News Analysis |
Mr. Mattis, US Defense Secretary, is scheduled to arrive late today to India and is set to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Nirmala Sitharaman, his new defense minister in the first visit to India by a top American official since Mr. Donald Trump became president in January 2017.
Fighter jets, drone deals and shared concerns over Afghanistan’s security, look set to dominate the agenda in the upcoming meetings. “The United States views India as a valued and influential partner, with broad mutual interests extending well beyond South Asia,” a Pentagon statement said.
Mr. Trump and Mr. Modi met in June in Washington, and the visit by Mr. Mattis is seen as a sign that “the political leadership in both countries place defense cooperation as a top priority”, Mr. Mukesh Aghi, president of the US India Strategic Partnership Forum.
Closeness between both the US and India is a problem for Islamabad. Pakistan has been seen more in the US camp in the Cold War and the post-9/11 era and was once largely dependent on the US for advanced military equipment specifically the F16 fighter
New Delhi and Washington share concerns about Afghanistan, with Mr. Trump announcing a new strategy for the war-torn country last month which cleared the way for the deployment of thousands more US troops. The president has urged India to increase assistance to Afghanistan’s economy and has lambasted New Delhi’s arch-rival Pakistan for offering safe haven to “agents of chaos”.
India has long vied with Pakistan for influence in Afghanistan, building dams, roads and a new parliament in the troubled country. Mr. Mattis “will express US appreciation for India’s important contributions towards Afghanistan’s democracy, stability, prosperity, and security”, the Pentagon said. Experts are not expecting any Indian boots on the ground, though there may be some role for Indian military expertise in supporting the US-led training and advisory mission helping Afghan security forces.
Mr. Mattis is also likely to seek to persuade India to buy Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Block 70 fighter jets in a deal potentially worth US$15 billion. Lockheed Martin has offered the most upgraded version of the fighter jet to India, the world’s largest weapons importer.
A third major factor is Pakistan, India’s western neighbor and once a major non-Nato ally of the US. India has long seen Pakistan as the major obstacle towards implementation of its dominance over the region
Recent times have seen large-scale realignment between both nations owing to a variety of factors. Experts point to the rise of populist leaders in both countries often buoyed by demagoguery and a narrow worldview. Donald Trump and Narendra Modi often share many aspects including their banking on Islamophobic and anti-Pakistan sentiments. In fact, members of Modi’s Hindutva fan base stood out as supporters of Trump in the 2016 elections. He has also selected Indian origin Americans to various positions in the administration including Nikki Haley, the US representative to the UN.
The other major factor is the rise of China which is a nemesis to both India and the US. India has largely been fearful of China’s clout as it fears it can overturn New Delhi’s influence in South Asia. While Washington views China as the most significant challenge in the short run to its global economic hegemony and in the long run overall position in the world. The USA sees India as a potential counterweight to China in Asia, and has for the past decade acted to enable it to become so. At the same time, New Delhi has on the most part taken on board, the USA as a suitable patron against its northern neighbor, China, especially after the fall of the USSR and its shift away from its earlier ideology of ‘non-alignment’.
Ever since India’s creation in 1947, the country has been actively wooed by the United States due to its regional significance and market potential. The Cold War was marked by the tug of war between the USA and USSR over India, and the end of the Cold War saw a rapid ‘rapprochement’ between the US and India.
The USA sees India as a potential counterweight to China in Asia while New Delhi views America as a suitable patron against its Northern neighbor especially after the fall of the USSR
A third major factor is Pakistan, India’s western neighbor and once a major non-Nato ally of the US. India has long seen Pakistan as the major obstacle towards implementation of its dominance over the Asian region. Ties between the two neighbors have seen a sharp decline especially after the election of the Modi government and a renewed struggle for freedom in the Indian occupied disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir since last year. Washington has recently increased the volume over its allegations that Pakistan is behind the US’s waning fortunes in Afghanistan.
Read more: An Indian hand behind Afghan blundering?
Increasingly now, another negative for Pakistan has become its closeness to China. The recent CPEC project is largely opposed by both the US (diplomatically it has not expressed vocal concern) and India (which vociferously condemns it) as it solidifies China as a contender to the established world order and by extension to the hegemony of both nations. Therefore, Pakistan is a problem that both sides share.
Closeness between both the US and India is a problem for Islamabad. Pakistan which has been more in the US camp since the Cold War and the post-9/11 era and was once largely dependent on the US for advanced military equipment specifically the F16 fighter. Is now trying to wean itself off Western dependence, yet, the arrival of latest advance US military technology into Indian hands is a clear and present threat to the strategic equilibrium the country maintains with India.