By Shahid R. Siddiqi:
During his recent meeting with President Obama in Washington, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sought to solidify a relationship transformed under the Bush administration from mere friendship to that of a ‘key ally’ that led to nuclear cooperation deal and unprecedented security collaboration. He is also reported to have sought Obama’s support for his bid for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. He was given assurances that the US will not neglect India while pursuing close ties with Pakistan and China.
Senators Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden played a key role in bringing the two countries closer to serve each other’s agendas during Bush presidency. India needed western technology; the US needed the Indian market. India had regional aspirations, a nuclear and military strength which it was keen to expand and had estranged relations with China; the US under Bush needed a regional ally ready to contain China and serve as its proxy for policing the region. And with 9/11, came a new role that India could play for the US in Afghanistan.
Both Pakistan and China carefully watch the changing dynamics of this deepening relationship which affects not only South Asia, but also China. They feel that if this partnership becomes too cozy for the comfort of others in the region, it will not serve peace that is already uneasy.
Pakistan has felt uncomfortable that India is receiving US assistance in the development of nuclear power industry even though India has refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Obama’s assertion that ‘Indian leadership is expanding security across the region’ will find no supporters in Islamabad or Beijing.
The acrimonious relationship between Pakistan and India over several disputes and India’s blatant role in dismembering Pakistan in 1971 has been exacerbated due to India’s refusal to engage in a meaningful dialogue with Pakistan.
As an old American ally, Pakistan’s concern over the increasing US ‘tilt’ towards India, was quite natural. Pakistan’s own relationship with the US has kept swinging from being the ‘most allied ally’ to being the “most neglected ally” and then to being the ‘most sanctioned ally’, depending upon how much the US needed Pakistan’s services at a given time. Pakistan fears more belligerency from India in view of American support despite Pakistan’s sensitivities.
The announcement by President Obama that his administration would begin to pull out its troops from Afghanistan after 18 months has given rise to apprehensions in Pakistan that he may install India as a proxy power to protect US interests.
Motivated by its sinister designs to weaken Pakistan, India is actively promoting an East Pakistan style insurgency in Balochistan. Once its military gains a foothold in Afghanistan it will squeeze Pakistan from the western border, while using rogue elements from the tribal belt, which it has already recruited, to destabilise Pakistan. Ample evidence of these activities was handed over to Indian prime minister by his Pakistani counterpart.
The US-Indian belief that India can hold the fort for the US in Afghanistan is a fallacy. The Afghans being fiercely opposed to foreign occupiers, it would be naïve to expect that Indian forces would be welcome to stay after the Americans withdraw. Notwithstanding the support of the Northern Alliance and Karzai’s weak government, The Taliban, who are bound to gain political influence in Kabul sooner or later, will reject Indian military presence on their soil, as it will represent American interests.
As of now in the current US matrix, cordial Sino-US relations are very important, mainly owing to American reliance on Chinese economic support that is not going to end any time soon. Obama cannot promote relations with India at the cost of its relations with China.
Besides, the US cannot also ignore that China has an abiding interest in South Asia due to its regional security concerns and close relations with Pakistan.
Given the history of Sino-Indian rivalry this is unpalatable for India, which considers South Asia as its exclusive domain. Only recently the Indian officials, says a Washington Post report, in an outburst of Brahmanic self-importance expressed concern that New Delhi has been relegated to the second tier of US-Asian relations because Obama did not mention India in his speech on US relations in Asia recently. The speech, delivered in Tokyo, focused on the Asia-Pacific region and not South Asia. This, the Indians believe, is Obama’s failure to recognise India’s broader regional aspirations. The Indians were upset that “Washington was leaning too closely to China”.
Then to India’s chagrin, in the joint statement on conclusion of Obama’s visit to China, Obama suggested that Beijing mediate between India and Pakistan. “China and the United States”, the statement said, “are ready to strengthen communication, dialogue and cooperation on issues related to South Asia and work together to promote peace, stability and development in that region.”
“A third-country role cannot be envisaged nor is it necessary” to solve disputes between India and Pakistan, was the immediate Indian Foreign Ministry response.
Ashley Tellis of the Carnegie Endowment said, “The joint statement prompted new fears that somehow the United States and China would collude to manage events in South Asia.”
Tellis said this has caused neuralgia in India because tensions between Beijing and New Delhi have risen over border claims. India is also upset over Chinese plans to divert Brahmaputra River that originates in Tibet and flows into Northeastern India. In addition, Indians are concerned that the Obama administration, unlike the Bush administration, views India as part of the South Asian problem, which includes the instability in Pakistan.
These Indian sensitivities will keep the US on the edge. Since both seek to serve their respective geopolitical objectives, which are very divergent in nature, the relationship will neither be smooth nor lasting. In a sensitive region, where the US must protect its own bilateral interests with China and Pakistan, tantrums on the part of Indian leadership could make the new partnership difficult to sustain.
Therefore, before rushing into a collaborative arrangement with India and offering highly sensitive nuclear technologies, Washington will be well advised to first test out the prickly world of relations with New Delhi.
The US need not be impressed with the tall claims about India being the biggest democracy. India’s human rights record is dismal, particularly in dealing with minorities. It has a long way to go in ensuring equal social status to Dalits (untouchables) who form 20 per cent of the population. Ethnic and religious cleansing of minorities remains a common occurrence.
If the US could make a political issue out of Tiananmen Square and Obama could refer to human rights issues during his China visit, why India should not be held to the same standard during Singh’s visit.
As for the Indian request for a permanent seat in the Security Council, India’s own involvement in Kashmir dispute that is pending before the Security Council and whose Resolutions it has refused to honour, cannot be ignored. This dispute has led India to fight three wars with Pakistan and one with China. Its security forces subjugate the people of Kashmir, killing thousands and sexually abusing thousands of their women.
In response to a similar bid earlier, India was advised to first settle the Kashmir dispute. Then the US -India relationship had just begun to take shape with limited US influence over India. But now that the US enjoys a greater clout, it could more effectively pressure India for a negotiated settlement, which is in every one’s interest, including regional peace.