When India gained independence, the foremost challenge PM Nehru had was to seek the support and partnership of all countries in the international forum. This task was especially important because along with India, Pakistan was also a newly independent nation in the same region. Countries like the US and USSR had vested interests in aligning with either of these two nations that could potentially change the geopolitical situation in the region.
The US was not sure where to assert influence, President Truman was yet not sure if a socialist inclined statesman of India like Prime Minister Nehru would be the perfect choice for US partnerships overseas. At a time when Soviet influence was spreading, containing this military and ideological prowess of the Soviets became imperative to the US. However, the United States under the Truman administration leaned towards favouring India in the late-1940s as a consequence of most U.S. planners seeing India as more valuable diplomatically than neighbouring Pakistan. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s time in office found the US and Pakistan at further distances because of the conflict in ideology that existed. In December 1979, with the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan taking place, the US made it an imperative task to save Pakistan from the violent threats of communism which was when the CIA and ISI together ran Operation Cyclone. During Reagan’s Presidency, the Reagan Doctrine became firm support to Pakistan in their run against communists. It was not much later in 1985 when the Pressler Amendment shook Pakistan’s nuclear programme and improved the US-India relations manifold. The US in 1998 bombed Al Qaeda bases in Afghanistan where Pakistani ISI agents were also found.
Post the September 11 attacks in 2001, the US declared Pakistan as a major non-NATO ally with them in the War against Terror. Between 2002 to 2013, Pakistan received aid worth 25 billion US dollars, in form of military and economic aid. This status was short-lived as soon after Obama took office he stated that they made the mistake of “putting all their [our] eggs in one basket”.
Between the Obama-Singh duo and the Trump-Modi pal-ship, US-India relations have definitely gone from strength to strength. Under Modi, the US and India have grossed a total of $142 billion in bilateral trade and even completed what could be termed as the “phase one” of the India-US Trade Deal.
Contemporary Relations: Trump-Modi-Biden
Modi’s state visit to the US in 2016, 2017 and the Howdy Modi tour in 2019 along with Trump coming for Namaste Trump in February 2020, all showcased to the world that two populist leaders were in-charge of the majority of the affairs taking place in both the regions. These trips have collectively been powerful to show immense leadership of the two and the corresponding bonhomie of the two nations. Both of them, together, eyed China as the negative entity to world politics, they portrayed to their own citizens that China is the mutual enemy.
In 2021, Biden took over and by ideology, Biden remains against right-wing politics and has more liberal tenants to fall back on than does Modi. However, India welcomed the victory and PM Modi looks forward to stronger ties than ever between India and the US. This is particularly as difficult as balancing on a rope. Biden’s opinions towards China are much more nuanced, any shift in the US-China relations may ghastly affect the US-India relations and India’s stance in the region. On the matter of Kashmir, Biden has spoken for the free will of the people and reduced armoury in the region. More importantly, Biden has laid emphasis on value-based governance and international ties. Ever since the abrogation of Section 370, implementation of the NRC-CAA, the handling of the Rohingya refugees and even the ill-seen farm laws, the Modi administration has faced flak from many abroad, including the Indian diaspora abroad. Incidents like the long term internet suspension in Kashmir and other regions, shootings at protest gatherings and increased political prisoners are aspects that Biden may be concerned about before taking the US-India relations ahead swiftly. However, with Kamala Haaris as his Vice President and good relations with the US India Political Actions Committee that raised close to $ 10 million for the Presidential campaign, the Biden administration will be wanting favourable relations with India in the future.
India’s American Diplomatic Calculous
As mentioned before, the emphasis this time around is on value-based relations, Biden will not overlook a lot of the internal issues that the Modi administration is ensued with, in fact, there are high chances he leverages this situation to make draw Modi to terms on a lot of deals, so for example, the US-India Trade Deal. Under Biden, India must be ready to meet US diplomats on the more traditional forum of dealings, such as the trade dispute settlement mechanism of the WTO. India must also prepare a strong stance and foster its pre-existing Asian lobby on the green initiative. Modi must make India the leader of Asia at least on one global issue, lest it can be the most concerning one; climate change. On healthcare, most of the dealings that the US and India have had are based on emergency needs and arrangements outside the ordinary diplomatic protocols. In specific, the vaccine diplomacy that has been presumably mastered by India around the globe has fallen short because of the denial of raw materials for the production of the virus from the US. CEO of Serum Institute of India, Adar Poonawala tweeted to President Biden to allow these raw materials to come to India, to which the US Department of State said that the vaccines and the raw materials for making them are prioritised for the Americans first obligations. One can say that India needs to tread lightly on this matter, they cannot be seen losing their temper with the American authorities.
Above all, as Biden paves way for a new, changed and intricate foreign policy for the Americans, Indians must realize that they should approach it traditionally. The ‘natural alliance’ many have spoken about between the US and India is based on ideological tenets, those that are of the importance of democratic values, human rights, freedom of speech and freedom to protest. India has recently faced criticism on using their diplomats to save face abroad rather than garner help to beat the disastrous second wave of Covid-19, this also holds true for many efforts with regard to global dissent towards the NRC-CAA way back in August 2019. India must focus on internal matter resolution so as to face no criticisms internationally, India must stand by example in Asia as a democratic nation with the utmost respect for human rights and not let the world hold second opinions on that. The US, then, will not be able to leverage the sorry affairs of democracy in the nation.