Modi has no one to blame but himself for Imran-Trump’s successful meet

Published: July 30, 2019
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India is caught in a dilemma purely of Modi’s own making.

Narendra Modi disastrously bungled India’s famous policy of so-called ‘non-alignment’ over the past year and ensured that the summit between Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan and American President Donald Trump was an unprecedented success in changing the strategic chessboard in South Asia.

Afghanistan, trade and Kashmir

All of Eurasia is still trying to process the grand strategic implications of what took place last week during Imran’s unprecedentedly successful summit with Trump. The American leader praised his counterpart for “extricating” the Pentagon from Afghanistan, committing to invest even more in the South Asian state, and even surprisingly offering to mediate the on-going Kashmir conflict. Each of these three main components of their partnership — the military, economic, and political — have been supercharged like never before.

India has lost the war in Afghanistan and won’t be able to turn the landlocked country into its “strategic depth” springboard for scaling up the hybrid war on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). India has to contend with the fact that the American military, India’s strategic ally, intends to become an indirect de-facto stakeholder in this flagship project of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) through its promised investments in Pakistan.

The ‘if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em’ attitude that America is taking towards CPEC naturally inclines it to mediate the Kashmir conflict in order to ensure the long-term success of this initiative, representing a major strategic defeat for India.

Making a fool out of Modi

But therein lies one of the most curious reactions to the Khan-Trump summit, and it’s that India denied that Modi requested the American leader to diplomatically intervene like Trump said he did. It could be that Modi really did “betray India’s interests” like the opposition claims happened, or it might just be the case that Trump wanted to put pressure on him to welcome the United States’ (US) involvement in Kashmir while simultaneously humiliating the Indian leader as clever vengeance for the ‘hard ball’ that he’s playing with the US regarding trade and the S-400s.

The US had previously assumed that its military-strategic alliance with India was proceeding smoothly due to their shared interests in ‘containing’ China, but then Modi blatantly tried to extract more benefits from Trump by attempting to play the US against China and Russia, which instantly destroyed the nascent trust that was building between the two leaders.

Losing the ‘golden opportunity’

Modi had the ‘golden opportunity’ last year to ensure India’s lasting alliance with the US had he accepted his country’s junior partner status and taken the deal that was on offer at the time, which was speculated to have involved New Delhi rejecting Moscow’s S-400s in exchange for Washington’s analogous air-defence systems, as well as distancing itself from Beijing. However, Modi proceeded with the missile deal and flirted with the possibility of enhancing trade relations with China while meeting with President Xi Jinping during the G20 summit, which flew in the face of the spirit of the US-Indian alliance.

That’s not to say that India was serious about pivoting towards these Eurasian great powers, but just that it was too obvious to the US that New Delhi was trying to exploit its relations with Moscow and Beijing as leverage to ultimately get a better deal from Washington. Indian strategists terribly misread Trump, who earned his riches in the cutthroat industry of New York real estate, and didn’t think that he’d react the way that he did by intensifying pressure on their country and asking for even more from them than before. Had they followed America’s recently troubled relations with Russia and China, however, they’d have known how he operates.

Trump’s modus operandi

Trump’s modus operandi is to make an offer to his counterparts that’s tilted in the US’ favour (seeing as how he’s negotiating from what he believes to be a position of strength) and then worsen the terms concurrently by putting even more pressure on them than ever before if they reject the original offer. This in turn creates an unpredictable situation that the ‘Kraken’ (the agent of chaos) masterfully manipulates to his country’s advantage by exploiting the opportunity to reshape the strategic situation at his rivals’ expense. Thus leading to a far-reaching revision of the status quo that more often than not ends up benefiting the US.

The only recourse that Russia and China have if they want to stop this process in the event that they can’t successfully guide it in the direction of their own interests (a feat that’s much easier said than done considering that the US controls the chaotic dynamics) is to enact a series of ‘face-saving’ concessions under the euphemism of reaching a so-called ‘new détente’ or ‘trade deal.’ Those two aforementioned great powers have much more resilience than India and are also more or less aligned in their strategic visions too, which is why their leaders can hold out longer in trying to resist Trump’s pressure than Modi can.

The worst time to play ‘hard ball’

For as much as India made a big Bollywood show out of its recently reinvigorated relations with Russia and China, it drastically reduced its share of Russian weapons purchases by 42% over the past decade and remains adamantly opposed to BRI on the basis that CPEC runs through Pakistani territory that New Delhi claims as its own, as per its maximalist approach to the Kashmir conflict. It’s already gone too far with American and Israeli arms imports to reverse the on-going trend, and the US just beat out China to become India’s top trading partner, yet India wants to play ‘hard ball’ at the exact moment when it’s the most dependent on the US.

The only reason that this is happening is because Modi disastrously bungled India’s ‘balancing’ act, while Imran executed his country’s own with the utmost perfection in order to become the global pivot state. This is a position that no one can reasonably doubt after Pakistan proved that it’s capable of proactively maintaining excellent relations with the relevant great powers without them being at the expense of one or the other. India’s ‘multi-alignment’ meanwhile, is always reactive and aimed against an implied third party, which defeats this policy’s very purpose and defiles the art of diplomacy.

Pakistan pioneers the proper ‘balancing’ policy

Pakistan, having much more experience working with the US, understood exactly what Trump’s modus operandi was right away and therefore swiftly worked to advance the joint goal of brokering peace in Afghanistan once America signalled it was ready in order to relieve the hybrid war pressure that was previously placed upon it. That was a refreshing surprise for the US since it had grown used to its rapprochement outreaches being rejected by Russia and China or being taken advantage of by India in a naked attempt to get even more than what was originally offered, which explains why Trump took such an immediate personal liking towards Imran.

There isn’t much that India can do about this either since it’s caught in a dilemma purely of Modi’s own making. The US, Russia and China each know the dire situation that India is in, meaning that they’ll try to take maximum advantage of it depending on whichever one Modi turns to for relief from this predicament. Washington wants full capitulation on the military-economic fronts, while Moscow wants to regain its former standing in New Delhi’s arms market at Washington’s expense. Beijing, meanwhile, is eager to integrate India with the BRI, which critics have warned could impede Modi’s signature “Make in India” industrialisation plans.

Concluding thoughts

India intended to be the ‘friend of all,’ but ultimately ended up being trusted by none and made it vulnerable to being taken advantage of by everyone after Modi bungled its ‘multi-alignment’ policy. Pakistan, on the other hand, succeeded in every way that India failed by proving that it’s possible to maintain excellent relations with the US, Russia, and China without these bilateral partnerships coming at anyone’s expense. Instead of Pakistan being the one that’s ‘isolated’ like India always loves to claim, it’s none other than India itself which has been relegated to this position, with there being nobody to blame for this debacle but Modi.

This post was originally published here.

Andrew Korybko

Andrew Korybko

The author is an American Moscow-based political analyst specializing in the relationship between the US strategy in Afro-Eurasia, China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) global vision of New Silk Road connectivity, and Hybrid Warfare. He tweets at @AKorybko (twitter.com/akorybko?lang=en)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.