US Boots-on-the-Ground in India? Focus on Afghanistan

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US Boots-on-the-Ground in India? Focus on Afghanistan

Maj Gen SG Vombatkere

The American administration is hampered by its surrender to the Taliban (signing of a peace treaty with the Taliban in Doha, in February 2020, to allow the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan), the sudden collapse of the army Afghan trained and equipped by the United States, the US $ 2 trillion. as well as the disappearance of the 20-year investment in Afghanistan and its hasty withdrawal following the rapid capture of Kabul by the Taliban. The United States appears to be reduced to regaining its national and international “face” by striking terrorists in Afghanistan, and needs a base to do so.

The idea of ​​a staging area in India for US forces beyond the horizon was formulated during a hearing in the US Congress by Republican Mark Green asking Secretary of State Antony Blinken: “Considering the Rumors of ISI support for the Taliban, have you contacted India as a possible staging area for overseas forces? I’m talking about northwest India as a potential because we all know Qatar and Doha, the other places, are just a little too far away… Kuwait, all that. What about northwest India? And have you reached out – have you considered that? ”Blinken replied that he“ would rather take this in a different setting ”and that the US administration is“ deeply engaged ”with New Delhi.

The down-to-earth tone of Green’s question indicates that members of the United States Congress assume that India, being the United States’ subordinate strategic partner and a signatory to LEMOA and CISMOA, cannot refuse the request of the United States. United States military base.

India feared LEMOA would hire it to welcome US troops to its bases, or drag it into a military alliance with the US and undermine its traditional autonomy. Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar and his US counterpart Ashton Carter have both stressed that the agreement does not allow the establishment of US bases on Indian soil or the stationing of troops there.

However, the United States has evaluated the Indian political establishment. As evidenced by the American strategic mindset expressed by Benjamin Schwartz, former India Country Director at the Pentagon: “What is the signing of this? [LEMOA] shows that the Modi government is ready to accept and endure the short-term political criticism of signing these agreements in the longer-term interest of building the defense relationship with the United States ”.

The establishment of a military base by the United States in India will simultaneously save face, maintain its regional hegemony and establish its superiority in strategic partnership. What better place is there in “North West India” other than Kashmir or Ladakh for US military operations in Afghanistan?

Going a little beyond Benjamin Schwartz, it may even indirectly suit the policy of the ruling Indian establishment to distract from domestic issues.

Strategic consequences

Troops and military equipment located at a US military base are an attractive target for politically insane Islamists. Pakistan, the Taliban or a non-state entity like ISIS or Al-Qaeda, deliberately or mistakenly attacking a US base in Indian territory, would constitute an attack on the United States and lead to armed conflict or even war, focused on India.

With LEMOA and CISMOA signed, and BECA practically signed, the United States would expect joint US-Indian military operations to be launched from Indian soil against the attacker. The world is witnessing the launch of military action by US President George Bush in Iraq, based on unsubstantiated accusations by ADM. An attack on a US military base would certainly result in retaliation against the attacker.

If the Indian base of the United States is attacked, the Indo-American strategic partnership would at the very least lead to a scaling up of the United States military infrastructure at the base and would extend to the active participation of the United States. Indian armed forces. This would almost certainly escalate into conflict with Pakistan, which is sure of China’s diplomatic support, and the latter increasing threat levels to India along the Himalayas, to divert military attention from India. and stretch its resources. Besides the problems for the Indian military, this will have a devastating, perhaps irreversible, effect on the Indian economy, already hard hit by the pandemic on top of previous disastrous decisions.

During the 20 years of occupation of Afghanistan by the United States, its attacks on the Taliban and Al Qaeda caused enormous loss of life and property of ordinary Afghans who had no connection with the United States. terrorists. These losses have been explained as “collateral damage”, often not even recognized, or even regretted. Strikes against terrorists launched from a US base on Indian soil cannot be more accurate than US attacks launched from Bagram and other former US bases in Afghanistan. Such “collateral damage” to Afghan civilians will mar India’s relations as a major actor of peace and stability, with the Afghan public, and its diplomatic position with Afghanistan.

In addition, the US intention to strike terrorists “in and around Afghanistan” from its base in India is worrying, especially the word “around”. This could mean that US forces would unilaterally acquire targets (people, terrorist hideouts, etc.) at their discretion. India’s responsibility for attacks launched by US forces from Indian territory would be inevitable.

The lines are drawn. Senator Green spoke of rumors that the ISI is supporting the Taliban. However, news of heavy casualties among Pakistani regular troops helping the Taliban attack Panjshir, confirms Pakistan’s support regardless of its statements. Iran applauded the Taliban victory even if only because the United States was humiliated, is on the verge of full membership in the SCO with China, Russia and the Republics of Central Asia, and joint Iran-Russia-China maritime exercises are planned in the Persian Gulf.

In addition, the recent formation of AUKUS has caused great concern in China. India is already a member of the USA-Australia-Japan-India QUAD, China fears that India will become the “sixth eye” of the existing Western powers Five Eyes (United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New -Zeeland). With PM Modi joining a QUAD summit meeting in Washington on September 24 and separately meeting with US President Biden, Afghanistan will be the center of attention.

In this emerging scenario, the United States seeking a military base in India is certain. Some may think that the above is an unlikely scenario, but strategic common sense dictates that India should consider the consequences of joining a US military base in India.

Sovereignty

India is a sovereign democratic republic, with complete power and authority over its territorial and material property, independence and integrity of political and economic policy, and ownership, control and jurisdiction over all of its property. and national properties.

Beginning in 1950, Indian foreign policy sought to take advantage of India’s strategic autonomy in order to protect sovereign rights and promote national interests. However, the weakening of India’s strategic autonomy began with the New Indian Economic Policy of 1991 formulated by FM Dr. Manmohan Singh.

Armed with Article 73, Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh signed a strategic partnership agreement with the United States in 2005, without discussion in the Indian Parliament. Thus, the subordination to American foreign policy took shape under the leadership of Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, with the drafting of the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), signed in 2016 under the name LEMOA.

In June 2018, the United States called on India, then under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to reduce Iranian oil imports to “zero” by November 4, or face sanctions without waivers. This had obvious negative economic effects for India. In 2019, by continuing to submit to the US diktat, India also stopped oil imports from Venezuela for the same reason and suffered further economic losses.

India’s subordinate status in its strategic partnership with the United States is the grim reality. However, as a subordinate strategic partner of the United States, authorizing an American military base will lower India’s status to that of a vassal state of the United States. Allowing a US military base on Indian territory may well be the last nail in the coffin of India’s political sovereignty.

To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin on freedom and security, the nation that trades sovereignty for security neither deserves nor will ever receive.

Against the background of the US demand for a military base in India, it is worth emulating Prime Minister Vajpayee. In July 2003, US President George Bush asked India to send 17,000 Indian troops to assist US troops in Iraq. Although some of his cabinet colleagues are in favor of sending Indian troops, political and public opinion is intensely hostile to the proposal. Prime Minister Vajpayee refused the US request, insisting that the decision must be based on a national consensus, thereby showing his laudable respect for the people and the principles of democracy.

An American base established in India can send a message of India’s strategic subordination to the United States and its political and military powerlessness to the world. This will certainly undermine India’s aspiration for a permanent seat in the UNSC and India’s ambition to be recognized as a leading regional power.

In its attempts to contain China’s expansionist strategy, India must not fall into the trap of losing its traditional autonomy or compromising its sovereignty.

With Vajpayee-like maturity, the Sovereign Democratic Republic of India should cite the 2016 Parrikar-Carter meeting and diplomatically but unequivocally reject the US call for a military base on Indian territory.


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