Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s whirlwind visit to the US winded up after addressing the 76th session of the UNGA on September 25.
Thereafter, he boarded the Air India One from New York for the journey back home. The jury is still out on the economic, strategic and geopolitical ramifications of the visit. One thing that was acknowledged by one and all was that the optics associated with the visit were impeccable. It was a welcome relief from the sombre mood prevailing in the era of Covid pandemic. American President Joe Biden and Mr. Modi exhibited great bonhomie when they met.
President Joe Biden indulged in some light banter with Mr. Modi to further light up the ambience. The meeting took place in a very congenial atmosphere. This despite the subtle admonition given to Indian PM during his joint press conference with Vice President Kamala Harris regarding democracy and democratic values under attack in India.
Beyond optics, a stock-taking is warranted regarding tangible benefits or deliverables as they are referred to in geopolitical parlance from the visit given the a. First and foremost, there was a convergence between India and the United States as well as other members of the QUAD that Afghanistan should not be allowed to become a sanctuary for terrorists and that no country should exploit its territory to propagate terrorism around the world. Another point of consensus was that Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan needs to be closely monitored. Both countries agreed that Pakistan played a duplicitous role of hunting with the hound and running with the hare as far as combating terrorism is concerned.
India and the US also agreed to emphasize the need to deny logistical, financial, and military support to terrorist organizations. Referring to the Taliban, the two countries seemed to be on the same page as far as recognizing its government was concerned. The two countries reiterated that recognition could be considered on the condition that rights of minorities and women were guaranteed and freedom of movement was ensured.
Secondly, the visit clarified the objective and functioning of QUAD, especially in the backdrop of AUKUS having been formed. The first in-person summit of the heads of member countries on September 24 seemed to suggest that QUAD is being shaped as an alternative to China and its expansionist policies. This will be achieved by creating a parallel, sustainable and resilient supply chain for goods and services to ensure free trade.
A competing funding mechanism would be put in place to finance the infrastructure needs of developing economies, which China has been exploiting by engulfing the countries in a debt trap. The QUAD will focus on manufacturing a billion doses of vaccine in India for export to other countries to prevent further damage from Covid thus reinforcing India’s position as the vaccine hub of the world.
US President Joe Biden also agreed to support India’s bid for a permanent membership of the Security Council of the United Nations as well as India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group. The US has also promised cooperation in intelligence sharing and law enforcement vis-a-vis counter-terrorism.
On the trade front, the impasse with the US as a legacy from the Trump era seemed to be easing. To break the deadlock, it was agreed to reconvene the India-US trade policy forum as well as the US-India CEO forum later this year or in early 2022. Everyone is keeping their fingers crossed on this one. India and the US also inched closer towards arriving at a solution over the H-1B visa issue.
The joint statement issued indicated that the US accepted the fact that skilled Indian human resources enhanced economic partnership between the two countries. Prime Minister Modi reminded the western nations to try and meet the Paris Climate summit goals as India has been able to achieve them.
A country cannot achieve all its geostrategic objectives with one foreign visit and this one was no different. Yet, it can be stated that this visit brought in some clarity about QUAD and the US commitment to it especially in the minds of policy makers and the foreign ministry officials. Along with that, India seemed to be emerging slowly but steadily on the geopolitical horizon as a symbol of vibrant and functional democracy and its capabilities are being recognized globally.