S Qamar Afzal Rizvi
A NEW geopolitical game of centrifugal trajectory seems to be staging via US-India strategic partnership endorsed by the twin developments: the signing of US-India military logistic pact in the Pentagon(August 29) and the visit of US Secretary of State John Kerry to New Delhi. Tantalisingly, in its fermenting quest for containing China, the US administration has been overwhelmingly India-fixed in its foreign policy venture. But this kind of obsessive-compulsive US approach of shifting the pendulum towards India is not yet without some doctrinal miscarriages accompanied by strategic imbalances.
The signing of the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) between Washington and New Delhi seems to be singling a new policy paradigm in South Asia and Asia Pacific region. The deal allows the US navy to use India’s bases to re-supply during military exercises and humanitarian missions as well as disaster operations. The same rules would apply to India but in reverse. However, LEMOA does not allow for the deployment of troops on the base; Washington or New-Delhi would have to seek a separate agreement for that. What prescience prognosticates that India has a wide range of interests at stake in its relationship with China. Can India surrender these interests in favour of US, Japan or Australia?
Apparently a policy of mutual quid pro quo seems to have been shaping the US-India partnership: What India needs, it can get from US. What US needs, India can give fairly easily. US doesn’t want China to dominate South and East China seas any more than China wants the US to. But China cannot afford a real conflict over this without confidence that it could keep those sea lanes open, and it is a long way from developing such confidence.
Russians may not be happy about the US-India strategic partnership. India’s defence inventory is dominantly Russian while Pakistan’s is dominantly American. The US would face difficulty in pushing its defence inventory as long as it continues to supply the same or similar inventory to Pakistan. The Pakistan factor is pivotal for the US-India relationship. The US strategic interests can not be divorced from Pakistan. US yet holds key strategic goals in the region that Washington cannot win without cooperation from Pakistan. Paradoxically, President Obama has been supportive of a cautious India–Pakistan rapprochement while more open than the previous Presidents in confronting the sources of international terrorism in Pakistan.
The US Afghan peace narrative, and the ongoing war against terrorism in the region cannot gain a successful pacing without a supportive Pakistani role. Though New Delhi shows its severe bete noire about Pakistani ascribed role in the Afghan peace dialogue, this biased Indian approach must be condemned by Washington. Needless to say the growing Kabul-New Delhi military cooperation, which has a US-backing, seems a risky course. Apparently the US has been fostering a multi-pronged strategy in Afghanistan at the moment: It tries to orchestrate a peace dialogue with the Taliban, it tries to keep Afghanistan militarised for as long as possible, and it has been trying to reorient the Afghan problem by specifically bringing in China. Heuristically, US expects from Pakistan to take an action against Haqqani group while US is not ready to strike against Mullah Fazalullah group in Afghanistan, backed by India. India’s a euphoric desire to act as a peace mediator to Afghan dialogue can never be acceptable to Afghan Taliban.
Beijing cannot feel comfortable towards a rejuvenating India-US relationship. The US and India may both have a mixed policy vis-à-vis China, but because it is mixed, they are often out of cycle, each protective of its own prerogatives in pursuit of its own narrow interests. Should not the Indian side, in particular, be sensitive to being perceived as caving to American strategic interests, while the American relationship with China is so encompassing of its bureaucracies’ energies that it has an independent dynamic all its own? Alliances have been a glaring part of the US-led security order in East Asia since the early post-World War II period.
As regional geopolitics evolve and respond to China’s revival as a great power, Washington seems to be overwhelmed with the doctrine of new American alliances and security partnerships. This series contends that alliances will remain a key element of US national security in defending regional stability. But the US conjectured desire, to maintain control of maritime paths from East Asia to Persian Gulf, via a centrifugal paradigm cannot be a good omen for peace. The US pivot to Asia-Pacific region, a counter balancing strategy against China seemed to hold its leverage on the premise that there might not be an open confrontations between Beijing and Washington and New Delhi and Pakistan—the current US trajectory seems to evolve new conflicting dimensions. Though US wants to potentially use India in the emerging needs, Washington cannot afford to isolate Pakistan.
Washington must be cognisant of the fact that America’s three-pronged negative trajectory— of widening cleavages between Beijing and New Delhi; India and Pakistan; and Kabul and Islamabad—is a dangerous policy chessboard which moves this region towards the brink of destabilisation and chaos. And yet for the US policy seekers/alarmists— a US’s policy of supporting, cementing and extending status of a strongly conceived strategic partnership with a country (India) who has been losing its international image in terms of nuclear treaty protocols, human rights violations and most significantly its territorial Kashmir dispute with Pakistan— must cast an eye borrowing approach regarding their future relations with India. Stephen M. Walt of John F. Kennedy School of Government, argues that “….. it harder for United States to exercise the kind of dominant influence that it did for much of latter half of 20th century.”
Today what America needs is the consideration that their quest for an enlightened self-interest must be corresponding to the prospects for a peaceful twenty-first century in which Americans and American principles must coexist. Washington’s policy to give a long lease on India’s illegal occupation of Kashmir can be a risky course/caveat that the US administration has to wisely prevent. The peace and stability peril of this region, therefore, necessitates a balanced US’s approach towards this region. Any US-India sleepwalking approach that envisages a short-term policy goal cannot be helpful in warding off peace impediments.
— The writer is an independent ‘IR’ researcher based in Karachi.