Two major events of global importance hosted by Delhi in quick succession — the 2+2 dialogue between India and the US and India-Russia annual bilateral summit — have sealed a new and stronger equation between India and the US since the decisions of the first meet were not impeded by the biggest defence deal so far between India and Russia that was signed at the second event. India’s rise as a major world power post Cold War has been validated by these developments of great strategic significance for the country. India seems much better prepared to deal with its adversaries in particular with Pakistan and China who entered into a military compact obviously directed against India and take them on land, air and on the high seas around us. And what is more important, this is being achieved without disturbing the consonance that India had struck with both the US as well as Russia. The quiet role played in all of this by national security advisor Ajit Doval as prime minister Narendra Modi’s representative deserves a special mention.
In the first 2+2 dialogue held in Delhi in September, minister of external affairs Sushma Swaraj and defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman hosted US secretary of state Michael Pompeo and defence secretary James Mattis. The meeting aimed to put strategic, defence and security relationship at the forefront insulating it from any differences on trade and commercial matters. Both countries committed themselves to working together on regional and global issues with US reaffirming India’s strategic importance by designating it as a major defence partner (MDP). The two countries signed the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) and spelt out the aim of advancing free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region while underscoring the importance of a deepening maritime cooperation in western Indian Ocean as well.
Importantly, both countries expressed their support for an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process. In the sphere of nuclear cooperation, the US welcomed India’s accession to missile technology control regime (MTCR), Australia Group and Wassenaar Arrangement and expressed its full support for India’s immediate entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). The first 2+2 dialogue was thus extremely productive.
Close on its heels, Russian President Vladimir Putin came to India for the 19th India-Russia annual bilateral summit. The two countries signed a Rs 39,000-crore deal for supply of Russian S-400 Triumf air defence missile systems to India. The S-400 is capable of destroying incoming aerial targets at a range of 400km. China is the only other country that has got these systems from Russia. India did a lot of diplomatic work to see that the US policy makers understood India’s special defence needs. India is successfully tackling the American sensitivities on the issue of sanctions in relation to countries that had dealings with Russia. India and the US have an identity on the perception of threats to their security and nothing underlines this more strongly than their shared policy against the new global terror arising from a faith-based motivation.
The 2+2 meet saw India and US agreeing to further increase information-sharing efforts on known or suspected terrorists and calling upon Pakistan to ensure that its territory was not used to launch terror attacks on other countries. The two sides demanded expeditious action against perpetrators of 2008 Mumbai attack as also those behind the cross border terrorist attacks at Pathankot and Uri. President Donald Trump, unlike his predecessor, has unambiguously condemned all militant groups across the Islamic spectrum operating out of Pakistan and this has gone a long way in creating a complete convergence between India and US on global security. The two countries have decided to implement UN Security Council Resolution 2396 on returning ‘foreign militants’. India must use its professional knowledge on Islamic terror to counsel the US on the character of this threat and also watch out against any attempts of Pakistan to hoodwink the Americans on how to tackle the Islamic radicals in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
The India-Russia bilateral summit also condemned cross border terrorism and the existence of safe havens for terrorists and in a joint statement agreed to ‘converge their efforts’ to eradicate terror networks and their source of financing as well as arms supply and counter terrorist ideology, propaganda and recruitment. It called for combating terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and emphasised the need for a ‘decisive and collective response without any double standards’. The statement supported the Afghan government’s efforts towards the realisation of an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned national peace process. Taking cognisance of the adverse effect of the security situation in Afghanistan on the region, the two sides resolved to work through the SCO Contact Group on Afghanistan. India has to ensure that the Russian interest in Afghanistan and Pakistan did not come in the way of India’s own Afghan strategy.
In the geo politics of the post Cold War era there is no second super power confronting the capitalist US ideologically. China has the ambition and potential for filling that slot through the economic route and for that it wants to buy time. President Trump looks upon Putin’s Russia as a European nation and does not share European Union’s misgivings against the latter except on the economic front. India’s policy makers need not bind themselves to the ideological baggage of ‘non alignment’ and prime minister Modi has rightly kept bilateralism for mutual benefit as the cornerstone of international relations. The emerging threat to the democratic world is from Islamic extremism nurtured by the calls for Jehad. China and Russia are aware of the potential of radical Islam to destabilise their neighbourhood. Pakistan - China military alliance ofcourse, is directed against India and Modi regime has done well to find a counter for it in the new strategic relationship with US and a further concretisation of India’s traditional cooperation with Russia in the defence field.
The convergence between US and India will in the long range rest on the shared threat of ‘Islamic terror’ and it is therefore essential that our official and track II interactions with the US focus on the reality that 9/11 and 26/11 were both carried out by people of extremist ideology and that Pakistan had no difficulty about using the radicals - who are ‘revivalists’- against its adversaries. Americans should never forget that it is Pakistan that had installed the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan under Mulla Mohammad Omar at Kabul in 1996 and that Pak army would again try to keep its sway in that country by manoeuvring the radicals on the pretext of a negotiated settlement. India should use its expertise on ‘radicalisation’ to strengthen a shared Indo- US perception of the new global terror.
(The writer is a former director Intelligence Bureau)