US India nexus and implications for Pakistan
4 Mar, 2018
ISLAMABAD - Let me begin by very briefly putting India-US relations in its geopolitical context. There is dangerous instability prevailing in many parts of the globe. The world is facing the perilous international security situation in the Middle East and Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia and Iran are vigorously sponsoring respective proxy conflicts in the region. Developments in the Middle East are expected to be ‘revolting’ after President Trump’s decision to shift USA’s embassy to Jerusalem.
Iran reportedly pursues its nuclear weapons program by and large as usual. The prospects for the progress of ‘Middle East Peace Process’ between Israel and the Palestinians are the grimmest. The basic trends in Afghanistan are negative. Russia’s relations with the West are unlikely to get much better very soon if at all. Much of the developing world is reeling from world economic downturn.
This is the treacherous context in which US-India relationship in the near-term have and will develop, though India switched over from Moscow to Washington DC in 1991 exploring the avenue through Tel Aviv.
Henry Kissinger had put it much earlier in these words: ‘The world faces four major problems — terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the movement of the centre of gravity from the Atlantic region to Asia and the impact of a globalised economy on the world order. The US and India have compatible, indeed overlapping, vital national interests in all four areas.’
India-US bilateral relations have developed into a ‘global strategic partnership’ based on shared democratic values and the increasing convergence of interests on bilateral, regional and global issues. President George W. Bush based his transformation of the US-India relations on the core strategic principle of democratic India as a critical factor in balancing the rise of Chinese power.
To be explicit, this was not at all based on the concept of containing China. Instead, it centred on the idea that the United States and India in the decades ahead had enormous equities in promoting responsible international policies on the part of China.
The deep US-India bilateral cooperation in that respect was in the vital national interests of both countries, i.e. USA and India. It was with this strategic paradigm in mind that the Bush Administration treated India with at least as much importance as China.
The combination of largely overlapping US-Indian vital national interests and shared democratic values may produce a bright future for strategic collaboration between New Delhi and Washington in future
Regular exchange of high-level political visits has provided sustained momentum to bilateral cooperation. The wide-ranging and ever-expanding dialogue architectures have established a long-term framework for India-US engagement.
Today, the India-US bilateral cooperation is broad-based and multi-sectoral, covering trade and investment, defence and security, education, science and technology, cyber security, high-technology, civil nuclear energy, space technology and applications, clean energy, environment, agriculture and health. In my view, the United States has four declared national interests in the South Asian region concerning Pakistan:
to prevent Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and materials from coming into the possession of extremists; to ensure that Afghanistan does not become a sanctuary to repeat terrorist attacks against the United States and its Allies, and to avoid war between India and Pakistan.
The US government clearly has its work cut out for her described ‘national interests’. The possible effect of enveloping US preoccupation with Pakistan seems on its way ‘practical’ thereby constraining the US-India unconditional future relationship.
This produces an understandable and growing US interest in trying to reduce tensions in the India-Pakistan relationship. Islamabad will definitely ‘repeat the argument’ that tensions with India and the Kashmir dispute are preventing it from moving robustly against the terrorists on the Western borders. So, India will continue encountering eventual pressure from the USA about normalising the situation in Kashmir.
It therefore strongly makes a case for Pakistan to internationalise the ‘Kashmir issue’ as it is in line with the US’s desire to improve the situation on Pakistan’s western borders. This may sound a repeat of the old arguments, but the facts can’t be simply ‘brushed off’.
India emphatically considers it a mistake for Washington to treat India, mostly at the margin of US consideration of policy toward Af-Pak, as a lesser player on issues related to the future of South Asia. It is India that Pakistan claims is illegally occupying Kashmir. And it is only India that could find itself at war with Pakistan.
So, India is profoundly connected to the future of Pakistan, not on the periphery of it. Also, a segment of the US’ top brass and officials opine that the United States, India and Pakistan are now together in facing ‘a common threat, a common challenge, a common task’, in seeking to defeat terrorists based in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
It is now commonly believed in the US that NATO cannot win in Afghanistan as long as Taliban sanctuaries exist in Pakistan. But as George Friedman assumes, ‘While the US and NATO forces must rely increasingly on Pakistani supply routes to fight the war in Afghanistan, Pakistan — fearful that the United States and India will establish a long-term strategic partnership — has the incentive to keep the jihadist insurgency boiling (preferably in Afghanistan) to keep the Americans committed to an alliance with Islamabad, however complex that alliance might be’.
As Henry Kissinger remarked: ‘The conventional army loses if it does not win. The guerrilla wins if he does not lose.’ Perhaps with this in mind, President Trump ordered the deployment of additional troops in Afghanistan. But he has made it clear that to defeat the Taliban, America will have to embark on a long and expensive campaign in Afghanistan and solicit assistance and support from Afghanistan’s neighbours specifically Pakistan.
The US Administration has recently revisited its policies in detail regarding the war in Afghanistan, a conflict that the United States and its allies are not winning and may be apparently losing.
Iran is another knotty issue in US-India relations and a potential source of considerable bilateral tension. For many reasons, India is unlikely to go along with Americans as related to US policy decisions about Iran.
Also, it is not clear how Washington’s dominant preoccupation with economic cooperation with China will affect Indian government calculations related to the US-India bilateral relationship and regional security. But if the US treats China in a privileged fashion, this is unlikely to produce spontaneous concessions from the Indian side on other matters of importance to Washington.
It appears that India does not figure as prominently in the US calculations regarding Afghanistan imbroglio as speculated by the Indian mass media. Washington may not object to India’s economic development activities in Afghanistan but is considerably sensitive to Islamabad’s complaints about India’s covert involvement against Pakistan.
So, the US administration will not give sufficient weight to India’s views regarding Afghanistan as compared to those of Pakistan, the NATO Allies, Iran, China and Russia. The US ultimately will have to seek to limit the degree of Indian involvement in Afghanistan.
The combination of largely overlapping US-Indian vital national interests and shared democratic values may produce a bright future for strategic collaboration between New Delhi and Washington in future. But in the immediate period before us, the bilateral ties are likely to be more problematical than prophesied by the Indian cronies in the USA.
By: Nawazish Ali, *The writer has served in Pakistan Army*