Can visiting US Secretary of State infuse some sense of pragmatism?

Indo-US bilateral ties in emerging world.

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By Pooran Chandra Pandey

Arriving today a day later than the originally scheduled visit of US secretary of state Mike Pompeo to India and the following two days (June 25 to June 27) of his power packed meetings with his counterparts and senior political leadership teams within an Indian political establishment, the outcomes of this visit and what lies next in Indo-US bilateral relations will be keenly watched out for by a range of actors not only within India but in the Asia wide region. The visit by one of the senior representatives of the Trump administration also comes close on the heels of winds of uncertainties blowing.

The visit by one of the senior representatives of the Trump administration also comes close on of winds of uncertainties blowing across in the global trade and commerce, a rift over contested military positions in West Asia, looming spectre of sanctions by the US on its allies and partners and contradictory positions on strategic issues pose a potential opportunity in evolution of a ‘new world order’ by those at the receiving end of ‘confusing’ US positions.

It however remains to be seen how US secretary of state steers difficult pathways in clearly communicating contours of the American future relationship with India besides articulates his country’s position on future US engagement with Asia, in particular, on its trade and strategic ties, in the region that has the possibility of aligning its interest that can potentially emerge a new ‘trade and strategic’, block in Asia.

Indo-US bilateral relations are crucial and important at this point of time for new world order that is fast shaping and hence are poised for a major overhaul and realignment.

New Delhi and Washington have had a re-definition of bilateral ties over the past years, which in recent times seem to be losing clear articulation and communication. These range from trade, commerce, security, military, visa regimes, education, defence, and beneficiary’s status under the generalised system of preference trade arrangement and abolishing of sanctions waiver for oil purchases from Iran have been some of the knotty issues that have begun creating an environment of uncertainties in Indo-US strategic and bi-lateral relationship. Lack of a clear articulation of geopolitical intent by the US has been one of the factors that has potentially brought the powers that be in the region to consider options in their attempt towards building a new ‘block’ based on large markets, consumption, neighbourhood policy, ease of doing business and potentially putting in place a much larger strategic intent to start working on a mutually rewarding trade and defence including military arrangements much to the chagrin of the US policy makers. The current visit by the US secretary of state in this changing context holds more significance that generally envisaged.

If the recently concluded Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit held in Bishkek on June 14 is any indication to go by, there are already such signs of formation of an alternative economic and defence block in the offing. During the SCO Summit, the bonhomie between and among India, China and Russia in particular suggest that there is willingness among these nations to engage more with each other and work towards deepening of bilateral and strategic ties encompassing trade, commerce and defence on a much larger spectrum. It is worth mentioning here that the trade between India and China alone is USD 100 billion, which is set to go upwardly further based on principles of regional solidarity and strengthening of relationships and putting them on much firmer platform.
These SCO meetings – both of bilateral and multilateral types- are set to be taken up further during G-20 meetings scheduled to take place between June 28-29 in Osaka, where Indian, Chinese and Russian heads of state are scheduled to meet and review their plans and programs for implementation in a time bound manner to further solidify regional cooperation. In a twist of circumstances, China and India have agreed to hold 70 programs over a year’s period between the two countries in run in celebration of 70 years of diplomatic relations that both the countries will soon be completing and a USD 6 billion S-400 deal that Russia and India have signed and agreed to take it to the logical conclusion in a time bound manner by 2023. In yet another diplomatic engagement between the heads of state of India and China during SCO meeting, they agreed to undertake measures to build an environment of peace between the two neighbours through dialogues at the highest levels.

Along with these developments, if G-20 and its agenda, to be held in Osaka toward the end of this month is also taken into account, a new ‘block’ comprising mutual interest of trade, commerce, reciprocal benefits and a major quantum of follow up to be deployed by a group of nations, does not seem far from being a reality soon in the future, much credit to which would be ascribed to unclear policies and its poor articulation by Washington to its trustworthy allies and partners.

Bilateral relations between India and US have passed many tests and surmounted several challenges over a period of time. Besides, there have been several occasions where the two nations have also worked harder to ensure that the ties between the two oldest and largest democracies stay its course in more ways than one. Former Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee during his period as Indian head of state had described that India and US are ‘ natural allies’ both as democracies and also as the ones that have shared values of rule of law, human rights, peaceful coexistence and belief in power of people reflected through their choices that they exercise through their right to franchise. There however seems to be a sense of unease over the developments of the past years in recent times where bilateral ties have swung from one position to another in a quick turn of events, often being referred to as ‘ not clear and incongruent to the basis of the tenets on which lasting relations hinge, survive and succeed.

In a meeting yesterday, US Ambassador to India, Kenneth I. Juster while delivering a keynote on eve of a program to celebrate US Independence Day in New Delhi said, “India and US continue to be partners of choice and progress and remain natural allies to each other in changing times”. He also referred to continued deepening of ties between the two democracies of the world over last two decades citing his own experience in binding of mutual relationships. Ambassador Justin who oversaw progress in trade and commerce including ties of strategic importance remains optimistic of a growing collaboration and partnerships between India and US.

In a new world order that continues to change and gets redefined based sometimes on the basis of short term goals would necessarily need a deeper and a much closer watch in times where alignments are seeing a better course of action that long term strategies for a durable partnership.

India-US ties need a new momentum based on mutual trust, clear articulation and recognition of each other’s needs and aspiration.

It is expected that the visiting US secretary of state would be conscious of the emerging world order in the making and infuse a dose of optimism and hope in firmly putting India – US ties that is long lasting, durable and based on values of mutuality and trust.

In today’s day and age, diplomacy continues to be art of making impossible, possible, however, a clear direction of its movement and potential benefits would it accrue to engaged partners, is being given a priority based on the values of mutuality and verification of the trust once imposed, periodically.

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