The Trump administration has got an opportunity to firmly underline its strategic relationship with India by waiving off sanctions for signing a deal with Russia to acquire the S-400 air defence missile system. On the other hand, China had bought the same system along with fighter planes from Russia and was slapped with US sanctions.
Lobbyists in Washington are trying hard for unbiased implementation of Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which resulted in sanctions on Chinese military entities for the twin deals of S-400 and Sukhoi Su-35 fighter aircraft.
Though US President Donald Trump has openly expressed his frustration with India over issues related to trade his administration has also sought waiver clause in CAATSA specifically for India and the time has come to make it clear the real intent behind it.
The US, which wants India to play a proactive part in the Indo-Pacific region, should consider that without Russian-origin equipment, especially ships, India cannot accomplish its goals.
No doubt it is a long-term objective of US to reduce India's dependence on Russia for weapons, but this will take time and trust to happen.
It's important that the Trump administration understands that in the region India is key in the global fight against terrorism and also containing an expansionist China.
But if US implements CAATSA sanctions on India, it will be a signal that Washington is trying to put India and China into the same bracket and more importantly it will also mean that the Americans are trying to dictate how India carries out its relationship with Russia.
Both developments will be undesirable and discourage India from building a military relationship with the US and make it come closer to Russia. Such a trust deficit will linger on for a long time.
On the other hand, a waiver for India has immense benefits for the US. At present, 60 per cent of Indian armed forces' inventory is of Russian origin, while the remaining is divided between US, Israel, France and others. But Russia's share is declining while that of the US has been steadily increasing.
Since 2008, the US has supplied India with $18 billion worth of military hardware which includes transport aircraft for the air force and surveillance planes for the navy.
The US has granted India Strategic Trade Authorisation-1 status and the signed the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), which will allow the US defence companies to sell high-technology and sensitive military hardware to India. By becoming a close ally of the US after signing of these agreements, it makes sense to increase defence trade and manufacturing with the US.
This perhaps will clinch the argument in favour of the Trump administration not going ahead and imposing CAATSA sanctions on India.