An IDC Analysis 


New Delhi, 05 April 2004


Colin Powell’s flying visit to Delhi and Islamabad where he conferred major Non NATO Militay Ally status to Pakistan deserves our analysis.

India had just announced that it would offer Air Base facilities to Singapore Air Force and with a policy of reaching out it must be appreciated that the non-alignment days were finally over. Gaining in confidence India was poised to become a regional super power by 2020.

Trade between the United States and India was rising with revenue inflows from outsourcing and investments in the stock market increasing by the day, while a healthier relationship on a military-to-military basis was evolving so fast that the three services were finding it hard to digest, and keep track of events in a joint fashion.

Each service deals independently with their US counterparts, almost in a competitive manner. In the last year there had been exchanges of over 300 uniformed visitors from both sides for meetings and discussions to enable US–India military exercises and defence exchanges, which were now becoming a monthly feature. The Striker Units of the US Army were currently exercising in Mizoram at the Army’s School of Insurgency which was a closed shop to foreigners till recently, and the Chief of Army Staff Gen N C Vij had just returned from a two week visit to US military establishments.

The current Army exercises were revolutionary, as the US Special Forces were showing off their world wide capability for mobility, equipment and tactics. We hope that the Indian Army would also learn that good Intelligence was the key to successful special operations.

The Intelligence needs of the nation had not been addressed despite the shortcomings found in the Kargil war and earlier operations. The Indian Army’s Red Berets were forgiven but we have not forgotten how in 1987 the LTTE butchered their paratroopers when they were air dropped into a school compound in Sri Lanka where the LTTE leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran was supposed to be operating. The Indian Army’s first time special operations and foray into a foreign country was a disaster with loss of over 1400 lives. The Indian Army was also learning about rules of engagement from the US, a subject sorely neglected by them in the past as it involved direction from the political hierarchy.

In the hey days of non alignment it was only the Indian Navy that was permitted limited exposure to foreign Navies, though the MEA Brahmins wrote reams and gave long speeches on non alignment and frowned on such exchanges. The tables have now turned completely and the Armed Forces were learning how much such operational exposures contribute to their professional knowledge and morale.

The recently concluded Air Force 'Cope India 2004' exercises held at Gwalior in end February gave MiG 21s, MiG 27s , MiG 29s , Jaguars and SU 30s pilots and technicians opportunities to pit themselves against the US single seat air interdiction F 15 Eagles and compare each others' prowess. The IAF Jaguars were set to fly to Alaska and these exchanges were totally new for the IAF and Indian Army. Therefore the media had gone to town to talk about a ‘strategic relationship’ evolving between India and USA.

This raises a moot question. Where are US–India relations headed, especially now that Pakistan has been conferred the status of a major non NATO military ally, which will enable US to arm Pakistan in exchange for bases? Geographically Pakistan sits astride the sea and land oil routes of the Middle East and Central Asia. Hence USA’s desire to be close to and support democracy in Pakistan. Another long-term question that needs answering is whether India and USA have any common interests, besides trade?

The short answer is India and USA have mutual need for trade and dialogue, but have little in common so far as strategic interests go. In fact our interests clash. India was already a democracy so USA was pleased, but it felt human rights were violated in Kashmir. USA was keen Pakistan that got some concessions in the Kashmir valley but India will never part with an inch of its soil or EEZ, and was fencing the IBL and the LOC unilaterally. By end 2004 the demarcation will be complete. USA wished to retain its base in Deigo Garcia and greater presence in the Indian Ocean for non-proliferation and missile defence, which may not suit India.

India and all its neighbours feel they can safeguard the Indian Ocean, and silently the Indian Navy was being beefed up for this, though our defence doctrine was still to evolve so that the Navy’s share of the budget rises over the present 18%. China and Japan too felt they must have a say in the stability of the region and safety of the oil routes in the Indian Ocean, as it was their energy lifeline that could be threatened. India had signed a Defence Cooperation agreement with Iran. A look at the map shows that Iran controls the mouth of the Hormuz Straits and can choke the oil sea lanes quite easily. Yet for the time being USA treats Iran as an enemy, and was wary of Indian overtures to that country. India knows it will have to import much needed gas from Iran, and can never annoy Iran.

Further afield USA had interests and now military presence in the Central Asian Republics (CAR) with the aim of controlling the oil and energy outputs from that region. In the long term if the area became peaceful many oil and gas land routes could well pass through Afghanistan and thence to Pakistan.

It is no wonder then that USA feels duty bound to safeguard interests in these two countries. On CAR Russia has a clash of interests with USA, and India will have to balance sides. USA wants India to assist in its fight against terrorism and send troops to Iraq sans UN mandates, and though it was a tempting thought for economic gains, it was not acceptable to Indians at large. USA wanted India to buy defence hardware from the American Military Industrial Complex (MIC) but India was tied to Russia and Israel and had yet to trust USA on military supplies. USA believeed in preemptive defence and unilateral action for the Proliferation Security Initiatives (PSI). India was still to endorse such unilateral actions. USA had not accepted India as a full-fledged nuclear power nor did it favour its seat in the UN’s security council. The list could go on but the many arguments put India in a spot, as good ties with USA were inescapable for India’s economic growth.

At this stage it is relevant to quote Lew Kuan Yew who built up Singapore. He always advocated that a benign strategic relationship with USA fostered better trade. Since sanctions were lifted in 1999 India’s economy was doing well and Lee is proving right. India should maintain close dialogue and engagement with USA and ensure USA’s Military Industrial Complex (MIC) comes to India as collaborators, not suppliers.

Behemoths like Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing and Honeywell, all multi billion dollar giants were wooing Indian companies like Hindustan Aeronautics and Bharat Electroincs Ltd and DRDO to join hands. When the marriages take place they should be on Indian terms. The steps could open a huge new vista for the Indian MIC, which has been the fiefdom of India’s bureaucracy.

Indian bureaucrats never understood that in the age of technology RMA has become the mantra, and now with the potent combination of Indian military industry and Indian IT, India was in a position to absorb the latest lethal technology from the West and adapt it for exports. The US had imposed sanctions on India post 1998, but the Pentagon had consciously encouraged the Israeli defence industry to trade with India, and even cleared some sensitive technologies with US patents, but now the US wants to make a dent into India directly.

India’s $15 billion defence budget and the non lapsable fund of over $6 billion is mouth watering, though South Africa, India and Brazil have signed defence agreements and our dependence on Russia and Israel who know how to make deals with Indians, may make the US involvement time consuming and challenging. The US companies are impatient and have yet to learn how to do business in India. The US is offering the PC 3 Orions and the E2C Hawkeye to the Navy, the F 16s to replace the MiGs and C 130Js to the IAF and now with the 15 day visit of the Army Chief Gen N C Vij who is keen to modernize the Army, we can expect to see a lot of special forces equipment on order.

Today this relationship between India and USA is qualitatively different from the days of the Cold War. These are not our words, but those of US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld and Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes who uttered them at a joint press conference in Washington. No one should be surprised, as India needs USA and vice versa in the world arena of politics and for regional security and stability.

These are all heartening signs post 9/11, and USA’s war on terror has forced President Musharraf to bow and break the hold of religious fanatics and Muslim Jehadis within his national politics. He has promised to change the way the ISI was running the state’s policy of bleeding India with terror in Kashmir and crush sectarian violence in Pakistan. In return USA wants India to extend its hand and engage Pakistan in dialogue. It is now well established that nations alone do not rise economically, but regions do as a whole, and Musharraf made this point at the SAARC conference, which went unreported.

Indian leaders too are grudgingly accepting this fact, and the cries of war, which could put India and Pakistan back economically, were receding. Cricket diplomacy was also fuelling hopes of rapprochement. Very few have realized that this is possibly because for the first time in decades the economic and national interests of India are coinciding with the mid term strategic interests of USA to prop up India as a regional power and to balance China in the long term.

USA feels threatened by China, which was making inroads into Japan, now China’s second largest trading partner with $80 billion in trade. The two-day Aspen Initiative Conference at Udaipur which included Henry Kissinger followed by a round table meet at the USI, reaffirmed these reasons, why India–US relations were warming.

Our interests may not coincide but both need each other as never before. As a word of caution one must add that India had very warm and enduring relations with Russia in all spheres especially defence, but Russia was in difficult economic health, and for the present heavily dependant on arms sales to China, India and Iran. 

India has shown confidence that it can sustain that relationship, even as it strikes a new chapter in its relationship with USA.

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