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During his recent visit to the US, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Joe Biden agreed to further promote defence and economic partnerships between the two countries. The joint statement issued by the White House stated that the US-India Comprehensive Global and Strategic Partnership is anchored in a new level of trust and mutual understanding and enriched by the warm bonds of family and friendship that inextricably link both countries together. The statement further said that both leaders appreciated the strong military-to-military ties, mutual logistics support, and efforts to streamline implementation of foundational agreements.
In the backdrop of Modi’s visit to the US, the India-US Defence Acceleration Ecosystem (‘INDUS-X’) was established on June 21, 2023. According to the US Department of Defence (DoD), INDUS-X would serve to vitalize defence industrial cooperation between India and the US. In a press conference, a US DoD spokesperson said that the aim behind INDUS-X is to make India a logistics hub for US and other partners in the Indo-Pacific region. He further said, “The US has naval hubs in Japan and Singapore. By creating a naval hub in India, the US would gain much-needed flexibility in the vast Indian Ocean Region.” The US currently operates from Diego Garcia and Western Australia in the Indian Ocean.
Recent news reports have stated that the US is planning on setting up naval logistics hubs in India and that these hubs would work as centres for resupplying and maintenance of naval vessels in the South Asia Region. But the question is whether India is going to be “comfortable” by permitting these permanent US hubs in our naval ports? Do we see the camel’s head entering the tent; an innocuous baby step with the Indian Navy with the aim of eventually assuming operational control of the Indian Military?
India and the US have inked four key defence and security pacts over the years, which include the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) in 2002, Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016, Communication Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) in 2018 and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) in 2020. India wanted a comprehensive approach but the US wanted a step-by-step approach possibly to avoid suspicions.
No doubt India has signed bilateral military logistics agreements with the US, Japan and Australia (Quad members) but we have also signed similar agreements with France, Singapore and South Korea. Moreover, we are in the process of finalizing similar agreements with Russia and the UK. Has India established logistics hubs in ports of foreign countries? Can we or can we not perceive the dangers of permanent US presence in our naval ports, knowing activities of these US hubs would run far beyond mere logistics? Don’t we know that US interests in South Asia and India in particular are to advance its own strategic and economic interests, nothing else?
Our logistics hubs certainly should cater for ALL countries with which we have bilateral logistics arrangements but we certainly don’t need American logistics hubs for South Asia in our ports. Pressuring Foxconn to dump the chip-making deal in Gujarat is the routine tactics of American functioning but our policy maker should not get conned into submission although from the news it appears India has somewhat acquiesced?
Concurrently, we are witnessing Eric Garcetti, the US ambassador to India, offering help in Manipur violence. Known as Biden’s blue-eyed boy, Garcetti told the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee during his confirmation two years back that he would bring up human rights and discrimination such as via the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) as a “core” piece of his engagement rather than as an obligation in India. Even before that statement he had visited India many times with whatever agenda – official or unofficial.
When Biden had still not signed the waiver for India under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) for having imported the S-400 missile systems from Russia, Garcetti could have easily said that in view of the security threats faced by India and to further strengthen the India-US Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership, a waiver to India under CAATSA would be good. But Garcetti deflected the issue by saying that he did not want to prejudge the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s decision on the matter.
Garcetti’s posting to India was delayed by two years which indicates how desperately Biden wanted him to be positioned in India and that too at a specific point of time. In the intervening two years, Garcetti possibly was refining his action plan on how best to achieve his “core” aim through human rights groups in India after reaching New Delhi. He may have also taken lessons from Hillary Clinton on how to use NGOs for America’s benefit; since Clinton wrote in her book ‘Hard Choices’ how she operates through NGOs.
But what help in Manipur does Garcetti have in mind? Does he plan to lay a rail line double time from Dibrugarh to Imphal and beyond to Myanmar-Thailand for promoting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Act East Policy? Does he want to weaponize refugees in Manipur and the northeast as the US has done in Europe and Turkiye? Or does he want to induct mercenaries into India’s northeast, ‘Ukraine-style,’ to divert China’s attention from Taiwan and South China Sea?
Garcetti recently said in Kokatta, “You don’t have to be an Indian to care when children or individuals die in this sort of violence. We know peace is a precedent for so many good things. There has been so much progress in the Northeast and the East…We stand ready to assist in any way if asked. We know it’s an Indian matter and we pray for that peace and that it may come quickly. Because we can bring more collaboration, more projects, more investment if that peace is in place.”
So much concern about peace, human suffering, placating words and prayers would touch the core of anyone’s heart! Unfortunately, Garcetti perhaps perceives that Indians are unaware of American history and the terror-based world order US administrations have been running; which has been brought to another extreme level by the Biden administration (). Wake up boy – America’s war on Russia using Ukraine as the proxy has disrobed the US completely.
Finally, Garcetti knows very well that Manipur is India’s internal issue. But the cheeky offer of US help may have been to test for himself (or tasked by Biden) to ascertain how much India can be made to bend and when. Perhaps Garcetti’s call on the Union Home Minister also was to gauge whether he can meddle in Manipur and if so, to what extent.
The author is an Indian Army veteran. Views expressed are personal.
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