The Indian media reported that following the 2+2 talks in Washington last week at the level of the foreign and defence secretaries of India and the US, a â€œpath-breakingâ€ decision has been firmed up to station a naval attachÃ© at the US Naval Forces Command (NAVCENT) in Bahrain.Â The Defence Ministry officials in Delhi have reportedly said that the Indian attachÃ©â€™s mandate will be to â€˜ensure that the US and Indian navies are on the same pageâ€™ and to â€˜ensure better coordination and logistic support for warships and aircraft carriers of the two countries.â€™
The NAVCENT, which comes under the US Central Command, has an area of responsibility that comprises the Red Sea, Gulf of Oman, Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea. The US Navyâ€™s Fifth Fleet based in Bahrain is in charge of naval operations in the Persian Gulf region, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The highly secretive American base at Diego Garcia deep down in the Indian Ocean provides the underpinning for the NAVCENT.
If the proposed Indian deputation to the NAVCENT takes place, the US Pacific Command and Central Command will â€˜shareâ€™ India, which would signify Indiaâ€™s growing importance to the USâ€™ global strategies. The NAVCENT is currently fighting wars in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. But then, India has nothing to do with any of these wars.
Does the US-Indian project to monitor the movement of Chinese ships in the Indian Ocean warrant such a step? Canâ€™t we keep a tab on the Gwadar naval base without an attachÃ© deployed to Bahrain? Are we contemplating force projection in the Indian Ocean?
On the other hand, this decision drips with profound symbolism and will be noted keenly by all regional states â€“ especially, Iran and Pakistan â€“ and global powers â€“ Russia and China, in particular. Indeed, the stunning part is that, sadly, our policymakers can be so myopic about the countryâ€™s geography and the dangerous security environment surrounding it.
All indications are that a major escalation of the war in Syria is imminent. Tensions are rising alarmingly, and last weekend Moscow openly warned of retaliation against US targets if it again attacked the Syrian government forces. Only two days ago, Russian Deputy Defence Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in Moscow, â€œWe have been warning the United States about the need to abandon these plans unconditionally. Any illegal use of forceâ€¦ would be an act of aggression against a sovereign state.â€
Again, there are sub-plots â€“ the US plans to balkanize Syria with the help of Kurds and Turkeyâ€™s trenchant opposition to it; the US-Israeli strategy to contain Iranâ€™s influence in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon; the NATOâ€™s intent to evict Russia from its Syrian bases and Eastern Mediterranean and so on. Furthermore, it is only the US military support that is sustaining the brutal war waged by Saudi Arabia and the UAE in Yemen. A recent op-Ed in the Washington Post co-authored by 3 senior US senators â€“ Bernie Sanders, Mike Lee and Chris Murphy says: â€œU.S. military is making the crisis (in Yemen) worse by helping one side in the conflict bomb innocent civiliansâ€¦ U.S. forces are coordinating, refueling and targeting with the Saudi-led coalition, as confirmed last December by Defence Secretary Jim Mattis.â€
Above all, what India needs to be most vigilant about is the real possibility of a US-Iranian confrontation as a near-term scenario. The appointment of John Bolton as the new US National Security Advisor is indeed ominous. (Read an analysis by the well-known investigative journalist and author Gareth Porter in the American Conservative entitledÂ The Untold Story of John Boltonâ€™s Campaign for War With Iran, here.)
OurÂ faujisÂ are besotted with Uncle Sam. For the lucky bloke who gets the slot in Bahrain it may be an attractive â€˜phoren postingâ€™, but for India what does it add up to? India will be foolish to get entangled in the USâ€™ military adventures. It simply wonâ€™t cut ice to say our chap will remain single-mindedly focused on the movement of Chinese ships.
Politics is largely a matter of perceptions. India gains nothing by displaying a working relationship with the US Central Command when the gathering storms on the horizon are already visible to the naked eye. The prudent thing will be to begin preparations to sequester our country from collateral damage when the tsunami actually arrives. Only fools rush in where angels fear to tread.