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India and the QUAD Summit: Addressing the Four T’s, Terror, Trade, Travel and Tyranny

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Pooja Paswan
September 29, 2021 

“In a world of complex threats, our security and leadership depends on all elements of our power – including strong and principled diplomacy.”
~ Barack Obama

As a leading voice of the global south, India brings a special political legitimacy to United States plans for a new Indo-Pacific balance of power. New Delhi’s engagement with the QUAD, bilateral cooperation with Washington, London and Paris and collaboration with Europe prevent attempts by Beijing to paint the problem in the region as between Asia and the West. India’s presence in the QUAD is the clearest affirmation that the problem in the East is about something else; the Chinese quest for hegemony driven by a massive power imbalance with its Asian neighbours.

The First Ever In-Person Quad summit.

This is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first trip since the onset of the pandemic. A lot has changed since 2020. India faces an ultra-aggressive China, global supply chains have broken down, change in United States’ leadership has occurred, the new alliance in the Indo Pacific AUKUS has formed and the Taliban is back in power in Afghanistan. Where does India feature in this new order? What are the big priorities for New Delhi?

India’s priorities include:

  1. Firm commitments on the fight against terrorism.
  2. Easing of trade barriers and new stable supply chains.
  3. More clarity on vaccines and travel restrictions.
  4. The future of the QUAD. What are its objectives? Does the QUAD needs military teeth?

The Fight Against Terror

ISIS Khorasan is re-emerging in Afghanistan in India’s backyard. Reports says foreign terrorists are pouring in and more than 6000 Lashkar and Jaish terrorists have become active in Afghanistan. Joe Biden must promise to continue the war on terror, whether it entails intelligence sharing, joint activities and other collective security measures. Excluding India will prove to be counterproductive as observed in the previous Afghan QUAD. Also, the United States must admit one key principle: there is no “good terror.” The United States cannot tacitly support the Taliban while feeding anti-India terrorism. The same applies for Pakistan, where for years India talked about Pakistan’s double game. The United States ignored it and paid a heavy price in Afghanistan.

Easing of Trade Barriers

India trades considerably with the United States, Japan and Australia and there is a lot of untapped potential in this sector. India and Australia are negotiating a Free Trade Agreement. Australia’s trade minister will visit India next week. A trade deal is within reach. However, the India-United States trade agreement is not so simple. President Biden is not a fan of the free trade agreement. India wants to export more engineering components and agriculture-based products whereas the United States wants access for their dairy and farm products. However, agriculture is a highly protective sector in India. as it employees more than 45% of the population. The United States must be sensitive to this reality.

Clarity on Vaccine and Travel Restrictions

Britain is welcoming tourists next month, and so will the United States starting in November, but the process is complicated. The United Kingdom has decided to recognize Covishield, but fully vaccinated Indians will have to quarantine themselves for 14 days. No one travels to a foreign country to quarantine themselves for 14 days; that’s the opposite of free movement. Hence, India is pushing for mutual recognition of vaccine certificates. In the United States, the decision is made by the CDC to approve any vaccine approved by the WHO, so technically Covishield should be approved. But the issue is clarity. A common global system is what India wants.

A Roadmap for the QUAD.

An alliance cannot be an emerging alliance forever. It’s been 14 years!! Eventually the QUAD must stamp it’s authority. The QUAD has discussed climate change, COVID-19 and cyber security but has not discussed China. Every alliance is defined by its rivals; NATO had the Warsaw Pact and today it has Russia and China. What is the QUAD fighting against? This summit is a perfect opportunity for the QUAD to define its objectives and rationale and its future missions. This clarity must come from the United States. Does it see the QUAD as a military alliance or just as a regional platform for Indo Pacific democracies? India needs this clarity as well to forge a new alliance, tweak its military power and develop a robust Indo-Pacific policy. Same goes for Australia and Japan. Therefore, if the QUAD has no military ambitions, it must focus on other agendas such as creating new supply chains and taking joint action on cyber security and infrastructure. AUKUS has already triggered those fears. Hence, Biden and Morrison must reaffirm their commitment to show the world they are deeply invested in this alliance. India will need proof of this faith since it is shifting from a policy of non-alliance. Therefore siding with the QUAD is a big risk. India needs clarity from its allies on the four Ts: Terror, Trade, Travel and Tyranny.  

Author: Pooja Paswan is currently enrolled at the John.F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. She is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi, India. She has Ph. D in Public Administration and specializes in Public Policy. She was recipient of the ASPA 2019 Founders Fellow. She has worked extensively in the area of development administration and policy. She can be reached at https://jmi.academia.edu/PoojaPaswan and [email protected]. Twitter @poojapaswan

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