An influential think tank has urged US President Donald Trump to develop with Prime Minister Narendra Modi a common strategic view based on shared interests in China, Pakistan and Afghanistan and make India a “clear strategic and diplomatic priority” for the US….A special report by Arul Louis for Asian Lite News
The convergence of Indian and American strategic interests provides an opportunity for the Trump Administration to advance its key foreign policy goals and the US must rapidly seize the opportunity decisively, The Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI) said in a paper released here on Thursday.
Deeper cooperation in defence, including in interoperability of forces, and anti-terrorism should complement the shared strategic outlook, it recommended.
The paper, “The Trump Administration’s India Opportunity”, was authored by Marshall Bouton, the ASPI Senior Fellow for India and former President of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and Chief Operating Officer of the Asia Society.
A starting point for close cooperation between the two countries would be an early summit between Modi and Trump, the paper said, outlining what could be the agenda for such a meeting.
A summit would be “at the at the top of my list of priorities”, Bouton said in an interview.
“Nothing helps to get a relationship off to a good start than that kind of an exchange between the two leaders.”
According to a source familiar with scheduling meetings, Modi was likely to visit Washington in July.
The paper saw a match in the personalities and operational styles of the two leaders and said: “Modi is a strong and decisive leader with whom the Trump administration should feel very comfortable.”
The two leaders, who are “highly nationalist and pro-business in their orientation, are likely to find common ground”, it said.
“Both leaders pride themselves on making deals, even when those deals are not entirely aligned with their parties’ interests.”
To keep the multifaceted development of bilateral ties on track, the paper suggested the appointment of a czar for India-US relations, “preferably a cabinet member, to hold the whole-of-government brief”.
“With security issues a priority, Defence Secretary James Mattis, who has publicly identified India as a key strategic partner, might be considered for the position.”
The paper identified countering terrorism, responding to China’s assertive behaviour in the region and seeking peace and stability in South and East Asia as common factors in the two countries’ agendas.
“India has a great deal of experience in dealing with the threat of terrorism. The US has much to gain from cooperation with India on counter-terrorism and countering violent extremism.”
The paper said Modi will want more forceful action against Islamabad on terrorism, arguing “that only the threat of stronger sanctions such as sharp cuts to economic and military assistance and removal of Pakistan’s designation as a major non-NATO ally might change its behaviour”.
But future Washington action against Islamabad would hinge on the course of its involvement in Afghanistan as Pakistan controls key access to US forces there, the paper said.
“This will be limiting factor or something that will affect how the administration decides to position itself, at least publicly, with respect to Pakistan,” Bouton said in the interview.
If the US puts more troops on the ground in Afghanistan, “the dependence on Pakistanis for access across their territory and even use of facilities for the war in Afghanistan will continue and will perhaps be enlarged”.
However, in private dialogue with Pakistani leaders, the US may be “making very clear our strong concern about renewed attacks across the Line of Control or across the border elsewhere and what the consequences would be”, he said.
Trump’s attitude to China has become more conciliatory because he wants Beijing to manage the North Korean crisis.
Asked how this would impact the US-India perceptions of China outlined in the paper, Bouton said: “North Korea and its nuclear ballistic missile capabilities are probably the single most immediate pressing issue in US Asia policy at this time bar none.
“.. So if there are tactical shifts in the way Trump administration has chosen to deal with China in this time frame, they don’t necessarily tell us about the longer time view.”
The paper acknowledged that the two nations’ “economic interests could be an obstacle to closer partnership”. But it added that “with careful management and imaginative leadership, (it) could become a new frontier in the relationship”.
ASPI suggests that the Trump administration consult India about changes to the H-1B visa system (which is used by professionals, particularly in the technology sector).
It suggested “an economic ‘grand bargain’ to dramatically increase economic cooperation” through a comprehensive bilateral trade agreement.