Interpreting Trump’s not-so-subtle threat to India to do more in Afghanistan – by Rajrishi Singhal (Quartz India – August 27, 2017)

The India-US relationship has conventionally been undergirded by commonly shared democratic traditions, despite periodic upheavals. Thanks to president Donald Trump, this is likely to change soon and acquire a transactional shade based on quid pro quo, where acknowledgement is contingent on favours extended.

This was evident when Trump unveiled his long overdue strategy for Afghanistan, a nettlesome issue that’s remained unresolved through the last four presidencies to now bedevil a fifth one. Apart from his trademark bluster and rhetoric, Trump’s speech revealed two distinct strands: a deal-based approach to achieving strategic objectives, and, a marked candour that separates his speech from the studied diplomatese of past presidents.

Obviously, no speech on Afghanistan and South Asia can ignore India. But, Trump’s hat-tip to India and its critical role in maintaining regional stability has acquired a new binary, apart from a foreboding tenor: “We appreciate India’s important contributions to stability in Afghanistan, but India makes billions of dollars in trade with the United States, and we want them to help us more with Afghanistan, especially in the area of economic assistance and development.”

This is a curious statement, tethering Indo-US trade to India’s help in Afghanistan, and can be parsed in multiple ways. One, this is a clear and overt threat: cooperate or else. President Trump has been waving the trade flag in all his perorations concerning India. He has been unequivocal about seeking enhanced market access for US goods and services.

The joint press statement issued during prime minister Narendra Modi’s Washington DC visit has him saying: “It is important that barriers be removed to the export of US goods into your markets, and that we reduce our trade deficit with your country.” Indo-US trade touched $114.8 billion during 2016, with India enjoying a $30.8-billion trade surplus. It would seem Trump has made India’s trade with the US contingent upon cooperation in Afghanistan.

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