Beyond the Houston Hype: What to expect
by N S Rajaram on 07 Oct 2019 5 Comments

The world watched with amazement the extraordinary bonhomie on display during the Howdy Modi extravaganza in Houston, Texas. While the two leaders obviously enjoy a cordial relationship and seem quite friendly, one cannot be so naïve as to assume that Trump went to such lengths without political motives. Some commentators in India suggested he was appealing to the Indian Americans as a vote bank. This is unlikely, their numbers are not large enough to influence a presidential election. My own view is he sees them as ambassadors who can influence the Modi Government’s policies, just as Modi looks to them as ambassadors who can be useful as ambassadors to the U.S.


No longer a soft state


Indian Americans are an affluent community, but Donald Trump is not in need of money. So, what is it that the U.S. needs from India? First, access to India’s huge market and its talented workforce. Americans, Trump included, know that India led by Narendra Modi is no longer a ‘soft state’ as it has been known in the past. Modi’s refusal to sign a trade deal that was not advantageous to India as well as his willingness to meet the Iranian leader at the UN General Assembly will have convinced them that Modi (India) cannot be pushed around. The business leaders who met Mr. Modi will have informed President Trump that he is a tough bargainer.


But Trump also gave a hint of what he expected from Modi and India when he told Imran Khan that he should deal with Modi, who knows how to work with Kashmir. Pak Occupied Kashmir is adjacent to Afghanistan and the Chinese-funded China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) runs through POK. China’s objective is to have access to the Arabian Sea, which is crucial for oil supplies. The fate of the CPEC appears to be in some trouble, but the sea lane through the Strait of Hormuz is of vital strategic importance to all.


The United States is overextended in the Middle East having to defend its ally Saudi Arabia from hostile rebels, which the U.S. charges Iran of sponsoring. Iran denies it, but might be drawn into the conflict, complicating matters further. Pakistan, engaged in Afghanistan, is of little help, not to mention insurrections in Balochistan and POK and other regions. Being preoccupied with politics and running businesses, the Pak army has also lost its fighting capacity. It is no longer the fighting army it once was. Also, it has lost much goodwill because of its sponsorship of Taliban in Afghanistan, and sheltering ISIS and related Islamist terror outfits.


This is where the U.S. is looking to India for help. Washington wants Indian troops in Afghanistan so it can reduce its own commitment of troops. India, now as a great power, can no longer avoid it. India also has vital interests in Turkestan, Uzbekistan and others in the region. Call it the Great Game, or whatever, but India as a major power has to play its part in Afghanistan. To go with it, the Afghans trust India more than they do Pakistan or the U.S. But India must keep control of its troops.


The breakup of Pakistan appears to be only a matter of time. It will be reduced to Punjab without the frontiers or much of an economy. India must anticipate a flood of refugees following Pakistan’s breakup. This will be the challenge, not the military threat from Pakistan. There is talk in some circles of Akhand Bharat. This is highly disadvantageous to India. It will mean an additional population of nearly 20 crore, mostly Muslim. And this does not include the 15 crore or so Muslims of Bangladesh.


India cannot afford a reunified India with the present demographic realities. India will get back Occupied Kashmir before long. But this will lead to the breakup of Pakistan and a serious demographic challenge. Under the present conditions, Akhand Bharat appears unsustainable.


Under present circumstances, the best course for India is to take back POK and let Pakistan take care of itself. This is the message that must be conveyed to the U.S.


The views expressed by the author are personal

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