI [Defence Technology and Trade Initiative] working groups to include agreed items covering Naval Systems, Air Systems and other Weapons Systems.” During Obama’s 2015 visit to India, four “pathfinder projects” were announced for co-developing systems, but these have made little headway. It remains unclear what the new projects are, or how they will be structured.

There are clear indications that the Indian Navy has approached Washington for assistance in building its second indigenous aircraft carrier. The joint statement “announced the finalization of the text of an Information Exchange Annex under the Joint Working Group on Aircraft Carrier Technology Cooperation.”

In another announcement that will be welcomed in America, Modi told Obama he would support the location and repatriation of bodies of World War II US pilots who crashed in the Eastern Himalayas while flying supplies from Assam for Chiang Kai-Shek’s Kuomintang forces fighting the Japanese in China. During Carter’s visit to Delhi in April, one pilot’s remains were despatched to the US.


Taking the already close counter-terrorism cooperation forward, Modi and Obama “applauded the finalisation of “an arrangement to facilitate the sharing of terrorist screening information.”

The joint statement also called for Pakistan to prosecute those behind the 2008 Mumbai and 2016 Pathankot terrorist attacks.

India’s acceptance into NSG, MTCR

Highlighting Washington’s strong support for India’s entry into the four global non-proliferation agreements, the joint statement looked forward to “India’s imminent entry into the Missile Technology Control Regime.” Further, the US “re-affirmed its support for India’s early membership of the Australia Group and Wassenaar Arrangement.”

The statement said: “President Obama welcomed India’s application to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), and re-affirmed that India is ready for membership. The United States called on NSG Participating Governments to support India’s application when it comes up at the NSG Plenary later this month.”

Modi is making a last-ditch attempt on his on-going five-country tour to marshal support for India’s membership of the NSG from two reluctant members: Mexico and Switzerland. At the end of his visit to Berne, Switzerland announced its support. If Mexico too drops its resistance when Modi visits on Thursday, Obama would urge China to not be the lone objector.

On UN reform the statement affirmed support “for a reformed UN Security Council with India as a permanent member… The leaders are committed to continued engagement on Security Council reform in the UN Intergovernmental Negotiations (IGN on Security Council Reform.”

Nuclear power generation

Billed as a clean energy project that would fulfil “the promise of the U.S.-India civil nuclear agreement”, Modi and Obama “welcomed the start of preparatory work on site in India for six AP 1000 reactors to be built by Westinghouse and noted the intention of India and the U.S. Export-Import Bank to work together toward a competitive financing package for the project.”

The statement referred to “the announcement by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd and Westinghouse that engineering and site design work will begin immediately and the two sides will work toward finalizing the contractual arrangements by June 2017.”

Stating that the US “supports the Government of India’s ambitious national goals to install 175 GW of renewable power which includes 100 GW from solar power,” the joint statement said the two countries would jointly launch an initiative for off-grid solar energy at the founding conference of the International Solar Alliance in India in September.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Mr Modi’s Washington agenda

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 7th June 16

On Saturday, in the lead-up to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s on-going visit to the United States, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar spoke out in measured terms against China’s aggressive unilateralism in the South China Sea. Addressing the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Parrikar abandoned the timidity with which Indian officials speak about China, and called for “the parties to these disputes [in the South China Sea] to renounce the threat or use of force against other states.”

American observers often misread the studied distance New Delhi maintains from US actions and comments on the South China Sea, to conclude that India does not have the stomach to stand up for regional rights. Mr Parrikar himself has rebutted over-enthusiastic comments from senior American officials --- including the US Pacific Command (USPACOM) chief, Admiral Harry Harris Jr, and the US envoy to India, Rich Verma --- about joint patrolling by the US and Indian navies. Yet, even at this moment, an Indian flotilla with three frontline warships is sailing the South China and East China Seas, visiting ports in Vietnam, the Philippines, South Korea, Japan, Russia and Malaysia.

Meanwhile, in Singapore, Mr Parrikar pointed to India’s own interests in retaining freedom of navigation in the waters of the western Pacific, through which more than half of India’s maritime trade passes. He said: “While we do not take a position on territorial disputes, which should be resolved peacefully without the threat or use of force, we firmly uphold freedom of navigation and over-flight in accordance with international law, in particular the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.”

Voicing the concern of regional countries at Beijing’s belligerent rhetoric and inflated maritime claims, represented by its unilaterally drawn “Nine-Dash Line” that claims much of the South China Sea as China’s historical waters, Mr Parrikar stated: “While no single region has a monopoly on nationalist rhetoric, we need to pay special attention to its linkages with territorial disputes and alternate readings of history in this part of the globe.” Even without joint patrolling, this brings New Delhi’s stated position in this region pretty much congruent with Washington’s.

Mr Parrikar also backed the ASEAN-created, multilateral security architecture to maintain regional harmony, although these mechanisms are distrusted by China, which prefers to bully smaller countries in bilateral arrangements, rather than being outnumbered in a multilateral framework. Yet, Parrikar supported multilateralism, stating: “We have a foundation of regional and sub-regional arrangements to build upon. Bilateral dialogue and confidence building can usefully supplement these regional and sub-regional mechanisms. ASEAN has built several mechanisms, which can play a central part in the regional security framework.”

Yet, Mr Parrikar also served the US a reminder that, despite Washington’s and New Delhi’s common interests in south-west Asia; India’s core concerns include violent conflict in West Asia, and Afghanistan’s stability that is being relentlessly undermined by Pakistan. While the Indian defence minister did not say so, New Delhi deeply resents American diplomatic and military support to Pakistan, which allows Islamabad to leverage its support for the Taliban to keep India out of a substantive role in shaping a post-conflict regime in Afghanistan.

This dichotomy --- US-India convergence in south-east Asia, and divergence in south and west Asia --- will form the geopolitical backdrop to Mr Modi’s engagement with President Barack Obama on Tuesday and Wednesday in Washington. Even so, the US administration may be already re-evaluating its unquestioning support to Islamabad. Last month’s killing of Taliban chief Mullah Muhammad Mansour, in a drone strike in Baluchistan suggested that Pakistan might find it harder to string along Washington indefinitely. The blocking of funding by the US Congress for the sale to Pakistan of eight F-16 fighters, and the passage of the “US India Defense Technology and Partnership Act” in the House of Representatives underline that American lawmakers have lost patience with Islamabad and better understand the potential of partnering with India. This realisation will be inevitably reinforced with a predictably rousing Modi speech to a joint sitting of the US Congress. That Americans of Indian origin constitute a potent political lobby became clear in New York in 2014, during Mr Modi’s jamboree at Madison Square Garden.  

While the defence partnership is loaded with the weight of expectations, there is not much on the table in terms of deliverables. India may be formally associated with the US Central Command (USCENTCOM), in addition to the Hawaii-based USPACOM, which currently coordinates military exercises and plans with New Delhi. While two “foundational agreements” have been broadly negotiated, the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) is likely to be signed quickly, while the signing of the more operationally vital Communications and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) may depend upon the political reaction to LEMOA.

As always, there will be feel-good statements about US-India joint exercises, especially the Indian Air Force’s participation in last month’s Red Flag exercise in Alaska, and the naval Exercise Malabar, now a trilateral exercise that also includes Japan. Much will be made of India’s purchase of the CH-47F heavy lift helicopter, and the AH-64E Apache attack helicopter. There could be news about India’s $700 million purchase of 145 M777 ultralight howitzers. All eyes will be peeled for indications that the Indian Navy has chosen to partner with America in the design and construction of its second indigenous aircraft carrier, a 65,000-tonne vessel that will be called INS Vishal. If the navy finally plumps for a catapult launch capability (as it is increasingly inclined to do), that may open the doors for not just a host of US aircraft carrier systems, such as the electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS), but also air combat control systems, and a bouquet of naval combat helicopters, fighters (the F/A-18 Super Hornet remains a strong contender) and electronic warfare aircraft.

Still underperforming is the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), established in 2012 to remove hurdles to US-India defence trade. Four “pathfinder projects” announced during President Obama’s visit to Delhi in 2015 have made little headway. Since this is his pet project, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter can be expected to propose measures to galvanize this initiative.

New Delhi watchers will measure the success of Mr Modi’s visit less in terms of defence agreements than in the context of whether he can induce President Obama to unstintingly campaign for India’s candidature of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Mr Modi has laboured to persuade holdout countries to support India’s entry into the NSG; his current visits to Switzerland and Mexico aim at this very objective, and has apparently succeeded with Berne. But unstinted US support will be crucial. In 2008, a nominally “lame duck” President George Bush pushed through crucial legislation relating to the US-India nuclear deal. Mr Obama, who still has seven months in office, could win serious equity in New Delhi by shepherding India into the NSG.

Modi comes to Washington

Indian official: "Is this a strategic partnership? We have enemies who do us less harm"

By Ajai Shukla
India Abroad

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi travels to Washington, the discussion agenda with President Barack Obama includes the widest ever range of issues ever discussed between India and the United States.

In January 2015, during Obama’s visit to India, the two leaders elevated their “strategic dialogue” to a “strategic and commercial dialogue”, recognising the centrality of trade and commerce in the relationship. They also announced the “Delhi Declaration of Friendship”, a strategic framework that built on the “Vision Statement” announced during Modi’s previous visit to the US in September 2014.

Both countries agree that the defence relationship must be the locomotive that powers the strategic partnership. To that end, in 2015, the two sides signed the “Framework for the U.S.-India Defense Relationship”, a set of principles to guide and expand the bilateral defence and strategic partnership over the next decade.

Yet, beyond the signature ceremonies and banquet speeches, Washington and New Delhi are still feeling their way through a complex and evolving relationship.

Despite their common outlook on fundamental issues of identity, with both being liberal, free market democracies, there is lesser congruence in their strategic viewpoints.

Focused on the challenge posed by a rising China, Washington sees New Delhi as a natural ally, given the unresolved and frequently contentious Sino-Indian border and China’s undisguised support to India’s bête noir, Pakistan.

Adding to India’s charms is a large military, including a capable navy that exercises sway across the northern Indian Ocean. Small wonder then that when President Obama’s administration announced a “rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region” in 2011, India was specifically named as a partner.

Even so, from New Delhi’s perspective the picture is more granular, marred by strategic mistrust that Washington’s bird’s eye view misses. Indian policymakers retain the baggage of Cold War animosity, and recall the harsh US-led technology denial regimes that hamstrung Indian nuclear, space and defense scientists for decades.

New Delhi holds Washington partly responsible for Pakistan’s nuclear weapons capability, given that the Central Intelligence Agency turned a blind eye to Pakistan’s flouting of non-proliferation norms through the 1980s.

Nor is Pakistan-related resentment only historical. To New Delhi’s mystification, Washington still panders to Islamabad on Afghanistan, despite Pakistani support to the Taliban that killed and maimed thousands of Americans in Afghanistan.

In the hope that Pakistan would force the Taliban to the dialogue table, Washington has included it in the Quadrilateral Coordination Group, while India remains cut out of a significant role in Afghanistan even after providing $2 billion worth of humanitarian aid to that country.

New Delhi notes that the US supports Pakistan’s growing economic relationship with China, even though that brings together India’s two biggest adversaries.

Indians also bitterly resent Washington’s acceptance of India-focused terrorist groups operating out of Pakistan, even while insisting that Islamabad reins in jihadis operating along the Afghanistan border.

Finally, New Delhi seethes at continuing US financial and military aid to Pakistan, such as the recent sale of eight Block 50/52 F-16 fighters for “counter terrorist operations”.

So furious was New Delhi at Washington’s announcement of this sale, a week after Pakistan-based jihadists attacked India’s Pathankot air base, that India scrapped the inking of a major agreement ---  the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement --- during Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s visit to India in April. That and another “foundational agreement”, the Communications and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement, which have been agreed to in principle, remain on ice.

Scoffs a top Indian official sardonically: “Is this a strategic partnership? We have enemies who do us less harm.”

Another official says the recent refusal of US lawmakers to sanction aid to Pakistan for buying F-16s suggests “the US Congress is more in sync with New Delhi’s feelings than the US administration.”

Despite this divergence to the west, there is US-India convergence to the east, where New Delhi and Washington share a common strategic interest in dealing with the emergence of an increasingly belligerent China.

India regards its naval dominance of the Indian Ocean as a strategic hedge against any misadventure undertaken by Beijing on the Himalayan border.

India’s peninsular geography and the proximity of its naval bases to commercial shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean would allow it to interdict China’s commercial shipping in the event of hostilities; compensating for China’s logistical and communications advantages on the land frontier.

Washington, which wants a friendly India dominating the Indian Ocean, has talked up the Indian Navy as a “net security provider” and offered help in strengthening India’s navy. New Delhi has already inducted sophisticated American equipment like P-8I Poseidon maritime reconnaissance aircraft, and is eager to obtain US assistance in building its next aircraft carrier.

This, and the establishment of common operating procedures in sophisticated joint exercises like the annual US-India-Japan Malabar series, could open the doors to linked American systems, like the F/A-18E/F naval fighter; and sub-systems like jet engines and aircraft launch and recovery systems. This would be a key subject of discussion during Prime Minister Modi’s visit.

Although eager to dominate the Indian Ocean, New Delhi is taking care not to get dragged into any Great Power confrontation in the South and East China Seas. In March, after the US Pacific Command (USPACOM) chief, Admiral Harry Harris, looked forward starry-eyed to the day when “American and Indian Navy vessels steaming together will become a common and welcome sight throughout Indo-Asia-Pacific waters”, India’s defence minister swiftly and unambiguously rejected the notion of joint patrolling.

Yet, New Delhi supports freedom of navigation through the South and East China Seas, since a large chunk of India’s trade flows through these waters. During Modi’s state visit to the US in September 2014, the two leaders agreed “to hold regular consultations on the Indian Ocean region”, and affirmed the importance of “ensuring freedom of navigation and over flight throughout the region, especially in the South China Sea”.