New Delhi: Giving concrete shape to a India-US ‘Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership’ was the biggest achievement of President Donald Trump’s two-day visit to the country, which was otherwise high on optics and low on substance, experts and analysts said.
The Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership was initiated in 2013 when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had visited the US and met President Barack Obama. The two leaders had then claimed that the India-US relationship has developed a “comprehensive global strategic partnership”.
In a joint statement issued late Tuesday after Trump left, PM Modi and the US President “vowed to strengthen India-US Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership, anchored in mutual trust, shared interests, goodwill and robust engagement of their citizens”.
PM Modi also spoke about the same after his meeting with Trump.
“This relationship is the most important partnership of the 21st century. And therefore, today, President Trump and I have taken a decision to raise our partnership to the level of a comprehensive global strategic partnership. President Trump’s contribution in raising our relations to this level has been invaluable,” Modi had said Tuesday.
Lalit Mansingh, veteran diplomat and former Indian envoy to the US, said the Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership this time has been accepted as a “new designation” to the US-India bilateral ties.
“Yes in 2013, both countries did discuss the Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership, (but) this time it has been officially accepted as a new designation to the relationship,” he said.
“Since 2005, both sides were only having a strategic partnership, but now it gets one step higher. By taking the relationship to the level of Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership, the US now officially acknowledges India’s role in the global geopolitics,” Mansingh added.
Homeland Security Dialogue
Trump was the second US President to visit India in his first term after President Obama.
During his two-day visit from Monday, Trump visited Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and New Delhi, and both sides tended to focus on the achievements made by them on the strategic fronts instead on their commercial ties.
On the issue of counter-terrorism, Trump did not leave India high and dry.
On several occasions during the visit, the US President mentioned Pakistan and urged the country “to ensure that no territory under its control is used to launch terrorist attacks”, while also pushing it to take action with regard to the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.
Both sides also called for strict action against all terrorist groups, including the Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hizbul Mujahideen, the Haqqani Network, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, D-Company, and all their affiliates.
“It does not appear that there are new strategic aspects resulting from this trip, but rather some forward momentum on areas where progress has been underway like counter-terrorism and continued deepening of defense ties,” said Alyssa Ayers, senior fellow for India, Pakistan and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Ayers, who has served as deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asia during the Obama administration, however, said reviving the ‘Homeland Security Dialogue’ was an important step during this visit.
“It lapsed in the second Obama term, so good to see it picked up again,” she added.
The Homeland Security Dialogue will be set up between the Ministry of Home Affairs and the US Department of Homeland Security.
As part of this dialogue, both sides will jointly fight international crimes like human trafficking, terrorism and violent extremism, drug-trafficking and crimes in cyberspace, the joint statement added.
“The (joint) statement demonstrates continuity in the relationship. No major advancement and no retrenchment. It’s a slow and steady approach that doesn’t force either country to take any risks. Maybe this is the best we can expect for the time being,” Ben Schwartz, senior director, The Chertoff Group, and former India director in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
‘Bringing Trump to India was in itself an achievement’
Although a small trade package deal could not be clinched between the two countries this time, in terms of emboldening the bilateral ties, this visit was critical.
“The fact that President Trump did visit India and understand the imperatives is in itself a big achievement, considering his unpredictable nature. Having said that, it is also true that these visits are never about massive deliverables. These visits create an impression. So to try and get him to think beyond transactionalism was a big achievement,” said Rudra Chaudhuri, director of Carnegie India.
Chaudhuri also said that having a trade deal becomes an uphill task with both sides taking a protectionist stance.
“However, I believe a small trade deal is possible in the next 6-8 months but not having it will not hold the relationship back,” he added.
While the deal didn’t happen, India did agree to a number of defence purchases from the US with a promise to procure MH-60R naval and AH-64E Apache helicopters.
“This is a critical area and all these developments will help us bridge the gap in our defence preparedness,” added Mansingh.