Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States towards the end of September 2014 highlighted the importance the two countries attach to their bilateral relationship. In July-August this year, the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, visited New Delhi for the first high-level interaction with the new Indian government. The two countries have a shared agenda for addressing a number of regional and global issues, including economic and technological cooperation, countering terrorism and ensuring regional stability. India is an attractive proposition for the US as a big market for American goods, services and investment. It is viewed as a stabilising military and economic power in the region. However, the US and India do not necessarily share goals on all regional issues, especially when it comes to dealing with China. The US and India view Pakistan as a source of terrorism, but the former does not share the latter’s strident approach towards Pakistan.
Pakistan is also important for the US for different reasons. It has a large population, but uncertain internal political conditions, strong anti-Americanism and terrorism have discouraged new American private sector investments. Despite American criticism of some aspects of Pakistan’s counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency policies, Pakistan’s military is viewed as a bulwark against terrorism. Pakistan’s support is needed for Afghanistan’s stabilisation, which will continue to be an important American consideration after the withdrawal of most of its troops from there by the end of this year. Pakistan’s geographic location gives it a clear advantage compared with India when it comes to helping stabilise Afghanistan. However, the US has often complained about Pakistan’s two-track policy of taking action against some militant groups while ignoring others.
The US, therefore, pursues two different patterns of relations with India and Pakistan. In both cases, cordiality is the key consideration, but the US and these two countries do not see eye to eye on each and every issue. The US has a global perspective to its policies towards the states of South Asia. Pakistan has a purely regional outlook, conspicuous by its negative fixation on India. However, India has both regional and global aspirations. In the regional context, India wants all states of South Asia to respect its primacy and that they should not pursue their relations with the rest of the world in a manner that adversely affects its diplomatic and security interests. Pakistan resists the notion of Indian primacy in South Asia.
India has a global agenda, with a strong aspiration to become an active player in the league of global powers with a permanent seat in the expanded UN Security Council. This disposition was quite obvious in Prime Minister Modi’s address to the UN General Assembly on September 27, where he projected himself as a person of global vision, peace, human development and environmental improvement. He ignored the Pakistani prime minister’s overplaying of the Kashmir problem in the latter’s address to the General Assembly a day earlier. Modi responded in a polite and carefully worded manner on Kashmir and Pakistan with reference to terrorism, thereby hinting that India had more interests at the global level.
The two-track US policy in South Asia gives one advantage and one disadvantage to the US. The advantage is that good working relations with both countries can be used for resolution of some conflicts between them. However, the US is more interested in playing the role of a fire-fighter so that India and Pakistan do not go to war. It has little, if any, interest in the resolution of India-Pakistan problems. Perhaps, there is a limit to its influence on both countries.
The negative side of good US relations with India and Pakistan is that despite US insistence that these are two different tracks of relations, both India and Pakistan closely monitor what the US is doing for the other country. The US faces criticism from Pakistan when the latter feels that the US is tilting heavily towards India. A similar criticism is made by India when the US provides military and economic assistance or military sales to Pakistan.
The US views India’s contribution to socio-economic development in Afghanistan as an encouraging development and it has facilitated its active role in Afghanistan. This has caused apprehensions in Pakistan, whose leadership argues that India is using Afghan territory for pursuing its anti-Pakistan agenda by providing financial support to dissident Baloch groups and some elements among the Pakistani Taliban that operate from Afghanistan. This concern is as alarming for Pakistan as is India’s strong perception that Pakistan has not stopped sending militants into Kashmir. Both India and Pakistan provide inconclusive proofs of their respective contentions, but they firmly believe that their perception of the other side’s role is a reality.
Pakistan has welcomed the signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement between the US and the new Afghan government led by President Ashraf Ghani. However, the US is not fully sensitive to Pakistan’s concerns about Afghanistan, i.e., India’s perceived anti-Pakistan role and the safe havens in Afghanistan for the Pakistani Taliban, who periodically attack Pakistani border posts and villages. When Pakistan retaliates against these Pakistani Taliban, Afghanistan claims that Pakistan is attacking Afghan territory. It maintains silence on the presence of the Pakistani Taliban in Afghanistan and accuses Pakistan of harbouring some Afghan Taliban groups, which perpetrate violence in Afghanistan.
Hopefully, the new Afghan government will work with Pakistan to evolve a joint border control strategy to control two-way movement of militants across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The US agenda for peace and stability in Afghanistan will be greatly facilitated if it uses its diplomatic clout with India and Pakistan to resolve some of their bilateral issues. If the US pursues a hands-off policy on India-Pakistan issues, both will continue to compete for influence in Afghanistan and engage in a proxy war there. This will have negative ramifications for the whole region.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 6th, 2014.
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