OPINION: There’s a world for India beyond the US

NEW DELHI (The Statesman/ANN) - The Indo-US relationship is difficult to forecast in the future for the latter is guided by its national interest.

After the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the US and dovetailing of the two nations in the strategic sphere, all writings on the wall tend to suggest a greater military to military bonding between the two.

Even the joint statement calling specifically on Pakistan to behave is a welcome change from the past. Readers may recall that in April this year US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter while on a visit to India had in reply to a question at a press conference stated, "What we do with Pakistan is principally directed towards counter terrorism, and that includes things we do with the Pakistan military". He was justifying the offer of sale of the latest F-16 to them. It was the US senate which cut the administration’s wings by blocking the sale, not the political leadership.

The US Senate convinced the political leadership of the complete failure of their Pakistan policy, especially as they had failed to curb the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network. They emphasised this further by laying down strict restrictions on the grant of aid to that country. This was further compounded by the drone strike which killed Mullah Mansour in May in the safe sanctuary of Baluchistan. That was the last straw which turned the tables.

There has always been a China factor in US-India relations. As China grows economically and militarily while enhancing its build-up in the South China Sea, it threatens key US supporters in the region including Japan, South Korea and the Philippines.

The only nation on the Asian continent which possesses the naval power to even contemplate a challenge to China is India. China’s growing belligerence and its continued support to Pakistan ensures that India and China can never be truly close. The Pakistan factor would always exist in Indo-China relations. Though the border between the nations is peaceful, they would remain rivals in the military and economic sphere and compete for influence in the Asian region.

Therefore, it does make strategic sense for India and the US to become bedfellows for the present. National interests always reign supreme in international relations and at the moment the common aim for both nations is to curb a belligerent China.

While the US can continue to be more proactive and forthright in its attempts, India would have to tread with caution. India and China have a boundary dispute which neither wants to blow out of proportion.

Excessive challenges in the disputed South China Sea could lead to increased hostility on the land frontiers, where India’s strategic infrastructure is way below that of China which is a disadvantage. Further, when India is growing economically faster than China, military threats would compel the government to turn the focus away from development.

The deal with the US would permit India to access dual use technologies and specialist military hardware. Amongst the major desires of India are designs for India’s under-construction aircraft carrier and Predator UAVs. The UAV is of importance because of its long endurance
as also its ability to carry Hellfire Missiles, ideal equipment to launch counter-terrorist strikes across the border. They would also be ideal to monitor shipping activities in the Indian Ocean as well as the Malacca Straits.

While all appears hunky-dory for the moment in Indo-US relations, there is always a worry about India being drawn deeper into the US camp.

India has no desire to share the role of a world policeman and interfere in trouble spots across the globe. Though India has made its intentions clear, resulting in a variation in the wording of the logistics agreement signed between the nations, however time would tell us if successive US governments step up the pressure on India for active participation. This threat of pressure was the main reason why previous governments stayed away from a deeper relationship.

While the US moves away from Pakistan, it draws closer to India. The sudden Indian willingness to become a strategic ally is also due to increasing American distance from Pakistan. The earlier stance of the Americans in attempting to maintain separate but equal status partnerships with both nations was leading them nowhere. They were not in a position to force Pakistan to act, nor were they able to have India sign the logistics agreement which they needed. They had to choose and they did. This proximity would definitely cause heartburn in Pakistan and result in greater isolation.

India however has a balancing act to perform. It cannot move away from Russia which may benefit Pakistan and create a China-Russia-Pakistan alliance. Such a grouping would in the long term be disastrous for India. The technological, military and diplomatic support being provided by China alone gives Pakistan the strength to continue pursuing its state sponsorship of terrorism policy.

If Russia also provides the same, then India would have to deal with a more belligerent and uncontrollable Pakistan. Therefore, India needs to maintain ideal relations with Russia, keeping Pakistan away from their camp.

The main issue is ‘can the US be trusted in the long term’. Pakistan-US relations, if assessed, indicate a growing proximity when needed and a discarded status, as at present, when it suits Washington. Similar has been the case with India. Kennedy was the most pro-India president in US history.

Nixon, on the other hand, was even willing to move the US 7th Fleet into the Indian Ocean in support of Pakistan during the 1971 War. The future would be hard to foretell. National interests guide international relations and for the US their interests are always paramount and dictated by the president and his team. India therefore, needs to continue to balance its relations with other nations keeping its own national interests in the forefront while never moving too deep into the US camp, irrespective of their offers.   

(The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army.)


  • India,. US


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