Modi's Visit to the U.S. Comes at a Critical Juncture | Opinion

Next week, alongside the United Nations General Assembly opening session, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will have his first in-person meeting with President Joe Biden. He is also scheduled to meet with Vice President Kamala Harris.

These meetings will arguably be the most important ones that Biden and Harris will have during next week's marathon of meetings with world leaders gathered in New York. Their greatest challenge will be to demonstrate that the U.S. is a credible ally to India. This is no menial task. Aside from the Afghan people themselves, India is arguably the greatest casualty of Biden's catastrophic surrender of Afghanistan to the Taliban.

Although India did not deploy soldiers to fight in the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, it equipped and trained the Afghan army and police. India also supplied the U.S.-backed Afghan government with some $3 billion in civilian aid, making it Afghanistan's largest provider of civilian aid. India was the first country to recall its diplomatic personnel from Afghanistan after the Taliban surrounded Kabul.

India had good reason to work toward the success of the U.S.-backed Afghan government. The Taliban, which the Afghan army fought alongside U.S. and coalition forces, are an extension of Pakistan's all-powerful ISI intelligence arm.

Under the Taliban in the 1990s, Afghanistan was the base from which Pakistani-sponsored terror groups waged their terror war against India. For instance, the 1999 hijacking of Air India Flight 814 is largely perceived to have been a joint ISI-Taliban production. The hijacked plane was commandeered from India to Kandahar. To prevent Indian commandos from taking control over the plane, Taliban gunmen were deployed to guard it. And senior ISI commanders flew to Kandahar to oversee negotiations between the hijackers and the Indian government. In the event, the hijackers freed the passengers in exchange for three senior terrorists held in India and Kashmiri prisons. The three, Maulana Masood Azhar, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, went on to participate in organizing and planning some of the worst terror attacks, including the 9/11 attacks in the U.S. and the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai. Sheikh also allegedly personally beheaded Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002.

In the 1990s, the Taliban and Pakistan transformed Afghanistan into the largest terror training camp on earth. Following the U.S.'s withdrawal from Afghanistan and Biden's effective coronation of the Taliban, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan hailed the Taliban's renaissance as "breaking the shackles of slavery." He went further, likening Afghanistan's attempts to adopt Western culture during the two decades the U.S.-led coalition was in the country as "worse than actual slavery."

With the Taliban back in charge, Afghanistan has reverted to its previous role as a Pakistani terror base. And this is a boon for anti-Indian jihadists. Syed Salahudeen, the leader of an alliance of Kashmiri terror groups, hailed the Taliban victory as "extraordinary and historical" and said he expected the Taliban to aid the terror groups once more.

Salahudeen declared that just as the Taliban defeated the U.S., so "in the near future, India too will be defeated by Kashmir's holy warriors."

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told the BBC that the Kashmiri terrorists are correct to be excited. The Taliban, he said, have a right "to raise our voice for Muslims in Kashmir, India or any other country."

Indian officials assess that much of the U.S. arsenal that was abandoned to the Taliban will end up equipping Pakistani-backed terrorists in their war against India.

But terrorism isn't the only threat against India that is expected to increase massively in the wake of the Taliban's resurgence. There is also the issue of nuclear war.

US President Donald Trump (R) and India's
US President Donald Trump (R) and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrive for a joint press conference at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on February 25, 2020. PRAKASH SINGH/AFP via Getty Images

India and Pakistan both have nuclear arsenals. But unlike India, Pakistan views its nuclear weapons as weapons of first, rather than last, resort. In 2002, then-Pakistani Prime Minister Pervez Musharraf made this preference clear when he won a game of nuclear chicken with India.

In the avalanche of reports about the Taliban in recent weeks, a report by the U.S.-based Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists received scant notice. The group reported that Pakistan, whose declared nuclear arsenal currently numbers some 165 warheads, is expected to increase to 200 by 2025. The day before the report was published, Pakistan signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with China that is widely viewed as directly threatening India.

As my fellow Newsweek columnist Gordon Chang wrote recently for the Gatestone Institute, Prime Minister Modi had been moving India toward the U.S. and away from New Delhi's traditional partnership with Russia. Modi's political and policy rivals have long criticized his U.S.-centered approach, which saw India move closer to defensive ties with Taiwan. Modi's rivals have harshly attacked his pro-American position in the wake of the U.S. rout in Afghanistan.

Quoting the Foundation for Defense of Democracies' Cleo Paskal, Chang wrote, "Indian strategists who have been saying that the way forward is working more closely with the U.S. are being openly taunted by those who have a more pro-Moscow bent."

India is a member of the Quad alliance, which also includes the U.S., Japan and Australia. To ensure the credibility of that alliance, it would be sensible for the U.S. to consider merging it with the new AUKUS naval partnership it just announced with Australia and the U.K. With Russia now firmly embedded in China's sphere of influence, India may have little choice other than to keep course with Modi's U.S.-centered strategic outlook.

But that doesn't mean that India will risk sticking its neck out for Washington.

Biden's withdrawal from Afghanistan caused strategic damage to U.S. credibility as an ally. This is so not merely because by withdrawing in the manner he did, Biden allowed the Taliban to march into Kabul in triumph, erasing massive U.S. achievements in the war on terror over the past 20 years and enabling the forces of jihad to declare victory over the U.S.-led free world. The withdrawal was also a disaster for the U.S. position as the leader of the global alliance of democracies because Biden and his team did not coordinate their plans with U.S. allies ahead of time. Everyone from the British to the French to the Ukrainians were left in the dark and forced to order their forces to flee along with the U.S., because their operational model in Afghanistan was predicated on U.S. air support.

To begin to correct the damage Biden caused to U.S. credibility in the eyes of America's allies, the administration would be well-served by adopting former President Donald Trump's approach to alliance management. Trump approached alliances as lateral partnerships, rather than a hierarchical top-down relationships where the U.S. calls the shots for its allies. True, Trump demanded that U.S. allies carry their own weight financially and militarily, but with that demand came a willingness to let America's allies decide how best to secure their interests. Rather than second-guess them, Trump supported them—as befits the leader of an allied government. Having abandoned the Afghans, the U.S. will not win any good will from spurned allies it has placed at risk by now giving orders and expecting everyone to blindly follow along.

Biden and his team should follow Trump's example and treat allied leaders as equals next week. Biden should work with them to develop joint plans for containing China and meeting the growing threat of resurgent forces of jihad in Afghanistan, Iran and beyond.

Given Biden's predisposition to base his foreign policies toward Afghanistan, Iran, Israel, China, Russia, Cuba and beyond on his ideological commitments to the progressive leadership of his party rather than on national security considerations, it is unlikely that he will rise to the occasion. But unless he does, he will find that spurned U.S. allies in Asia and the Middle East—and indeed, around the world—will begin to cast about for alternatives to the American security umbrella.

Modi will arrive in the U.S. at a pivotal moment. How he leaves will determine not only the future of the critical Indo-U.S. alliance but, to a large degree, the future of U.S. superpower status itself.

Caroline B. Glick is a senior columnist at Israel Hayom and the author of The Israeli Solution: A One-State Plan for Peace in the Middle East, (Crown Forum, 2014). From 1994 to 1996, she served as a core member of Israel's negotiating team with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.