Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ongoing US visit for a summit with Quad leaders, including President Joe Biden and prime ministers of Japan and Australia, is being watched with great interest back home. Will Modi be able to strike a personal bond and chemistry with Biden like he did with former President Donald Trump? Will President Biden offer his proactive support in dealing with the new Taliban regime in Afghanistan? Why was India left out of another grouping (AUKUS) on the Indo-Pacific consisting of US, UK and Australia? These are some of the questions being raised.
Even though the Quad agenda may not include these issues, Modi is expected to broach them in his bilateral meeting with President Biden. The Prime Minister has already held a meeting with some American CEOs with a view to inviting investment in sectors of frontier technology. These will be considered peripheral, though. The purpose of Quad is abundantly clear—to contain China in the Indo -Pacific region. Formation of AUKUS is only doubling down on Beijing. Much as India plays down its exclusion in the new forum, observers are baffled about it. The broad purpose of both the Quad and AUKUS remain the same. India is a significant player in the region which the US has widely acknowledged. Foreign Secretary Harshvardhan Shringla’s formulation that while “AUKUS is a security alliance”, Quad was a plurilateral grouping of like-minded countries that have a shared vision of their attributes and values” does not appear satisfactory. This is the reason why a clarity is needed from the top leaders.
Modi’s first in-person visit to US after President Biden took over brings , indeed, many more issues to the fore which have a bearing on India-US relations. The new US administration has been critical of India’s human rights records, its handling of Jammu and Kashmir, especially after the abrogation of its special status, religious freedom in the country, among others. The Republicans under Trump extended open arms to Modi who reciprocated amply. US under Trump was more than a strategic partner to India. He was considered a dependable ally. Prime Minister Modi has his task cut out. China is going ahead full steam with its expansionist designs. Pakistan has always been an issue. With the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, it has become further complicated. The US is central and critical to India in dealing with them.
It is to be seen how Modi navigates with the new US regime. Simultaneously, he has to balance India’s relations with the US without jeopardizing the country’s ties with others, namely Russia which can play a major role in the region given its proximity with China. Some observers feel that not being a member of AUKUS could be a blessing in disguise for India. By joining the “security alliance”, it could have further annoyed China.
The outcome of Modi’s interactions with President Biden will make things clearer. But the touchstone will be Afghanistan and Taliban in the immediate context. The US stance on the issue will be crucial for India which has heavily invested on Afghanistan keeping in mind the grave security implications in the region.