The US has been “relentlessly” engaged with India on Ukraine; it has sought to persuade New Delhi to take a clear position opposing Russia’s aggression at the highest levels in a “pitch battle”; and it has flagged the “Russia-China nexus,” at a time when China has continued to engage in provocative actions against India, in a bid to align India’s position with the rest of the world, a top US administration official told senators at a hearing
As senators expressed their displeasure with India’s vote in the UN Security Council on Ukraine, Donald Lu, assistant secretary of State for South and Central Asia, said that Washington has noticed an evolution in India’s position on the issue in the last week, has observed India’s effort to reduce reliance on Russia for defence equipment in the last decade, and believes that the killing of an Indian student in Ukraine is swaying public opinion in the country.
“I’d want to talk about a pitch war that we’ve been having.” Secretary (Antony) Blinken has been at the forefront of the fight. For months, the president and other senior State Department officials have been conducting very serious high-level engagement with our Indian colleagues, culminating in the last week. “We can already observe some changes in India’s public positions,” Lu remarked.
The US official cited India’s provision of humanitarian aid to Ukraine at the request of the Ukrainian government, as well as India’s references to international law, the UN Charter, and respect for states’ territorial integrity and sovereignty in its UN statement.
When Senators pressed Lu on the grounds for India’s stance, Lu cited the presence of Indian students in Ukraine and Delhi’s signal to Washington that it wished to keep the diplomatic door open in the hopes of finding a solution.
When asked if the current situation would influence the administration’s decision on whether or not sanctions should be imposed on India for its acquisition of S-400 missile systems, Lu said he would not prejudge the President’s or Secretary Blinken’s decision, but stressed that India was a critical security partner and that the US was carefully examining whether the defence technology it shared with India could be adequately safeguarded.
Complications between India and China
Lu added that China continues to engage in provocative behaviour against India, referring to making a regimental commander involved in the Galwan battle a torchbearer in the Olympics, publishing maps that contain area in the “Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh,” and renaming Indian cities.
Lu responded to criticism that the current administration had “deprioritized” the security element of the Quad and diluted its focus on China, saying that as someone who had sat in on every session of the recent Quad ministerial meet in Melbourne, he knew that countering China remained a key focus of the grouping, through cooperation in defence, security, and even Covid-19 vaccines.
He also discussed the prospect of expanding Quad to include nations like Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore at the working group level.
India’s democracy and Kashmir
On Kashmir, the US official said that some promises had been kept and that others had not, citing Delhi’s outreach to Kashmiri politicians, visits by cabinet ministers, and the restoration of 4G service, but also noting that India had yet to hold elections in Kashmir and that journalists had been detained.
While terror groups continued to operate in Pakistan and the terror infrastructure had yet to be dismantled, Lu said that cross-border insurgency had plummeted in the last two years, with Pakistan’s army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, taking responsibility for this in a meeting with Lu.
On the condition of Indian democracy, Lu said the US was keeping an eye on claims of discrimination against Muslim minorities and a crackdown on free expression, but lauded the country’s electoral democracy, pointing to the current round of state elections.
According to him, Prime Minister Narendra Modi still has a lot of support at home, and the Congress is still trying to figure out who it wants to be in terms of leadership and message.