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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 14 New Delhi March 26, 2016

India snubs an American Admiral

Monday 28 March 2016, by M K Bhadrakumar

According to the Delhi grapevine, Americans, in their private conversations with Indian interlocutors who are opinion-makers, have been badmouthing Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar—just as they used to do to A.K. Antony in the UPA era. Their grievance remains the same—Parrikar is “slow” in decision-making.

Washington hopes that by the time US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter visits Delhi next month, a few multi-billion dollar arms deals could be finalised and also that the Ministry of External Affairs would by then have somehow succeeded in piloting the Logistic Support Agreement (LSA) on the home stretch. A top Pentagon official told a US Congressional hearing recontly that the LSA is finally sailing into view.

The LSA has become particularly urgent since there are gathering storms on the horizon in West Asia and the dogs of war are straining at the leash. Russia is moving its heavy aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov, to the Mediterranean to lead its naval flotilla deployed there.

Promoting arms deals and encouraging Sinophobia go hand in hand in the US diplomacy; they are mutually reinforcing objectives. Thus, we see a renewed push to get India on board the US’ rebalance strategy in Asia. From the US perspective, the optics of a US-Indian entente directed against China works well insofar as it will inevitably impact the Sino-Indian normalisation. Thus, lately, the Pentagon officials have begun planting media stories that the US and India are planning to undertake ‘joint patrols’ in the disputed waters in South China Sea, which China claims as its sovereign territory.

To be sure, it was a masterly performance by the US Pacific Commander Admiral Harry Harris at a conference sponsored by the Ministry of External Affairs in Delhi in early March when he went the extra league to give habitation and name to the idea of US-Indian ‘joint patrols’ in South China Sea. Harris said (in the presence of senior MEA officials and a senior Chinese diplomat): “In the not-too-distant future, the American and Indian Navy vessels steaming together will become a common and welcome sight throughout Indo-Asia-Pacific waters.”

Bluster is traditionally one-half of US diplomacy and the Americans know how to create an optic illusion to trigger misperceptions which enable them to fish in troubled waters. But then, Admiral Harris was hit within the week by a rocket fired from Delhi. Significantly, it was none other than the indecisive, lethargic, slow-moving Indian Defence Minister who debunked Harris’ vision. Parrikar said:

As of now, India has not taken part in joint patrols but we do participate in joint exercises. So the issue of joint patrols at this time does not arise. I am not responding to what the US Admiral has said. Our viewpoint will come to you if we at all consider any such thing from our side.

Parrikar also touched on the Logistics Support Agreement: “It (LSA) has to benefit the nation on various counts. We definitely would say that our government is very active on almost everything. We don’t like to unnecessarily delay things. So, we do proper work, discussions are going on on many things.”

One of the good things about globalisation is that word travels very fast, isn’t it? Parrikar seems to be aware that he “unnecessarily delays things”.

It is understandable if the Americans hustle India to let them in through the ‘Make in India’ gateway. But then, they don’t want to part with technology. They want India to keep buying and they hustle the government to take hurried decisions. Hence the smear campaign against select officials who stand in their way—Antony then, Parrikar now.

Even a newly-appointed Joint Secretary or Additional Secretary in the MOD promptly comes under intense American scrutiny—whether it is in his or her DNA to play ball with arms vendors and their middlemen (to mutual benefit, of course.)

Ambassador M.K. Bhadrakumar served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings including India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001).