The US president’s sojourn to India has ended with a few firsts. Surprisingly, Donald Trump stuck to the teleprompter (and that’s a big deal). He also failed to embarrass his hosts, a far cry from the sight of Trump berating European allies on their soil. The visit had a symbolic value for the growing Indo-US strategic and commercial relationship, even as the much-touted trade deal did not materialize.
It was also surprising to witness the specter of communal violence in the Indian capital right during Trump’s high-profile visit. Many are wondering why Indian rulers allowed the killings to take place, leading major global news networks to cover this tragedy alongside the main show. This undermined Modi’s pageantry for Trump, but it also highlighted the decline of America’s moral leadership under Trump.
Not caring at all about the Delhi violence while the leader of the free world was in town was perhaps Modi’s way of telling other world leaders to stop lecturing him over human rights and sectarian harmony. Be that as it may, such violent mobs and arrogant leadership will affect India’s soft power in the West, which is already showing fatigue with the BJP government’s actions in Kashmir and in mainland India.
Another surprise coming out of Delhi was Trump’s favorable statements on Pakistan while standing on Indian soil. Those statements didn’t seem entirely off-script, as the US has softened its stance on Pakistan. These are delicate days, and the US establishment may want to maintain a balance in its ties with India and Pakistan, as the latter is set to broker a breakthrough towards peace in Afghanistan.
In the end, Trump gave both sides something to cheer about and went home with a $3 billion defense deal. While Pakistan is casting Trump’s remarks as a “diplomatic win,” India can point towards the US-India joint-statement that mentions Pakistan by name and asks it to do more on alleged cross-border terrorism.
However, it appears that India’s anti-Pakistan narrative has lost its sheen in the year since the two countries engaged in aerial combat. Through some shrewd maneuvering of limited leverage, Pakistan has been able to neutralize American belligerence to a large extent. India, on the other hand, has soured the West’s opinion, as Modi went about locking down Kashmir and pushed Muslims against the wall.
The war of narratives has ebbed and flowed, but the reality is that the Indo-Pak bilateral is mired in adversarial stalemate. The two neighbors are not at the brink of a war, but nor are there any conditions present for peace to break out in the foreseeable future. Trump’s mediation talk, in his parley, has turned out to be a “big fat hoax”. It is up to the two countries to sit down and sort through their differences.