US-India strategic partnership in defence of democracy

By D. C. Pathak
In a neatly executed intelligence-based counter-terror operation on February 3, the US Special Forces organised a night raid on the safe house being used by ISIS chief Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al- Qurayshi at Atmeh near the border with Turkey in Idlib province of Syria, which resulted — after a longish encounter — in Qurayshi exploding a bomb that killed him and his family.
Ground forces were used as the US did not want to make an air strike, in order to minimise civilian casualties. The operation was in line with the one carried out in Syria in October 2019 under then US President Donald Trump, in which Qurayshi’s predecessor, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, had also killed himself using a suicide vest under similar circumstances, and the May 1, 2011 midnight operation at Abottabad, Pakistan, during Barack Obama’s Presidency — Joe Biden was the Vice President then — that killed Osama bin Laden, the Al Qaeda supremo.
Notwithstanding the impression in some quarters that the Biden administration is not being tough against Taliban after having used Pakistan for mediating a peace accord between the US and the radical outfit — that was meant to facilitate the pull out of American troops from Afghanistan — the operation in Idlib confirms the continuity in the American policy of countering Islamic radicals by taking out their leadership.
This will give satisfaction to India as the Indo-US convergence on the need for the democratic world to unitedly fight the menace of Islamic terror is evidently working well.
Just as Baghdadi had declared the establishment of Mosul Caliphate in 2014, Taliban was able to reinstall the Islamic Emirate in Kabul in August last year with the total support of Pakistan — both Taliban and Pakistan taking advantage of the fluid situation created by the advance of Taliban’s Jihad against the Ashraf Ghani government.
The last time Taliban supremo Mullah Umar — a close relative of Osama bin Laden — headed the Kabul Emirate in 1996 — again with the direct backing of Pakistan — it had taken little time for the Islamic radicals of Taliban to bare their fangs against the US-led West and create the run up to 9/11.
US policy makers are not oblivious of history and they would be watching the developments in Afghanistan — conscious of the fact that they could not rely on a duplicitous Pak regime for preventing the use of Afghan territory for the resumption of anti-US activity under the Taliban Emirate.
They would take adequate cognisance of the growing recalcitrance of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan towards the US ever since Pakistan moved towards a deepening military alliance with and an increasing economic dependence on China and would surely factor in this new axis in evaluating the rising Cold War kind of geopolitical bipolarity between the US and China.
The new National Security Policy (NSP) of Pakistan brings out the pro-China profile of that country. India and the US hopefully will be on the same page in looking at the possible danger that the Sino- Pak alliance could pose to this region and to the democratic world at large.
The Joe Biden administration with its preoccupation with China and a perception of ‘remoteness’ towards Afghanistan after the withdrawal of US troops from that messy battle ground of the first ‘war on terror’, apparently did not view the potential threat arising from the developments leading to the return of Taliban Emirate at Kabul, with as much attention as it deserved.
India, on the other hand, could clearly see the added danger for the region from the likelihood of Pak-Afghan belt becoming a hub of terror of Islamic radicals. However, the US is taking notice of the relationship of Pakistan with Taliban and also the play of China in Afghanistan and understanding India’s security concerns in this regard.
India and the US have steadily evolved a strategy of working together against China’s expansionist designs — India is building its own capabilities for taking on China’s PLA and Pakistan’s terror camps on the borders on one hand and joining in Quad as an active participant on the other, to ensure a ‘rules-based order’ for the Indo-Pacific that provides a built-in protection against Chinese designs in the Indian Ocean too.
The US has unambiguously condemned Chinese aggressiveness on the India-China border. In the Indo-Pacific region, India would welcome European countries like the UK, France and Germany teaming up with Quad to strengthen the hands of the democratic world against the Marxist dictatorship of China.
It is the right strategy for India to maintain a studied neutrality on the US-Russia conflict over Ukraine in the hope that peace would be maintained through confidence building steps on both sides.
It may be relevant here to recall that President Donald Trump did not believe in over-involvement with the European Union and had a somewhat friendly approach towards Vladimir Putin’s Russia. This was consistent with Trump taking on China on political and economic grounds and not hesitating to name Islamic terror as a threat notwithstanding the stand of his Democrat rival of not doing that out of ‘political correctness’.
India is not unduly perturbed with China-Russia contacts at the summit level for politico-economic reasons for it is confident that India’s friendship with Russia stands on a solid foundation of mutuality of interests.
Also, Indo-Russian relationship was not at the cost of Indo-US alliance that was a coming together of ‘natural friends’. While the non-Muslim states of the former Soviet empire have issues linked with Europe — as is the case in Ukraine — it is extremely important for India that the five Central Asian Republics (CARs) adjoining Afghanistan respond well — in concert with Russia — to India’s concerns over collusion of Pakistan with the Kabul Emirate of Taliban.
India’s policy makers have to be complimented for the clarity they have brought to bear on India-Iran relations in the context of Afghanistan. Shia fundamentalism of Ayatollahs invites the deepest hostility of Sunni Islamic radicals which brings Iran and India on the same side of the fence as far as the threat of a radicalised Afghanistan is concerned. US-Iran relations on nuclear related issues are on a different footing and India can deal with them on merit.
The Narendra Modi government has broken new grounds in successfully pursuing a foreign policy that allows a major power like India to bilaterally deal with the US, Russia, Iran and Israel to serve our national interests in a post-Cold War world and encourage multipolarity to India’s own advantage.
What has helped in this is Prime Minister Modi’s clear approach of shedding the ideological baggage of the days of ‘non alignment’, asserting the sovereignty of India as the largest democracy of the world and demonstrating the political will to take punitive action against an adversary while maintaining strong commitment to global peace.
Elements of Chanakya’s strategy of ‘checks and balances’, building up of military strength in keeping with India’s recognition as a major voice in the world on issues of ‘war and peace’ and following an approach that embraces the new doctrine of ‘national security being inseparable from economic security’, can be sensed in this new policy of India.
While India is fine with being a part of the multilateral endeavour of democratic powers to contain China’s expansionist moves, it has to be basically on its own in effectively countering the acts of a hostile Pakistan that enjoys a sway in Afghanistan and support of China against India.
The Pak National Security Policy has identified India as the main enemy and what is worse, couched Indo-Pak relations in Hindu-Muslim terms. The Sino-Pak axis — besides its concerted moves on our borders — has a certain capability of fiddling with India’s domestic scene to create internal disturbances here and causing destabilisation. This dimension of internal security is well understood by our security establishment and India’s Intelligence agencies are fully prepared to handle the new challenges across the spectrum, in this regard.
India, like all major countries of the world, received a socio-economic set back on account of the Corona pandemic that broke out as a sudden natural disaster disrupting businesses, putting a stop to classroom education and causing a breakdown of the medical infrastructure leading to human casualties on a large scale.
In a federal system where states were an equal partner in the national effort to handle the disaster, Prime Minister Modi was in the front overseeing the arrangements for improving the essential medical supplies, stepping up indigenous manufacture and distribution of vaccines and laying out futuristic plans for economic recovery.
India has done well to encourage a bottom-up approach for re-establishing demand and supply chains, supporting startups and stressing on reskilling and up-skilling to generate employment. There is a new emphasis on infrastructure development that leads to lasting growth.
The initial human suffering will remain a part of historical memory but the total involvement of top leadership of the government in measures designed to mitigate the disaster and lay the groundwork for the future would also be remembered by people.
The initiatives of the Centre had a unifying impact on the nation and brought out the cultural instinct of Indians to help out others in distress. It also needs to be mentioned that Prime Minister Modi’s policy of affirming India’s commitment to join in and lead the global effort to meet the crisis — this was voiced at international forums ranging from UN to Quad — has enhanced India’s standing and influence in the world community. Covid crisis added to the economic and security challenge for Indian democracy and it is a matter of satisfaction that the Modi government handled both the fronts with alacrity.
(The writer is a former Director of Intelligence Bureau)

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