FORMER Army chief General Bikram Singh’s advice to the Government to exercise caution while dealing with the United States on strategic matters holds some merit given the abrupt handling of relations and campaigns by successive American Governments. Gen Singh has cited the historical evidence of the US not proving its trustworthiness to its close friends and allies which always resulted in the allies getting trapped in unwanted crises. The advice carries weight in the present conditions where India is being projected as one of the most-important partners of the United States. The Indo-US bonhomie has transcended various levels as Washington considers New Delhi as a necessary pivot in its South Asian policies. India has also cultivated ties in different domains as it has engaged the US in technology, commerce, cultural as well as defence sectors. It is the last domain that Gen Singh seems to be worried about as the US has a chequered past of deserting its allies especially in military campaigns.
Gen Singh’s aversion to deepening ties with the United States can be seen from multiple angles. As a defence personnel who knows the intricacies of border management and military relations with India’s difficult neighbours, Gen Singh has sounded alert on showing too much reliance on the United States if things boil down to a full-fledged military conflict with any of the current adversaries. The belief that US might not go the whole hog in defending India, should there be a large-scale war, comes from the past examples where America extricated itself from the battleground at critical junctures. Gen Singh’s fears are not unfounded as can be seen from the US withdrawal from Vietnam, twice from Iraq and the most recent example of Afghanistan.
The US also has blood on its hands in other campaigns where it used the local groups as their close partners but deserted them once its goal was fulfilled. A glaring example of the US betrayal comes from Syria where America took the Syrian Kurds under its wings to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and after accruing major gains left the Kurds to their own fate. The Kurds ended up as sitting ducks for the Turkish forces which secured a greenlight from Washington to invade northern Syria as the US troops withdrew to other locations. The dirty betrayal has led the world to believe in the saying that “Nothing in this world is certain except death, taxes, and America betraying the Kurds.”
India also has seen the US functioning on critical matters from close quarters as Washington chose Pakistan to peddle its plans in Afghanistan against the invading Russian forces in 1979. However, the major difference between the past and present is the diplomatic journey New Delhi has undertaken in the fast-changing global order. There is a dangerous rise of China which has led to a much stronger Indo-US partnership. India is now America’s partner of choice not only in South Asia but also the Indo-Pacific.
India has clearly learned its lessons. It will cosy up with the US and become an essential part of the Quad but New Delhi will never lean on the crutches of total dependence on the US. Agreements like the COMCASA and the US silence over India’s purchase of S-400 and oil from Russia complete the other half of the picture.