From scholarships and training programmes for officers to promises of Green Cards and jobs for family members, America is doing whatever it takes to build a lobby for itself in India.
The loquacious charm employed by United States President Barack Obama during his India trip is merely one of the many force multipliers exercised by an economically beleaguered Washington seeking to sell New Delhi varied military equipment for billions of dollars, and affirming bilateral strategic ties as a hedge against a resurgent China.
The other more protracted and consequently effective inducements are the raft of scholarships to American universities handed out to the offspring of top Indian politicians, civil servants and defence and intelligence officers, and the patronage extended to Service officers under the long established Military Education and Training (IMET) programme.
So blatant, widespread and generous is Washington's largesse to the students — facilitating and financing, as it does, their pursuit of eclectic disciplines like the liberal arts, English literature and, even, art and history in leading U.S. institutions — that it is worth asking to what extent Indian policy on a range of issues of interest to America remains ‘hostage' to the children of a growing number of Delhi's powerful decision-makers. The scholarship recipients' list is embarrassingly revelatory.
It is also not unknown for senior Indian intelligence, security and military officials travelling to Washington to negotiate sensitive bilateral issues and agreements to ask their obliging hosts, who by now have a measure of their Delhi counterparts, for favours like Green Cards, extension of student visas and even employment prospects for their brood in the U.S.
Needless to say, negotiations the following morning become significantly compromised by the promises of the night before.
Leading Indian journalists too have been asked to write their own itinerary on either whistle stop lecture tours of U.S. universities and think tanks — all paid for, of course, or alternately to opt for study curricula which were fully facilitated. Many have been known to frequently avail themselves of this bounty by a patron that does not believe in free lunches and admits as much.
The IMET programme under which Washington organises visits to the U.S. and training courses for Indian military personnel inside it for periods varying from a few weeks to several months or more is yet another subtle effective force multiplier with regard to Delhi's materiel procurement decisions.
As the U.S. State Department clearly enunciates on its website, the IMET programme is an “instrument of national security and foreign policy and a key component of U.S. security assistance to personnel from allied and friendly nations,” a euphemism for trying to profitably expand American areas of influence and win over important friends who can influence lucrative decisions.
In essence, the IMET, whose estimated allocation for India was $1.2 million in 2010, allows its personnel to attend courses from the 2000 offered annually at some 150 U.S. military schools, receive observer or on-the-job training in addition to orientation tours.
In comparison, Pakistan's IMET allocation has more than doubled from $2.03 million in 2006 to $5 million in 2010. It is, of course, no secret that till the Soviet army's ignominious retreat from Afghanistan in 1989, the U.S. defence and security establishment liberally patronised top Pakistani generals to the extent that even before the omnipotent corps commanders' periodic conferences ended, their minutes were faxed to the American embassy.
It took the U.S. a lot more effort and money before a similar modus vivendi was secured after it returned to the region in 2001 after 9/11. It had to pay the price of abandonment when it abruptly upped and left Pakistan in 1990, having ensured Moscow's military humiliation in Afghanistan that triggered the eventual disintegration of the Soviet Union.
Under the IMET, ‘fast track' mid-level Indian military officers — almost certain to reach higher rank and hence decision-making positions and selected by the three Services — are provided a wide exposure to the U.S. military and its thinking. In many instances, their tactical and strategic opinions, based on their operational experiences, were avidly sought by senior American officers — an ego massaging indulgence they were rarely, if at all, accorded by their superiors back home and one which eventually in many instances does reportedly translate into influencing important military procurements the U.S.' way. In short, Washington's patronage extended to the Pakistani and other militaries around the world is now being avidly extended to India.
But as far as the Indian military and the throng of strategic thinkers is concerned, the U.S. is preaching to the converted. Two analyses — “Indo-U.S. military relationship: Expectations and Perceptions,” sponsored by the Director, Net Assessment from the Office of the Secretary of Defense and executed by private consultants Booz, Allen, Hamilton first in 2002 and then again in November 2008 indicate the growing proximity between the two defence establishments.
The initial 130-page report, produced after interviewing 82 senior American and Indian officials, largely serving and retired military personnel, views the strategic relationship with India as a “hedge” against losing out significant allies such as Japan and South Korea. American interviewees argued that with India as a strategic partner, the future Asian environment might be less threatening and more easily managed.
In the document, the U.S. acknowledges the Indian Navy as a “stabilising force” in the Indian Ocean Region and wants a closer working relationship with it as it straddles the strongest area of strategic convergence — sea lane protection. According to senior, unnamed U.S. officials, naval cooperation is perhaps one of the more promising and “non-threatening” areas of service-to-service cooperation for the U.S. and India. Naval cooperation can occur without causing political anxieties in India as American officials maintain that the U.S. Navy leaves no ‘footprints' in the country, the report declares.
The analysis also envisages India as capable of providing new training opportunities and ultimately “basing [facilities] and access for U.S. power projection.” India has already allowed the U.S. army admittance to its counter insurgency jungle warfare school at Virangte in the northeast but is still considering opening up the High Altitude Warfare School (HAWS) at Gulmarg to American soldiers.
But despite disallowing the U.S. access to HAWS, its Special Forces (SF) conducted high altitude exercises in Ladakh in September 2003 with the Indian SF to augment “inter-operability” between the two armies. These exercises, conducted a year after similar manoeuvres at Agra, marked the first time India permitted foreign troops into the geographically strategic region. Force multipliers invested in a few years earlier seemed to be paying off.
The follow-on “U.S.-India Defense Relationship: Reassessing perceptions and expectations” paper of November 2008, for which 51 American and 45 Indian serving and retired government and military officers and analysts and strategic thinkers were interviewed, largely reinforced the findings of the earlier analysis. The major difference, however, was that symbiotic military and strategic ties had significantly improved, underpinned by impressive materiel sales, joint manoeuvres and reciprocal visits by senior officials and military personnel exchanges. Patronage once again has delivered dividends.
(Rahul Bedi is New Delhi-based defence analyst.)