CAATSA

Importance of being Jaishankar: Only behind Modi-Shah duo

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Not Rajnath Singh. No Nitin Gadkari. India’s third most powerful minister in the present dispensation—besides the obvious duo of Modi-Shah—is Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, a career-diplomat turned foreign minister.

When the troublesome duo of China-Pakistan are breathing down India’s neck on its two flanks and Donald Trump is baring his fangs in United States, India is hot under its collar and Jaishankar has been put on the burning deck.

On the face of it, everything looks cool: India has had a serious of significant ticks in international arena, be it tacit approval on its Balakot strike or getting the world behind to outlaw dreaded terrorist Masood Azhar. Significant alliances have emerged in the Muslim world even as Israel is now a very strategic critical ally. Respect for Modi could only grow now that he has been re-elected with a stunning majority in 2019 General Elections.

But trouble is at the door with Donald Trump’s United States determined to punish India over its buying of S400 missiles defence system from Russia. Already, India has lost the tariff benefits which US accords to less-developed countries under the Generalised  System of Preferences (GSP). The Trump administration had held off only because the 2019 General Polls were on in India. But now that it’s over, the $5.6 billion export that India enjoyed against the United States in 2017, would no longer be possible.

Trump is equally determined against India’s buying of S400 missile-defence system from Russia and a spokesman for the US administration has made no bones about it. India was warned on Friday that if it bought $5 billion worth of S400 missiles from Russia, it would have serious repercussions in terms of defence deals with United States.

United States has a policy for the world where countries, howsoever friendly, would be slapped with sanctions if they fostered ties with their adversaries, in this case Russia. The policy is called Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

Iran is another prickly issue. Trump had given a waiver to India from November to May to buy crude oil from Iran despite the sanctions it has in place against the orthodox Shia nation. But any further extension is completely ruled out.

As reports emerged that India was looking at ways to beat around the sanctions and continue its oil imports from Iran, US has made its position clear: “There will be no more oil waivers granted.” This would push up India’s oil import bills as  Iran used to supply 10 per cent of India’s needs. If US withdraws from Afghanistan, Pakistan would acquire further muscle in its intervention in Kashmir.

India’s troubled borders on its east and west make both China and Pakistan as perpetual adversary and frictions are never far off.

Modi didn’t invite Pakistan in his oath ceremony this week and the latter responded by firing a nuclear-capable Chinese-designed intermediate-range ballistic missile to serve a warning. India too flexed its muscle when just before the 2019 polls, it launched a missile to “destruct” one of its own satellites, becoming only the fourth power after United States, Russia and China to shoot down an object in space.

It’s clear that Jaishankar would’ve his hands full but if there is one person more competent with a better track record than the former foreign secretary, he or she is yet to be seen in India’s diplomatic circles. Over his long tenure, and significant stints in Russia, United States and China, among others, he has acquired a formidable network, his phonebook being the envy of most diplomats.

He was India’s foreign secretary till the last year and his understanding of India’s personnel or policy is unlikely to catch him unawares. He knows the system pretty well.

Jaishankar has worked around different governments but it’s under Modi that his stock has risen up. As India’s envoy to China, he first impressed the present Prime Minister when the latter was visiting China as Gujarat chief minister in 2011. He was there when Modi made his first “rockstar” visit to United States on his election to PM’s office in 2014. Modi promoted him as foreign secretary in 2015. His framework on foreign policy greatly helped his successor Vijay Gokhale as Doklam and Balakot occurred.

Jaishankar is known to be a very hard negotiator. Together with Modi and Amit Shah, he can cut through the government flab. The near future is tough for India but the nation can’t have better men than Modi-Shah-Jaishankar to steer its course. In Hindu pantheon of Gods the trinity of Brahma (creator), Vishnu (preserver) and Mahesh (destroyer) reign supreme. In Modi, Jaishankar and Amit Shah these are today’s political equivalent.

Modi finds his nerves tested by US on Iran

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

United States wants India to cut down its oil imports from Iran which stands as its third biggest supplier after Iraq and Saudi Arabia. President Donald Trump has followed his pre-election promise with withdrawal from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan for Action (JCPOA) which had enabled China, Russia, France, Germany UK, European Union and the US itself to dilute the economic sanctions against Tehran. Now the sanctions are back in place with the deadline of November 6, 2018 and the world is in turmoil, no less India.

The Trump administration has chosen a new way to browbeat the countries which don’t fall in line. Last August, it introduced CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) to scare those away from trade relations with “hostile” countries such as Russia, North Korea and Iran. International banks and companies which defy the sanctions would bear the brunt. Less oil imports from Iran would hike up the prices and import bills, not just of India but of many around the world. It would hit both inflation and Indian rupee. Since US dominates the re-insurance and payment gateways, bypassing them is difficult.

India’s dilemma is apparent. Before 2005, it paid $12-14 billion annually to oil bills by Iran. But signing the 2005 Indo-US Nuclear Civil Deal, gave New Delhi’s leash in US hands. India voted against Iran in the IAEA General Conference in September the very year; dithered on the Iran-Pakistan-India Pipeline and sounded the death knell of Turkmenistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project. By 2014, India had reduced the Iranian oil imports to $4 billion annually.

The US treasury methodically shut down the banking options for India who then began paying Turkey by cash which then converted it to gold bars and sent it across to Tehran. India was in no position to pay oil bills in US dollars. India did try the balancing act: while Reserve Bank of India (RBI) ceased dealing with Tehran-based Asian Clearing Union in 2010, it came to an understanding with Iran to pay half of its bill in Indian rupees in 2012.

But once the JCPOA came into being, India-Iran trade relations grew back to 2012 days. India also decided to pay out $6.5 billion it owed to Iran, held up due to sanctions. Modi government renewed the stalled Chahbahar port project. Its’ ministers made a beeline to Tehran with promises of oil and infrastructural projects. Iran obliged on its part by granting Oil and Natural Gas Commission (ONGC) the gas fields of Farzad B for exploration. The air of optimism only grew better when Iranian president Hassan Rouhani visited New Delhi this February with his oil minister Bijan Zanganeh. India pledged it would double its oil imports from Iran in 2018-2019. Iran, on its part, promised to cut down the freight by $1 per barrel. India pledged to increase import by 500,000 barrels a day.

But now comes the fresh US imposition. Even though foreign minister Sushma Swaraj has reiterated India would only abide by the mandates sanctioned by the United Nations (UN), it’s easier said than done. India and US have a booming trade of $140 billion which could take a grave hit, as well as around $31 billion of bilateral trade surplus advantage India has. Chahbahar port project, which could save millions in trade and increase Afghanistan’s tilt towards India, stands to lose steam. Besides, it just would give a bigger fillip to China to snug closer to Iran, shutting the doors on India.

India would be encouraged by the stand of UK, France, Germany who have expressed “regret and concern over Trump’s disruptive action. The Modi government meanwhile has started to flex its own muscles: in reaction to US postponing the 2+2 dialogue, India has declined US’ offer to host Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. India also seems steadfast in increasing its military deals with Russia which faces similar offensive sanctions from United States.

The one fall-out of all this, including trade barriers ratcheted up by both US and India, is Modi government swinging back appreciably into the China-Russia zone. India has this strategic advantage where countries are looking to wow India rather than the other way around. However, India-US relations for the moment are several notches down than they have ever been since Trump came to power.

India going ahead with S-400 missiles from Russia

(This has also been published in NewsBred).

India doesn’t intend to scuttle its plans to buy S-400 Triumf from Russia despite the spectre of US sanctions.

The visit of India’s defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman to Moscow last month was a firm indication of India’s resolve to ignore CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) which Donald Trump’s regime had invoked last year on Russia for its alleged interference in 2016 US elections.

India has always relied on Russia for its military hardware and technology which remains undiminished despite Modi government’s increased military reliance on United States. Presently, it imports 62 per cent of its military needs from Moscow.

US is adviced to go easy on India in case the deal materialized for one, it’s a bulwark against China in the Pacific Ocean; (2) It’s world’s largest arms importer benefiting US directly; (3) It could push India into the arms of China and Russia and thus completely neutralizing influence of US in Asia.

New Delhi had expressed its caginess against US sanctions during a visit of foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale to US recently.

The S-400 anti-air missiles have been billed as US F-35 killers by Moscow. During the cruise missile strikes by US, French and British army on suspected Syrian chemical weapon sites recently, it was noticeable they avoided areas protected by S-400 systems.

Russia has already begun delivering S-400 missiles to China; Turkey has a $2.5 billion deal to purchase S-400s from Russia. Iraq has expressed its interest too rather than US Patriot surface-to-air missile defence system which was dubbed a failure to protect Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh against the missiles launched by Houthi rebels in Yemen.

S-400 is one of world’s best interceptor-based missile defense system. It has an estimated operational range of 400 kilometres and an altitude of up to 185 kilometres. It could intercept missile warheads in their terminal stage.

India is expected to announce the purchasing of S-400 missiles from Russia when the leaders of the two country, Narendra Modi and Vladimir Putin, hold a bilateral summit in October this year.