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Narendra Modi-Donald Trump meet: Why are we so easily pleased with sweet nothings

Nothing that was said at the meeting between President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi came with a timeline. Labels like ‘expeditiously’ or ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with reference to fighting terror or bringing perpetrators to justice are scarcely going to make the assorted nasties quake in their shoes.

The severe warning to Pakistan about ‘adhering to principles’ when it comes to the rule of law without a specific mention of Kulbhushan Jadhav is a dud bullet and one cannot see either Pakistan army chief General Qamar Bajwa or Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif getting too anxious about this ‘pressure’.

Also, the warning to those promoting cross-border terrorism had no spunk in it, almost a mild ‘naughty boy’ admonishment that wouldn’t scare off a third grader, let alone a nation that has allowed 600 camps to operate on the Line of Control (LoC).

All this has been said before and none of it called for a high-profile trip such as this. These were all penny ante bromides and could have been skyped and dealt with. In fact, media on both sides was hard-placed to dredge for a peg to hang the story on and finally had to settle for cheerful and largely flaccid verbs and adjectives centred on the cordial and historical ties and other such fluff.

So, what was it all about? There had to be something more than all this meaningless rhetoric, which makes one suspect the end-of-the-trip statement of intent was a smoke and mirror deflection.

Now, if there was an off-the-record reason or reasons that we are not privy to and they referred to either major military hardware or the strategic positioning of a combined force in the Asian-Pacific region to balance out the Chinese blue water presence, we are getting somewhere.

Beijing’s expansion of influence in Africa with the added common concern over North Korea’s plots and plans are a serious and urgent matter. Modi is a canny card player and he seldom shows his hand, using sleight in that limb to divert the eyes of the masses while he manoeuvres his chess pieces. You don’t travel all the way to the US to play chums or tell an Indian-born business congregation that your government hasn’t had one ‘dhubba’ (stain) of corruption in its three years.

The reason why there has to be more muscle in the discussion on these two issues is that India and the US actually do have the same anxiety over Chinese aggression. If you notice, China has objected to India’s move to create an air corridor to Afghanistan sans Pakistan, labelling it an example of ‘stubborn geopolitical thinking.’

If that be so and the two largest democracies are getting on the same page to create a new power equation, that makes sense.

Diego Garcia, that contentious island in the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean, could well be at the epicentre of this fresh friendship. Britain had leased the island to the US to create a military base for fifty years in 1966 by expelling all the residents who lived there. That lease expired and was renewed recently till 2036. Mauritius claims the 60-island-cluster as its own and just two weeks ago, both Britain and the US wanted India to step in and mediate a calming of the waters with Port Louis.

Britain’s flag over the islands is tenuous at best (even less than its hold on the Falklands) and continues more out a casual tolerance by India who could simply link up with Mauritius and take it over in a day and then renegotiate with the US for a combined naval presence smack right dab in the middle of the Indian Ocean. This is not a new concept and has been on the back burner for some time.

Time will soon tell if this meet in Washington was to generate a fresh wind for our navy and allow it to rule its waves or simply waffle that has no carry forward to Hamburg when the American president and the Indian prime minister attend the G20 in less than ten days’ time.

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