US strategic tilt towards India

US strategic tilt towards IndiaPosted by Khurrum Shehzad

With approximately 3.2 per cent of the total world area and 28 per cent of world population the geostrategic architecture of South Asia has always attracted the great global players including the U.S. Pakistan and India – two core regional actors – have historically been vital to Washington in meeting its strategic objectives. Ever since demise of former Soviet Union in 1991, the U.S regional policies have, however, been varying but generally remained Indian centric.

Contrarily, the history of Pak-US relations has seen many ups and downs. Pakistan’s geostrategic location – where the interests of the great global players coincide – makes it a key factor in the regional and international politics. But despite its tremendous sacrifices Islamabad could not bridge the trust deficit gap with White House. The account of Pak-US relations provokes an important question in the mind of every Pakistani: ‘Is Pakistan an all time strategic partner of the U.S. or just a friend in (their) need?’

Weighing significance of both the states in meeting the U.S. long term strategic interests in South Asia, one can clearly observe a visible tilt in Washington’s policies towards India. In order to establish its root-cause, it’s rather imperative to conduct a philosophical debate of Pak-US relations in comparison with Indo-US bilateral ties in a realist paradigm.

With the end of Cold War in 1991 the U.S. suddenly disengaged itself – to a larger extent – from the politics of South Asia. Later various regional and international dynamics drove Washington’s policymakers back to this region. During Cold War the only hitch in Indo-US relation was Indian relations with the Soviet Union which automatically got removed with the fall of communist empire. Contrarily, the vital role of Pakistan in beating Soviet armed forces in Afghanistan and its importance for the US. towards containment of USSR suddenly vanished.

Though the U.S. administration remained aloof from South Asia after the fall of Kremlin Empire but the dramatic developments of May 1998 – Indo-Pak nuclear explosions – and the Kargil-1999 conflict suddenly transformed the low profile of South Asian region as the focus of the world attention especially the U.S. Due to personal intervention of President Clinton the danger of war was, though, averted but from Pakistan’s perspective the Kargil war was a complete failure. The conflict diplomatically isolated Pakistan as the world community believed that Pakistani forces were on the “wrong side of LoC” and made the U.S. to play its role in the regional politics. This changed scenario went in Indian favour.

In May 2000, President Clinton paid a historic visit to the sub-continent. The visit was a formal U.S. strategic signal of its policy on South Asia. It was also the Washington’s proclamation of “discovery of India” as its long term strategic partner. Four points would reinforce these arguments: Firstly, he was the first American president to visit India and Pakistan in 22 and 30 years respectively; Secondly, he visited India for five days whereas had a just five hours stop-over in Pakistan; Thirdly, there was also a mark difference in his body language both toward India and Pakistan.

With Vajpayee smiles, warmth and cordiality were visible symbols which ware replaced with grimace, cold and official posture in Pakistan; and, finally, the Washington agenda in India was vast ranging from transformation of bilateral socio-political and economic ties to cooperation regionally and internationally. In Pakistan, however, President Clinton just urged Musharraf to chalk out a roadmap for restoring democracy.

Later, the event of 9/11 proved to be the most influential as regard to the US policy shift to whole of the world in general and South Asia in particular. Before September 11, 2011, Pakistan was a marginalized country having low priority on U.S. agenda whereas India was centre of its policy in South Asia. In the words of Stephen P Cohen, “The Bush administration built upon Clinton’s “discovery of India” and set out to create a comprehensive and positive relationship with New Delhi.” But the 9/11 brought dramatic change in the whole scenario.

As stated by President Bush, “9/11 changed America”, the situation brought Pakistan back to centre stage – putting parts of the US-India agenda on hold – nevertheless only temporarily!Pakistan today is a frontline ally of the U.S. but both the states have several conflicting interests. Following the events of Raymond Davis, 2nd May 2011 and Salala attack, misperceptions between the two have tapped the extreme ends. The fiasco of Pak-US relations encompasses two key questions: how does the U.S. views his interests in Pakistan and what are the major challenges in the relationship of both the countries?

Stephen P. Cohen during a seminar in Islamabad in 2003 identifies some U.S. areas of concern which include terrorism / extremism, nuclear programme, democratization and relations with India. As regard to the challenges: the broad nature of them include the prevalence of trust deficit, the U.S. perception considering Pakistan as part of problem rather than the solution, the tangent approaches which both the allies have adopted in the WOT, and the US-Indian friendly policy on Kashmir.

Finally, with 2014 knocking at the door, the White House policy indicators – emerged from the declarations of Bonn Conference, launching of New Silk Initiative and the U.S. urge to talk to Taliban – suggest that the Obama administration is following the strategy of initially minimizing and ultimately edging out Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan. As regards to post – 2014 scenario, the U.S. proclaims to focus on economic uplift of the country through New Silk Initiative which is not only an effort of keeping China, Russia and Iran out of the game but also draw a dividing line in the time-tested Pak-China friendship.

As regards to Indo-U.S. relations; Henry Kissinger had observed a decade ago that the United States and India have “no conflicting interest in the traditional and fundamental sense.” For last ten years the Indo-US relations have transformed from bilateral to multilateral dimension.

The Indian bustling democracy and growing economy are the main converging points in their bilateral ties. India is the world largest democracy and has grown economically at an average of 7.7 percent in real terms over the last decade. It is not only the largest market for the U.S. but also possesses the potentials of becoming the global economic powerhouse in the next two decades.

The salient contours of New Delhi and Washington areas of cooperation were spelled out by Robert O. Blake, the U.S. Assistant Secretary on South and Central Asian Affairs during a press briefing on the U.S. Policy Priorities in South and Central Asia on 23 September, 2011. He said, “President Obama has called (Indo-U.S. relations as) one of our defining partnerships for the 21st century.” The areas of cooperation between two embrace counter terrorism, trade and investment, economic partnership, job opportunities, infrastructure development, energy, clean water, and cold chain systems. Furthermore, they are also working on establishing Investment Forum, Foreign Direct Investment and state-to-state and city-to-city relationships through their respective Chambers of Commerce. With Pakistan there are no such arrangements.

Furthermore, India has transformed from “estranged democracy” during Cold War to “engaged democracy” in the post-Cold War eras and with its record economic growth of 7.7 per cent over the last decade is an attractive market and investment partner for the U.S. That is why, on regional power political canvas, the U.S. views India as a potential counterweight to balance a rising China. Contrarily, Pakistan possesses a weak economy which survives on foreign aid and is conceived by New York as almost a failed state with unstable and corrupt democratic structure.
Above all, the increasing strategic importance of the Indian Ocean, – connecting the oil-rich Persian Gulf with growing energy markets in East Asia – grants a clear edge to India over Pakistan in Washington’s Asia-Pacific strategy.

In way forward to decide future relationship with the U.S. it’s imperative for Pakistan to ensure safeguarding its national interests. The neo-realists and neo-liberalists in this regard have conflicting views. Waltz argue that states pursue for ‘relative gains’- in comparison with their adversaries, whereas, the neo-liberals believe that nations are concerned for maximizing their ‘absolute gains’ – independent of their rivals. Moreover, in international arena states’ relations are not a zero-sum game and mutual benefits through cooperation are possible.

The nature of future Pak-U.S relationship is suggested to be on neo-liberalist philosophy of “absolute gains” – focusing on own interests and not what India gains from the U.S. Last but not the least, both must work together in bridging the trust deficit, image building and identifying commonality of interests.(Arshad Mahmood)

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