|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
US President Donald Trump's maiden visit to India witnessed Indo-US Strategic Partnership transit into 'Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership'. Accompanied by First Lady Melania Trump and a 12-member delegation Trump arrived Ahmedabad on February 24 for a two-day visit. Among his many tweets before coming, one said "US not treated well by India, but I like Modi a lot". The first part is because Trump hasn't yet clinched a trade deal with India to his liking despite divesting India of GSP benefits and despite Indian tariffs on US goods within WTO norms. The second part is because Modi sloganeered "Ab Ki Baar Trump Sarkar" at 'Howdy Modi' event at Houston last year, US bagged Indian defence deals worth $21 billion since 2013 with another $7 billion worth in offing, India's crude oil imports from US jumped by over 72 per cent in first five months of current fiscal compared to same period in previous fiscal (from 2.6 million tonnes to 4.5 million tonnes), and US replaced China as India's top trading partner. For Trump's visit, India laid on the thickest of red carpets that no visiting head of state ever experienced.
Enroute from the airport to Motera Stadium for 'Namaste Trump' event savouring the 22-km road show (musicians, dancers and artists from 28 states showcasing India's diverse culture performing along the route), Trump visited Sabarmati Ashram. The 1,25,000-strong audience at Motera Stadium awed Trump. Both Modi and Trump effusively praised each other as never before - taking their mutual chemistry to highest levels. Highlights of Trump's address included: India gives hope to humanity and will soon become home to world's largest middle class; India's achievement is unrivaled as a democracy and as a tolerant country; PM Modi is moving story of incredible rise; both countries are united against radical Islamic terrorism – US has very good relations with Pakistan and is working on Pakistan clamp down on terror; he (Trump) came to India to expand bilateral relations, which took a new turn with the tri-service joint exercise 'Tiger Triumph'; a $3 billion defence deal is being signed; he is hoping to make big trade deal in conjunction Modi to boost both economies; both countries are working closely in space exploration, and; India has been a spring of great wisdom. Today I say to all Indians, take pride in the glories of the past, unite for the future and let our nations come together for freedom and its values. After Motera, Trumps visited Taj Mahal on way to New Delhi. At Delhi, Trump had extensive talks with Modi on bilateral, regional and global issues, both gave a joint statement thereafter, Trump met India Inc and also held a press briefing taking questions and answers from media.
The $3 billion defence deal enables India procure 24 x MH-60R helicopters costing $2.12 billon (6 within one year and balance 12 over four years) and 6 x AH-64E Apache helicopters costing $796 million with delivery beginning 2023. Three MoUs were signed covering: mental health; safety of pharmaceutical drugs, and; IOC (India) and Exxon (USA) agreement to bridge the trade deficit which has been reduced to around $25 billion. India conveyed to the US in October 2019 that India-US energy trade was expected to rise by $10 billion in 2019-2020 – 44 per cent rise compared to 2018-2019. After their discussion at Hyderabad House, PM Modi and President Trump jointly made a press statement. Major points made by Trump included: $3 billion deal of MH-60R and Apache helicopter being finest in the world will enhance joint defence capabilities; cooperation against Islamic terrorism and resolve to eliminate terrorism on Pakistani soil; mutual discussion about secure 5G wireless network; awed by majesty of India and exceptional generosity and kindness of the Indian people, and; teams from both sides working on comprehensive trade agreement - US exports to India already up by nearly 60 per cent and American energy exports grown by 500 per cent. Modi's address highlighted: deal on internal security including ensuring perpetrators of terrorism take the blame will further strengthen cooperation; strengthening defence ties important aspect of Indo-US partnership – all aspect of partnership were discussed; bilateral trade growth double-digit over last three years and more balanced; new milestones in innovation and enterprise for industry 4.0 due partnership and other emerging technologies, and; agreed to start negotiations for massive trade deal. No questions were taken after the joint statement. However, Trump later met the media and took questions related to US presidential elections, Corona virus, Pakistan, Kashmir, Afghanistan, CAA passed by India, religious freedom in India, violence in Delhi and the like. On religious freedom in India, violence in Delhi and CAA Trump said that he had discussed the issue with Modi, whose response was incredible. With respect to CAA, he said "I want to leave that to India and hopefully they will make the right decision." On Pakistan and Kashmir he repeated having good relations with Imran Khan, working on curbing terror on Pakistani soil, and repeated his offer to mediate on Kashmir. On Afghanistan he said US is working on a peace deal with Taliban. Overall, the pomp and pageantry during his visit especially optics at Motera Stadium floored Trump; given that in the last US presidential elections 80 per cent Indo-Americans voted for Hillary, not Trump. High points of the visit were the defence and energy deals.
As for pressuring Pakistan, latter comfortably avoided FATF's 'Black List' despite all FATF deadlines expired in October 2019 and despite acting on only 14 of 27 action points given by FATF in 2018. Trump would be overtly grateful to Pakistan for 'facilitating' the US-Taliban deal - Pakistan has been invited for the signing ceremony on February 29. Trump is looking for a big trade deal with India by end 2020 – how much India will gain or lose is yet to be seen? Yes, military cooperation will go up though ironically US focus in Indo-Pacific is limited to the waters in contrast to India's encompassing the entire region. US is looking to sell 114 x F/A-18 or F-21 jets costing $20 billion to India, while deals in the pipeline include: six more P-8I maritime patrol aircraft costing $1.8 billion; NAMAS-II shield for Delhi costing $1.8 billion; 30 x Sea Guardian drones costing more than $2.5 billion, and; 13 x Mk-45 naval gun systems costing $1.02 billion. The fourth and final US foundational agreement Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-Spatial Cooperation (BECA) will likely be signed at the next Indo-US 2+2 Summit. The Indo-US Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership no doubt has an immense future.