New Delhi: The official policy of the Indian government is to encourage the continued US occupation of Afghanistan. This has been the policy certainly since the United States intervened in Afghanistan consequent to the 9/11 attacks. The intervention has not succeeded in such objectives as it may have. This is not really surprising since foreign powers historically have never been able to control all of Afghanistan for any length of time. Still, the US presence in Afghanistan suits Indian geopolitics because it limits the capacity of Pakistan and China to make mischief and it also prevents an Islamist takeover of the state.

So you would expect officials of the Indian government at all levels, from the prime minister down to the junior-most diplomat, to propagate the line of the indispensability of the US presence in Afghanistan for the welfare of Afghans and the essential security of the US homeland. The second part of this hard sell also happens to be true. If the United States withdraws from Afghanistan, no other power would be in a position to fill the vacuum. In the event, Afghanistan will slip out of control to become a caliphate, and the spread of Islamism from there in consequence would consume Pakistan, whose nuclear weapons would fall into terrorist hands. In the atomic nightmare that will follow, the target states in descending order of importance will be the United States in the lead, followed by Israel, India/ Iran, Russia, China, and the European Union. Staying on in Afghanistan, therefore, is of critical value to the United States, even though the toll in human and spending terms are not getting less.

In sum, this is what you would expect any Indian official to tell his American counterpart. But what do you know? Bob Woodward’s controversial new book on Donald Trump quotes him quoting Narendra Modi telling the US president just the opposite. An excerpt from Woodward’s sensational exposure of the current White House says in one place attributed to Trump that “He (Modi) told me that the US has got nothing out of Afghanistan. Nothing....” In the same line, Trump goes on to declaim, “Afghanistan has massive mineral wealth. We didn’t take it like others -- like China.” Is that Trump speaking on his own or has he taken the cue from Modi? While that may be the subject of speculation, what is clear and damaging is the sentiment that Trump attributes directly to Narendra Modi: “He (Modi) told me that the US has got nothing out of Afghanistan....” An indiscretion of this magnitude would ruin the career of a diplomat. And here is the prime minister no less whose tongue is running away with him in the presence of a hardnosed US president. How could Modi commit this blunder? How could he directly contradict India’s official policy speaking to the US president? What weight will India’s words on the necessity of the US presence in Afghanistan carry if the Indian prime minister implies it to be a wasted effort? This is as good as telling the US president to withdraw from Afghanistan when our own stakes are growing.

It is always problematic when you parachute someone with only the experience of running a minor state into the prime minister’s office. Modi’s further drawback is that he doesn’t read, possesses little intellectuality, is overconfident, lacks understanding, and is too megalomaniacal to want to learn. In engagements with Major Powers, preparation is the key. Unpreparedness is the signal feature of the Modi government. And it is not just about demonetization or a messy GST. The Indian side was totally unprepared for the two plus two dialogue. This permitted the well prepared American side not only to set the agenda by gaining COMCASA without ceding an inch on Iran or S-400, they have subsequently blindsided India by moving ahead on a new trade arrangement beneficial to the United States. If the past is a guide, the Modi government will capitulate. The Americans have discovered that the Modi government stands on hollow foundations: Threaten them and they supplicate. Add to that Modi’s garrulity and you have the makings of a national disaster. Gods knows what he told Vladimir Putin (a foxy former intelligence operative) and Xi Jinping in the flurry of summits held with them. According to official accounts, the Chinese grilled the Indian side for hours at the Wuhan summit. Having become a Major Power after an epic struggle, the Chinese are experts at waging a psychological war on their dialogue partners. The Russians and the Americans do this too. India faces a steep learning curve. But if the prime minister cannot control himself, what is left to protect or defend?

Narendra Modi is unable to distinguish geopolitics from event management. Bob Woodward says Modi wanted the first meeting with Donald Trump at Camp David but the White House made it a no-frills affair on the premises. Forget the vulgarity of seeking a Camp David meeting. The substance of a summit is critical and not where it is held. Modi privileged form over substance. The world has seen through his superficiality and the shallowness of his government. It has directly resulted in the geopolitical decline of India which is not inaccurately reflected in the unstoppable fall of the rupee.