The US decision to sell 22 Guardian drones to India – the first such American transaction with a non-NATO ally – reinforces the strong defence ties that the two nations have established over the last decade. The deal, however, comes at a time when India’s relationship with the US is not at its warmest. Since Donald Trump took office, he has made overtures to China over reigning in North Korea; an act which has irked some quarters in India and led to fears that Donald Trump might not consider India a priority. The deal, therefore, comes at an important time of India-US relations and will lay a solid background for PM Modi’s upcoming visit to the US.
The defence deal will, however, have a difficult time masking the issues currently having a negative impact on India-US ties. Although Modi and Trump both consider themselves strongmen with a penchant for social media, the truth is that India does not currently enjoy the same relationship with the US that it did under Barack Obama. Donald Trump has openly criticised India for having a trade surplus with the US, and also accused India of unscrupulously negotiating at the Paris Climate Accord. In fact, Trump cited ‘favours’ accorded to India and China as one reason for pulling out of the Paris Accord. Modi’s “make in India”campaign also directly contrasts with Trump’s “make America great again” rhetoric which aims to return manufacturing to America. This contradiction has already manifested itself in Lockheed Martin’s decision to produce F-16s in India instead of in America. Such underlying tension perhaps explains why the US is not celebrating Modi’s visit with much fanfare, as was the norm under Obama.
Modi and Trump will likely find common ground in castigating Pakistan for its alleged role in supporting jihadist movements throughout the region, especially considering how speculation is rife over Trump adopting a tougher stance on Pakistan. The decision to sell the drones also overrides Pakistan’s concerns that these drones will escalate instability in the region, further depicting how the US is drifting increasingly away from Pakistan. All signs therefore portend a deepening of the schism between the US and Pakistan – and that is never a good omen for peace in Afghanistan and in South Asia.
Published in Daily Times, June 26th, 2017.