A ‘Strategic Marriage’ of an ‘Arranged Partnership’ By Lt Gen P R Shankar (R)

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Former US president  Obama once said that the India-US relationship could be a “defining partnership of the 21st century“. President Biden reiterated this viewpoint recently. I immensely believe in these statements. India and USA are two democracies which should be natural partners. Together they can  counter an assertive China. Their two militaries can collar PLA by the scruff of its neck. The democratic world can counter authoritarian China, only if USA and India are on the same page. The Indo- USA ‘Strategic Partnership’,  overcame historic  hesitancies. It is an arranged marriage coming of age. Steering the right course was already putting caution in Chinese sails. However, all of a sudden there is an ocean gust. Lines seem to be crossing. Recent actions by USA are putting this equation on the horns of unwanted dilemmas. It appears the relationship is becoming a ‘Strategic Marriage’ of an ‘Arranged Partnership’.   


For reasons best known to it, USA has ruffled Indian feathers. Its recent  FONOPS in India’s EEZ  near the Lakshadweep Islands was publicly toned in the same way such operations in South China Sea are broadcast. Uncharacteristic between partners. There is renewed talk about imposing CAATSA related sanctions on India for its S 400 system deal with Russia. An over-publicised US  Intel report says that Indo Pak and Sino Indian conflicts are in the offing in the next five years. Well, it’s not exactly in the same class as Newtons discovery of the falling apple.  Are these scare tactics? Politicians, officials and interested groups from the USA keep mewing about human rights in India- J&K, riots, farm laws et al. Such inexplicable interference and stances are unbecoming of a strategic partner. US sanctions on India stopped working from MTCR days.  Now, there is a ban on export of raw material from USA for making vaccines. It threatens to hit vaccine production in India. It prompted Adar Poonawala of SII to tweet a direct request to President Biden. All these actions posit a basic question. If USA has so many issues with India – is the partnership strategic? Hey!  We are supposed to be on the same side.  Our common adversary is China. Forgotten that? India has gone out of its way to shed inhibitions and offload baggage, to get into a partnership with USA. This has been developed and nurtured over two decades.  Very significantly, based on this foundational partnership,  the QUAD has been formalised. Current US actions, go against the very grain of  the ‘Spirit of QUAD’ pronounced by its leaders. The QUAD summit emphasised on ‘Vaccines’ to position itself as the saviour of the free world. Implicit in this was that Indian and US capabilities would power QUAD to a post pandemic world bereft of the Chinese virus. The US ban shoots the QUAD in the head. People will wonder, can QUAD be relied on? Chinese will rub their hands in glee and nod heads, as if to say – ‘We told you so. The Quad is ineffective’. ‘Packistanis’ will say that USA is an unreliable partner. US behaviour is strange and inexplicable. There is a strong case for USA’s lawmakers to re-evaluate its actions. 


I will be blunt. The Indo US partnership must be on equal footing. Gone are the  days when USA could dictate issues to India. Reality should be kept in view. Let me first tackle the Indian issues and then I’ll get to the USA.  India is a rising power. It is not dependent on USA for everything. No brainer. Remember. India dismembered Pakistan and created Bangladesh in 1971, despite USA wholeheartedly putting its weight behind Pakistan. To forge a strategic partnership with USA , India has put its historic friendship with Russia on the block. However let bygones be bygones. It is hereby acknowledged that USA has assisted India in dealing with Chinese challenges recently. Notwithstanding this, please realise,  India can handle China on its own. That is our history. India might suffer a bit more, if it goes alone. However, India will not be cowed down. It will not go down. Come what may, India will solve its Chinese problems. It will also not brook outside interference. Ask the ‘Packistanis’. They know it very well. They have been spanked often. The Chinese are learning about it. USA knows the Indian Military is battle hardened and tough as nails. After 1962, it is the only military to stop China in its tracks repeatedly. We also know that India is full of chaos. Abound with contradictions. Always underperforming. But. Always defying odds. Always rising. Prepared to take losses but be able to counter punch. Not prepared to compromise on core issues. Not dependant on anyone beyond a point. India, China and USA are the only three nations which have the capability of being isolated and self-sufficient. Examine their histories and it pops out.  India’s non alignment stems from these characteristics. India seeks a strategic partnership with USA , based on democratic principles of equality and mutual respect. Two great democracies need to work with each other not nit-pick.  


USA should look within its own house. The country is divided and going through internal discord. The number of mass shootings in the recent past give a fair indication of the social instability within USA. India  stands by USA in enabling it to tide over such issues. However  USA should stop  preaching. Let us look at US strategy. Despite having the strongest and most experienced military in the world it has faced setbacks repeatedly. Examine Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. All these bear one trait- declaring victory despite failure. History will not be kind to USA in its judgement. It is not the military which will be judged weak but its leadership. Remember the non-existent WMD threat used to rachet up a disastrous Gulf War Two?  For seven decades, ‘Packistan’ has been its frontline ally cum enemy. It is an open secret. Yet USA slept with its enemy for 70 years. Any strategic idiot would have told you – Sort out ‘Packistan’ and Afghanistan is automatically sorted out. USA has lost so many lives in Afghanistan over two decades (unnecessarily)  – without once addressing ‘Packistani’ perfidy for endangering its home land security. The same ‘Packistan’ has dumped USA to jump into the Chinese bed.  USA did not tackle ‘Packistan’ when it had the military, economic and diplomatic strength. Today and hereafter it cannot handle ‘Packistan’ without India. If the Indo-US strategic partnership goes on the rocks, it frees ‘Packistan’. ‘Packistan’ will then not hesitate to mount an attack on USA. That attack will come at China’s behest through ‘Packistani’ home grown Jihadis masquerading as Afghan Taliban/Ai Qaeda/IS . That is a clear and present danger which USA should recognise. It is more plausible then the fake WMD theory. Take my word for it. Someone said that ‘Packistan’ is the most dangerous place on earth… Mad Dog Mattis?… Hmm…sensible General!  It is also a matter of reflection that, USA chose to look away, when China was building and militarising artificial islands in South China Sea to advance its Nine Dash Line claims. If China had been stopped then, we would not have the problem we have on our hands today.  With the Paracels are firmly  in its hands, China has now set sights on usurping the Spratleys. All USA seems to be doing is to send its Carrier Task Forces to take close up photographs of Chinese activity. Very clearly, there are severe limits to American power projection and execution. From another dimension, there is no doubt that China has grown into a monster today due to the combined generosity and greed of a blindsided USA. Why is USA’s  hand being bitten by those which it fed? Think. India is not in that class. That is because India does not have to be fed. USA must understand that difference. China’s rise was aided by USA. India’s rise has been despite USA, China, Russia and its own Governments. This rise is of the people – more solid and sustainable despite the challenges.   


If USA has to regain its pre-eminence, it has to do three things. Stretch China to its break point, emasculate ‘Packistan’ and side line Russia. USA and its NATO cum Asian alliances and partnerships cannot help USA achieve this goal. It is beyond them. USA and its allies need India for that. Without India –  welcome to unhindered rejuvenation of the Chinese dream and a ‘Packistan’ which is carrying out reconnaissance of the next ‘Twin Towers’.  Also, this entire exercise will not be possible without France (a non-NATO power), which often treads its own furrow. For this broader coalition/ arrangement/partnership beyond QUAD (call it what you may), India is pivotal. China knows that and was wooing India till it burnt its bridges inexplicably. From another angle, India’s rise might get delayed but is unstoppable. Many of my self-depreciating Indians might not believe in it. I repeat. India’s restitution to great power status is unstoppable virus or no virus, Hindutva or not, aligned or not. Might not be in my lifetime. May be in the next or after that. That is predestined and preordained. You cannot stop 1.4 billion people from rising. 


Why am I bringing all these issues up? China has grown too strong for any one nation to handle it. With its maverick catspaws in ‘Packistan’ and North Korea, China has acquired unmitigated lethality. If there has to be a strategic balance and equilibrium in global affairs, there is no choice but cooperation between USA and India. This defining partnership of the 21st Century has to fire on all cylinders if democracies and their shared values must prevail. If the Indo-US base is strong, it will strengthen the QUAD. In turn the QUAD plus will evolve.  India and USA alone can put China on the horns of a dilemma. They are a military overmatch to China by a mile. Further if ever,  the world needs an alternative to China, it is India. 


So let us get back to the start point. Recent events indicate that a part of USA has its old time problems with India. This is the same section which loves ‘Packistan’ and wants to continue with business as usual with China. It also consists of many Americans of Indian origin who act more Indian than India and more American than America. This dangerous pontificating variety has to be caged. Overall, USA has to look within to resolve its internal issues. Even in India , there is  substantial population which still does not trust USA. India has to get over its own inhibitions. In my personal opinion, both countries must go that one extra step to untangle lines and make this relationship a success.  Unless these two democracies work in tandem and bring their mutual strengths on table together, we will look at a ‘Chinese Rules Based Global Order’.  That is the bottom line.  However, from my perspective – we must have fall back options and India must be prepared to go alone also. That’s been our history. Let us endeavour to be truly atmanirbhar. If it comes to a situation where we have to handle Pakistan and China on our own, we must be prepared to do that. As Rabindranath Tagore said “ Ekla Chalo Re”. I hope it does not come to that.  


2 responses to “A ‘Strategic Marriage’ of an ‘Arranged Partnership’ By Lt Gen P R Shankar (R)”

  1. Excellent piece. My compliments

  2. Well articulated sir. Thanks

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