Jaishankar’s dogfight with the US on Pakistan’s F16 fleet upgrade
When a scholarly, soft-spoken retired diplomat resorts to hard talk, it makes you sit up and take notice.
When a scholarly, soft-spoken retired diplomat resorts to hard talk, it makes you sit up and take notice. For the past few months, foreign minister S Jaishankar has been delivering punchlines in a matter-of-fact tone, taking a tilt at aggressive rivals and pesky allies with candour. The latest is his ripping of America’s $450 million security assistance camouflage of fighting terror for Pakistan’s F16 fleet, saying the aid fools nobody. It’s common knowledge that the F16s have nothing to do with combating terror.
During India’s 2019 Balakot strike on a terror target deep within the line of control, Pakistan had scrambled F16s, among others. It lost one of them in a missile lock from Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman’s MiG 21 Bison. The Biden administration reviving its defence cooperation with Pakistan years after the Trump regime froze it is a thinly disguised affront to India’s neutrality in the Russian invasion of Ukraine. That Jaishankar’s blunt talk came days before he held one-on-one meetings with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin showed the bilateral relationship has matured to accommodate such asides.
On Tuesday, he fobbed off a question on India’s democracy, saying the country does not believe other nations should decide its quality. He had in the past hit back at the annual US report on global human rights violations, showing it the mirror instead of its domestic rights record. That level of comfort with the US is decidedly missing in India’s ties with China.
For example, New Delhi took a long time to issue a nuanced statement on Taiwan in the context of Pelosi’s rabble-rousing visit, advising restraint and avoiding unilateral action to change the status quo while taking an ambiguous position on the prickly One-China policy. Earlier, Europe’s gyaan on sanctions against Russia when it had a built-in workaround for energy dependence got in Jaishankar’s hair drawing a sharp riposte a few months ago. In remarks dripping with sarcasm, he observed that Europe had to grow out of the mindset that its problems are the world’s problems. The diplomat-turned-neta seems to be in his element as he pushes back on non-alignment and India’s supreme national interest as also the problems of the Global South. It reflects Prime Minister Modi’s trust in him to nurture the country’s growing stature abroad, despite detractors within his party.