Why we must move ahead in full earnest for a New-Old special relationship with India

Friday, August 8, 2014

It has been a long time coming from there to here, as on his first visit to Delhi US Defence Secretary makes a vociferous U-turn by declaring “as our interests align, so should our armed forces”, a position which is a world away from that 15th day of December 1971 when the carrier group of American Task Force 74 aligned itself with Pakistan in the Bay of Bengal.


As India looks east, America has over the last decade also reviewed, realigned and rebalanced its own foreign policy pivoting to the Asia-Pacific. However, what we are now seeing seems to be the beginning of the redefinition of the Asia Pacific to the ‘Indo-Pacific’ where both India and the US meet somewhere between the East sea of Vietnam and the shores of California.


This new ‘Indo-Pacific’ was on demonstration in the recently concluded naval war games known as the Malabar exercise between the US, Japan and India serving to highlight yet once again, the growing hold of the Chinese string of pearls around India’s naval neck and China’s aggressive adventures in the East sea of Vietnam and the Sea of Japan.


At the same time it is overtly obvious that “partnering with China is and should remain a priority for both India and the US”, as it is only via economic interdependence that threats can be turned into trade, aggressive naval overtures turned into oil and gas exploration and mutual suspicion into mutual prosperity. Seeing that China is the largest trading partner for both the US and India, this is a good forward-looking vision that should not be allowed to be skewed by the broken prism of the past or the devious and belligerent ambitions of some minor powers both to India’s east and west.


Ever since the US-India Civilian Nuclear agreement of George W Bush and Manmohan Singh, the World has redefined its nuclear relationship with India. Even Australia, traditionally hesitant to reach a nuclear agreement with India, is getting ready to jump on board next month. The floodgates have opened and all this has been possible only because of the historic landmark US-India agreement, possible itself only due to the new found mutual trust and bonhomie.


In stark comparison, Pakistan a known proliferator of nuclear technology has found itself isolated and being reliant solely upon Chinese nuclear co-operation, be it building plants 3, 4, and 5 at the Chashma nuclear plant in the Punjab or the new $9.6 billion investment in building the Karachi nuclear power plant.


Once more, Chuck Hagel sticks to his theme of realignment while crossing borders into Afghanistan, when he says:

“Great nations have greater stakes in regional security. India’s stake in peace in Afghanistan is great. Combating terrorism will always be a joint priority for both India and the US, specially in Afghanistan”


…in contrast to his green-shaded view of…

“India for some time has always used Afghanistan as a second front, and India has over the years financed problems for Pakistan on that side of the border.”


Finally, realising that India is a force for good, stability and peace in Afghanistan.


While Chuck Hagel has been busy in Delhi, in an unprecedented move, proposing joint production of the Javelin anti-tank missile to transform a transactional US-India defence relationship from just buying and selling to “co-production, co-development and freer exchange of technology” the United Kingdom has failed to offer the same level of ‘scale and complexity’ in pushing forward, most recently- our own Typhoon jet fighter.


The world realises and truly understands the profound ground-breaking nature of Modi’s election as the 15th Prime Minister of India and over the last few weeks the world has lined up in a queue at the South Block in Delhi with visits by the French, the Chinese, the Japanese, our very own Chancellor George Osborne and Foreign Secretary William Hague followed by US Foreign Secretary Kerry and now Defence Secretary Hagel.


Everyone now wants a sweet slice of the Indian Alphonso mango (other than the EU, who have banned it) and to be part of the ‘Bollywoodesque’Indian dream now being directed by Modi, as he and his 279 MPs exchange red tape with red carpet, minimise government while maximising governance and rescue India from the abysmal clutches of socialism.


With the Americans now actively partnering with India in shaping a ‘new world order’ that is quickly emerging in this century, we in Britain must redouble our efforts to compete with our American friends in our westward ‘special relationship’ to look eastward beyond the EU to build a ‘New-Old special relationship’ with our old and good friend India.


This new-old special relationship cannot be built solely upon bilateral trade or penurious £1 billion credit lines or just by having a special minister for business engagement with India. We have to go much further in looking for common interests, common ideas and common areas of engagement across the board.


Whether it is by asking British companies to develop and deliver remote learning from world-class British institutions to help India educate and train the next 500 million young people by 2022 or it is by empowering the British NHS with private investment to share best practices and new medical technologies in helping India care for its 1.3 billion people. We need to be doing more of what we both do best, together.


This visit by US Defence Secretary Hagel should serve as a catalyst not just for America but even more so for us here in Britain in re-vitalising, re-igniting and revving up that Jaguar Land Rover TATA powered engine in driving forward  Prime Minister Cameron’s vision of a special relationship with India. For now, after the wasted ‘decade of decay’ under the Congress, we now finally have in place, with Narendra Modi at the helm, a forward-looking, dabang and resurgent India willing and ready to shake our hand in an eternal special relationship.


India will claim its rightful place in the emerging new world order and the United Kingdom must be there all the way.

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