With its strategic position in the Indian Ocean, India has a vital role in America’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, writes Lt Gen P. C. Katoch (retd.) for South Asia Monitor
India’s deal with Russia for import of crude oil invited rude remarks from White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki who said that India's move to purchase Russian oil at discounted price would put the world's largest democracy on the “wrong side of history”. Psaki would not dare to say the same for Germany and France but her comments against India were unwarranted because the much-hyped embargo on Russian crude oil and gas proclaimed by US President Joe Biden has only affected operationalization of Nord Stream 2.
The 27-country EU bloc including Germany, France, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland and Turkey in addition to China and Bulgaria continue to import Russian crude though Biden expects Western nations to move away from Russia. This has not happened because Saudi Arabia and the UAE refused the US pressure to increase oil output despite US delegations visiting them and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visiting Saudi Arabia as Biden’s emissary. Leaders of both nations also did not take Biden’s call.
Therefore, the US has had to fall back on Iran and Venezuela, both of which have been under US sanctions for the past several years. This was bound to happen with the US-NATO using the Middle East as a doormat for decades.
Washington’s actions to perpetuate conflict in Ukraine is bound to change the dynamics of the Middle East, with only Qatar siding with it because it continues to be the conduit for American funding of terrorist organizations besides representing Washington in Afghanistan. Interestingly, Thierry Mariani, a French Member of the European Parliament, recently said that after the victory of President Bashir Assad in the war, more countries have restored ties with Syria, and if France wants to preserve its role in this region, it must do the same.
The amusing part is similar pressure on India coming from Britain, which after Brexit is reduced to an appendage of the US. UK Trade Minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan said Britain is “very disappointed” with India’s stance on Ukraine and its decision to buy Russian oil but “we continue to work with Indian partners and hope their view will change”.
Dale Campbell-Savours of the Labour Party said in the House of Lords: “China and India lead the world in vaccine supply. At the same time, both remain reluctant to support us over certain areas of dispute and crisis in foreign policy. Alarm bells should be ringing.” UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss says she has spoken to Indian Foreign Minister S Jaishankar and “encouraged India to stand against Russia”.
The trouble with the British is that they continue hallucinating in the haze of erstwhile imperialism, having looted $45 trillion wealth from India. UK’s gross debt was £2,223.0 billion at the end of the financial year ending in March 2021 and was equivalent to 103.6 percent of its GDP. This is one reason the UK is seeking an FTA with India. Now that the West is desperate for Iranian oil, Britain has repaid the “decades-old” $530 million debt to Iran to improve the prospects of reviving the JCPOA.
According to reports, the US is considering removing Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from its blacklist. This is after General Qasem Soleimani, the Quds Force Commander, was assassinated on January 3, 2020 in a US drone strike outside the Baghdad International Airport when he was on his way to meet the Iraqi Prime Minister. Nations cannot be used and thrown around like cheap Chinese products. The earlier Washington understands this, the better it will be for the US. Otherwise, they will continue to reap as they sow.
Now Iran has offered oil to India. India must take on this offer straight away without waiting for a final resolution of the Iran nuclear deal and the US rejoining it. The US and UK can bellyache as much as they want but there is no reason for them to do so when they themselves are begging around from Iran and Venezuela who are still under US sanctions.
This also highlights the stupidity of sanctions, which needlessly affects economies of other nations – including India which otherwise shares a strategic partnership with the US and has been accorded the status of a non-NATO ally.
The India-US 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue is slated in early April and the next Quad summit is also to be hosted in Japan during May or June. With its strategic position in the Indian Ocean, India has a vital role in America’s Indo-Pacific Strategy.
Dealing with US
The US has hinted that something “unprecedented” will be discussed at the 2+2 Dialogue. What that unprecedented surprise will be only time will tell – some sort of assistance under aggression (like Ukraine!) or possible Indian participation in a UN mission in Ukraine. These are issues to be decided by the Indian government. The US must intimate how long Washington intends to stoke the fires in Ukraine because that would decide the future course of India’s foreign policy.
Most importantly, India must tell the US to stop dictating who to trade with as the world is too big for kowtowing to any global autocracy. India should also look at a future bilateral trade deal with the US on a rupee-dollar basis, not dollars alone.
(The author is an Indian Army veteran. Views are personal.)