US president Donald Trump’s visit kept India riveted to television for two days. It was Trump’s first visit to India. And since 2001 when Bill Clinton made his game-changing trip, there have been five US presidential visits to India – including the one by George W Bush – all contributing to a deepening India-US relationship. One of the salient achievements of the Trump’s visit was the signing of the $3 billion worth defence deals, including the purchase of what Trump said were the “most feared weapons”. Among the defence purchases are Apache and MH-60 Romeo Helicopters. India is procuring 24 MH-60 Romeo helicopters at a cost of $2.6 billion and six AH-64E Apache helicopters for $800 million. The focus of the two countries, US President also said, was on having a comprehensive trade deal.
Overall, the optics of the visit have been predictable. Two leaders have engaged in a show of comraderie complete with hugs, smiles and lavish praise for each other. Trump said, and perhaps rightly so, that the relations between the two countries have never been as good as they are now. Beyond the symbolism and the photo-ops of the Modi-Trump hugs and the much talked about chemistry, the growing Indo-US closeness is taking the shape of a long term strategic partnership.
Interestingly, Trump initially didn’t publicly raise Kashmir as was widely anticipated. But later during the press briefing he did bring up Kashmir, offering once again to mediate between India and Pakistan over the issue. He said if there was anything he can do about the issue, he will do. But in saying so, he showed due deference to New Delhi’s sensitivities and didn’t press the issue as strongly as he used to do.
If anything the two-day visit of Trump has signaled that India may have eventually put the fallout of its Kashmir action behind it. True, Trump has raked up Kashmir on several occasions over the past six months and made repeated pitches for mediation between India and Pakistan over the region, but it hasn’t reflected forcefully in the US policy stance towards India. And as Trump’s two day stay in the country amply demonstrated, the optics and discourse were about a deepening bonhomie between the two nations and about the defence and trade deals.
US president’s muted mention of Kashmir has been emblematic of the global reaction to withdrawal of Article 370 in August last. From hereon it appears that the world’s attention on the region is unlikely to sustain if the situation in Kashmir doesn’t change dramatically. Up until now, New Delhi has been able to largely maintain calm in the troubled UT by imposing security lockdown and communication blackout, now partially eased. In addition, the government has also arrested the major political and civil society leaders. This has made it difficult for the protests to be organized explaining, in part, why New Delhi has so far resisted the pressure from the international community to fully restore the internet in the UT. But with Trump visit turning out to be hugely successful, New Delhi should further ease the restrictions in Kashmir and give an opportunity to businesses in the region to function smoothly.