New Delhi: Wisely, nearly fifteen years ago, the Prime Minister of the time, Atal Behari Vajpayee, sent a message to Pakistan to settle the disputes with India failing which an inimical foreign power would intervene to the disadvantage of both nations. Vajpayee was cautioning Pakistan in the aftermath of the United States’ intervention in Iraq. For weeks by then, Vajpayee was resisting President George W. Bush’s pressure to deploy the Indian Army in Iraq. Bush offered Iraqi reconstruction subcontracts to Indian companies but Vajpayee clearly saw the danger of going with the Americans in Iraq. Being a deep and seasoned politician, Vajpayee worked the lines with the Opposition to create a clamour against Indian troops’ deployment in Iraq, which is how the country was saved the ignominy of another disastrous foreign adventure after Sri Lanka. Pakistan, of course, did not heed Vajpayee’s wise words, and indeed doubled down on seeking US mediation on the Kashmir dispute.

For all of Vajpayee’s portrayal of the United States as India’s “natural ally”, he understood that the truth was more complex and rather at variance with his own rhetoric. Being of a creative disposition, Vajpayee was naturally adept in balancing contradictory beliefs and postures. Having also seen the Cold War from close quarters, he was wary of the Great Powers and their games, a sentiment he perhaps imbued from Jawaharlal Nehru, and he most certainly did not care to become a pawn of one Great Power or the other. Indira Gandhi also shared this belief. It was this historical background that led to Vajpayee’s appeal to Pakistan, but it received no reciprocation.

Vajpayee’s foresight and intuition are of course missing in his National Democratic Alliance successor, Narendra Modi, who is at best a showy tactician. And where Bush backed off at the signs of Vajpayee’s acute discomfiture in deploying in Iraq, his Conservative Party successor, Donald Trump, is not one who takes no for an answer. While the subject of India’s enhanced contributions to Afghan peace were not substantively discussed in the Trump-Modi meeting some days ago, it is a matter that is obviously uppermost in the consciousness of the United States establishment. The Congress, through the Senate and the House, has tasked the Pentagon to suggest measures and schemes for Indian assistance in Afghanistan. Going by the manifest purposefulness of the US establishment, it should not be satisfied with token Indian financial and humanitarian contributions.

It is clear from Donald Trump’s foreign dealings such as they are that he is less interested in a peaceful international order than in propelling ahead the American military-industrial complex to vast and obscene profits. From the frightened Saudis, he has extracted billions for arms to protect against Iran. It is the same story with India (against Pakistan and China) and with Taiwan (against China). Ditto for South Korea and Japan. In the meanwhile, the US’s NATO allies have been warned of a reduction in US cover unless they pay up their defence contributions in full, which will presumably be routed to the selfsame American military industrial complex. All in all, Trump is upending US role in preserving international peace and order since the end of World War II, and there is little anyone can do about it.

This writer’s current concern is about India and the imminent US demands on Afghanistan. In the midst of hostilities and tensions on three fronts, namely the Chinese, Pakistani and internal Kashmir fronts, India can take on no additional military responsibilities in Afghanistan. There is also a huge financial burden that these new troubles impose leaving India with less to contribute to Afghan peace and stability. Would Trump be sympathetic to India’s situation? Not in the least. If America ever had a transactional President in this century, it is Trump. If India says no to troops’ contributions as it must, he will blithely turn to Pakistan and China. China will quietly transfer the matter to Pakistan, which will happily oblige Trump. Indeed, this is what Pakistan and the ISI seek, because it resurrects their dream to gain strategic depth in Afghanistan against India. Donald Trump is no one’s friend or ally, and he has very perverse notions of how to make America great again. He will surely sink it in the process.

Bigger than Trump, India’s problem is Narendra Modi, who does not have a fraction of Vajpayee’s insights and strategic vision. While smarting from the Trump administration’s show of favour for mediation on Kashmir, Modi indirectly encourages it by having the US blacklist a Kashmiri militant leader for militant activities in “Indian-administered Kashmir”. How clever is that? Vajpayee’s political legatee would be sensible to play off Kashmiris against Pakistanis. But in one stroke, Modi clubs Syed Salahuddin with the likes of Pakistani terrorist leaders like Masood Azhar and Hafiz Sayeed. The distinction of Kashmiri insurgency and Pakistani terrorism has been always important to keep, because insurgencies can be turned around, as India successfully has in most of the North East. But such nuanced understanding of armed struggles is beyond this government.

These miscues could have been repaired over time with a stable international order. But under Donald Trump, the world has entered an era of great and nerve-wracking uncertainty. Trump is a narcissist who is determined to turn America to his image. If he does not have his way, he will impose penalties. He does not know right from wrong. Narendra Modi forgot Vajpayee’s cautionary words of meddling outside powers when he sought Trump’s intercession against Pakistani terrorism. Trump will now demand his pound of flesh. Sooner than later, he will demand a stake in Kashmir. And he will insist that India shoulder the military burden in Afghanistan. Narendra Modi is going to need all the goodwill of the Opposition to save the situation. Politics, he will soon realize, is not event management.