India claims that the US is a strategic partner and it will stand by Delhi vis-a-vis Pakistan. One latest evidence cited to support this proposition is that the recent Pulwama incident irked Washington so much so that it publicly supported Delhi’s narrative to attack Pakistan in self defence.
However, many circles in scholarships do believe that there is an uncomfortable truth in the whole Pulwama dynamic for India vis-a-vis its relations with the US is concerned: Pakistan’s February 27 incursion into India could not have happened without the tacit support or a nod or a deliberate “look the other way attitude” of Washington. This is why the US did not strongly inhibit Pakistan not to attack India, many strategic observes suggested.
The reason being, there is a larger picture at trilateral level to understand the cogency of the preceding polemical statement.
In other words, the US being a strategic partner as touted by Delhi is more a myth then a reality in more then one ways as elaborated below:
- The Indian trajectory of its economic rise makes the US competitor like China rather then an ally. India’s economy at the current rate of 6/7 percent will likely touch the $10 trillion magic figure by 2050 putting a direct challenge to the US led economic order.
- Pakistan is a long term strategic pivot for the US drawing strength from the belief that both countries’ love and hate-bilateral relations have survived many crises. Interestingly, the US approach towards Pakistan has never been as harsh as the Indians would have wanted: the pattern runs like the incentive of aid, discontinue aid; ask for attack on militants or attack unilaterally targets; engage/disengage; prop up/isolate. These strategies (i.e., to marginally pressure Islamabad) also implicitly acknowledged Pakistan’s potential usefulness in the US Playbook to pin down India in South Asia and establish a strategic restrain on Indian ambitions to alter the US led-geo-political, economic and strategic order. Of latest, It is in this context, Washington ignored Indian plea of punishing Islamabad for use of F-16 fighters against India giving leeway to Pakistan, instead.
- Washington has always provided Pakistan a degree of autonomy to project its sphere of influence in Afghanistan at the cost of India, notwithstanding, reaffirming rhetorical role for Delhi.
- The latest example is the closed convergence between the US and Pakistan on the sub details of Taliban talks and the contours of post-Ghani set up. Yet, again Washington has not bothered to take India in the loop.
- After the 9/11, the US expanded its talking points (i.e. against Pakistan) to removal of IOK focused militants, beside, Afghan Taliban particularly the Haqqanis, to appease India. However, Washington did not invest in real measure of muscled diplomacy against Pakistan to the indignation of Delhi.Even worse, on IOK, the US has adopted a more assertive but discreet approach to cajole India to properly manage handling of Kashmir so as to reduce any succor to militant groups rather then solely blaming the situation on Pakistan.
- Even after Imran Khan’s taking over as Prime Minister, Islamabad was facing serious default like situation, the US nodded to its rich Middle Eastern allies and friends of Pakistan like Saudi Arabia and UAE to bail out Islamabad. A development not well received in Delhi.
- However, the real test of India’s misbelief and its exaggerated faith over the extent of the US-Indian partnership was its expectations to lobby Washington preventing IMF bailout without a quid pro quo from Islamabad on India’s wish list against militancy, it believed to emanate from Pakistan. Here again Delhi got disappointed when the US refused to use its clout with the IMF culminating in an agreement of worth $6 billion loan package.
- A many strategic scholarship in the US speculate the potential long-term approach of India towards China and Washington. The US would see India taking same geo-political opposition as China has adopted today towards the US on market access, tariffs, technology, barriers to free flow of labour and capital, trade liberalisation and protectionism. Put it plainly, the US would be at odd with Delhi just like presently it’s at war with China and even its European allies, beside, Canada on trade.
- The perceived utility of Delhi in the US’s China containment policy is short lived. The US has started to revisit warily “strategic autonomy mantra” of India in latter’s foreign policy and tried to make sense of what it would mean to contain China in Indo-Pacific region.
- Whereas, India itself is in doubt on the role of the US in Indo-Pacific role, given what it perceives US’s inward turn and habit of “nickeling and diming” even close allies. This perception led India to hedge its bets and exercise greater patience with China embodied in“Wuhan spirit” measures.
- Delhi is also facing a potential divergence on Hawaii’s G5 technology. It is not convinced of the US position that Hawaii’s G5 technology advancement and competitive rate is a cyber security threat and as such is facing a dilemma: if India adopts the technology, the US will again reduce cooperation in intelligence and security for being unsafe or else Delhi has to loose cheap G5.
- Recently, another shock came for India when Trump administration declined to issue more oil import waivers beyond May 2. Again Delhi frustratingly found out that the US did not bother to take care of It’s interests and constraints.
- On the contrary, Pakistan will continue to solicit the US national security interests in this region: strategic stability, terrorism, extremism and leveraging its geo-political location for sustaining Washington’s interests in Middle East, West Asia and South Asia long after the US forces exited this region.
- The US long term South Asian strategic interests would be to economically restrain India not to join hands with China and Russia to preempt challenging the only super power status of Washington down the line. Therefore, Washington needs Pakistan to tie down the ambitions of Delhi and some time punish accordingly.
- India’s fear is not misplaced: there is no guarantee that US won’t get aligned with Pakistan due to the fact that Pakistan army’s technologies in large measure have been built by the US; actually the US still has personnel in Pakistan’s PAF bases to monitor the F-16s and do their maintenance work.
- Barring the limit on the US alignment that it will never work with India to counter Pakistan, Delhi can only hope— the best it can get out of its partnership—to work with Washington against China with caveats given its strategic position.
After threadbare explanation of the larger picture, the proposition of the US’s tacit approval of Pakistan’s April 27 attack is not far fetched and the overriding aim was to let Delhi be punished by Islamabad. This is why there is more to Pakistan-US transactional relations then meets the eyes. While Delhi has still not understood the limits of the US-India strategic partnership, it failed to comprehend the US strategic imperative to keep Pakistan as useful occasional ally to serve its multifaceted interests including balancing against a rising India. Divergence on trade barriers, US retrenchment, rhetorical vs actual investment in Indo-Pacific pivot, among other issues, have taken over the US strategic partnership with Delhi. India’s two track relations: forcing closer defence ties with the US but getting closed to China on economic and trade related issues is about to boomerang.
The views expressed in this op-ed are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Surkhiyan.