Trumping Trump’s unpredictability, makes India-US ties win-win

Given US President Donald Trump’s unpredictability, India has been well prepared to meet and match his every mood, whether on trade or on Kashmir, as the successful conclusion and outcome of Prime Minister Narendra Modis meetings with him show.

Even before his meeting with PM Modi in Osaka on the sidelines of the G20 in June, President Trump had taken to Twitter to vent irritation over India hiking its tariffs on US agricultural and industrial imports in retaliation to the US raising tariff on steel and aluminium imports from India. “Unacceptable”, said the president, demanding that the tariffs be withdrawn.

Having realised by now the US President’s unpredictability, India has been going for meetings with him well prepared, and preferring to look at the larger picture in ties rather than getting bogged down with his utterances.

In a pointer to the burgeoning trade ties and just how mutually beneficial the relationship is — India-US bilateral trade reached $142 billion in 2018, witnessing a sevenfold increase since 2001 — and is expected to jump to $500 billion in five years.

Thus, rather than taking umbrage at the president’s testy language, Indian officials have been working with their US counterparts behind the scenes to soothe over the ruffles in ties.

And it has worked. For in his meeting with PM Modi in Biarritz, France, on the sidelines of the G7, President Trump did not mention his irritation over any trade issue. Being a hugely successful businessman, the US president understands the language of buy and sell and profit well, and anything that benefits his country is always a good thing.

On Kashmir, President Trump gave India some tense moments when he said in July that he would like to mediate on the issue, and that PM Modi had suggested this to him during their Osaka meeting. India denied that PM Modi ever said such a thing and stressed that Kashmir is a bilateral matter.

India is now well prepared to tackle the US president’s unpredictable utterances. New Delhi now says just enough to convey its message, without going into any kind of quibbling over the wordings of what Trump has said, and prefers to work with US administration officials who know just how important the ties are.

Since Trump would be happy with anything that stands to benefit his country, India has already promised to buy more shale oil, with $4 billion worth of imports already in the pipeline. Indian ventures in the US are also creating jobs in the US. A CII report last year said that Indian companies have created more than 113,000 jobs in the US and invested nearly $18 billion in the country.

In the defence arena too, India has managed to soothe over US concerns over purchase of Russian S-400 Triumf missile systems. India’s defence purchases from the US, which stand at $ 18 billion since 2008, are set to rise with New Delhi lining up defence deals worth $10 billion over the next few years, which would obviously please the US president.

India has already bought C-17 and C-130J transport planes, the P-8i maritime reconnaissance aircraft, Harpoon missiles, Apache and Chinook helicopters and M777 howitzers. India is set to buy 10 more of the state-of-the-art P-8 aircraft, armed with Harpoon missiles and torpedoes, and more MH-60 Romeo helicopters and Apache attack helicopters.

These deals are beneficial to the US, and the president understands this well. So, when the two leaders met in Biarritz, there was affability in the air, and the US president voiced confidence in India’s ability to manage Kashmir, and most importantly Pakistan.

It is not just India that has been studying the US president’s moves. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan had tried his luck too during his meeting with Trump on July 22 in Washington. With his country having virtually nothing to offer in terms of business and relying heavily on US aid, Imran Khan had taken to flattery and played the Afghan card to win over the US president, and made him utter his offer to mediate on Kashmir.

Pakistan thought it was victory, and hoped to build on it. But it has come to naught.