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UNITED STATES-INDIA RELATIONS ON GLIDE PATH TOWARDS ESTRANGEMENT?

Paper No. 1183                                                                                   10/12/2004

by Dr. Subhash Kapila 

Introductory Observations:

 At the turn of the millennium, this author was emboldened to write a paper "India-USA Strategic Partnership - The advent of the inevitable" (SAAG Paper No.120 dated 22-04-2000). One was emboldened towards this analysis by the emerging United States-India convergence of strategic interests and the Joint US-India Declaration in New Delhi during President Clinton’s visit in March 2004 i.e. “India-US Relations: A Vision for the 21st Century. 

On President Bush taking over in 2001, this author wrote a paper “United States Policies in South Asia under Bush: Continuity is Expected” (SAAG Paper No.181 dated 12-01-2001) that with bi-partisan support for building a substantial strategic relationship with India and the emphasis on “natural allies” the Bush Administration would carry the process further. 

Common perceptions prevailing in the strategic community today are that United States changed its policies towards South Asia by according primacy to Pakistan only after 9/11. This is not so. 

This author once again, sadly, had to point out in August, 2001 the Bush Administration's policy changes in a paper entitled: "United States Reverses Gears in South Asia” (SAAG paper No. 303 dated 28-08-2001.  The following points were made in the paper:

  • “Notwithstanding visits of the Bush Administration luminaries to India during this year, recent statements emanating out of Washington officialdom and leaders, some how seem to negate the promising trend in US-India relations outlined above.
  • “ More meaningful are the changing nuances of the Bush Administration in US policies towards China and Pakistan as discernible to analysts like us”.
  •  “As the outset it needs to be emphasized that while the United States can afford the luxury of viewing its relationships with China and Pakistan, independent of India, the latter (India) cannot do so.”
  • “ China and Pakistan, independently and in collusion have weighed heavily on India’s strategic calculus for over half a century. India cannot be oblivious to their adversarial record so far. US policies on China and Pakistan therefore impact on India’s security.
  • “From India’s view point, American statements, moves and developments emerging from the Bush Administration which causes disquiet and indicate a trend-in-the –making (hopefully not) pertain to Kashmir, state-sponsored terrorism, Pakistan, China and the overall vision of the US-India relationship.”

Regrettably, four years down the line, the trend-in-the making pointed out in 2001 has become a trend in existence, despite the US rhetoric emanating from its leaders to build up a meaningful strategic relationship with India. 

The Bush Administration establishment had begun tilting towards Pakistan, against the summation of its leading think tanks, much before 9/11.

It is this trend, forcefully reinforced by 9/11 as a strategic excuse that has now resulted in this author questioning the very value of a “United States India Strategic Partnership “ and entitling this paper “United States-India Relations  on Glide Path Towards Estrangement ?”. 

Let us first look at the views of the United States Establishment towards this region. 

United States Establishment Pro-Pakistan Fixations Pre-date 9/11

Symptomatic of the above were the statements of US Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Affairs (Times of India, August 23, 2001) quoted verbatim below:

  • “Our relationship with Pakistan is valuable to us. And I don’t think this Administration is going to lose sight of that…..but Pakistan has been an ally over many decades. I don’t think, we as a great power, should be dispensing with allies,….”
  • “ Our relationship with India is different, but Pakistan has been an ally over many decades…. India is not going to become an ally of the United States. It values its non-alignment. So I don’t think that anybody should expect India to collude with us”

These statements stand quoted in my last named paper which also commented on these in the following vein:

  • US-India Joint Declaration March 2001 did not talk of “alliance” or “collusion”.
  • India perceived itself as a “partner” in a cooperative endeavor of a strategic partnership.

United States current Secretary of State (then National Security Advisor) Condoleeza Rice had in December 2000 expressed fears in an earlier interview to an Indian magazine that the Pakistan lobby in USA could undermine efforts by the Bush Administration to achieve a higher degree of compatibility with India. 

But she too later changed tack and her perceptions of the South Asia scene, and her subsequent pronouncements were reflective of the Washington policy establishment. 

The Glide Towards Estrangement in United States-India Relations:

Four years down the line, United States-India relations are questionably on a glide-path towards estrangement. The following reasons can be attributed to this trend:

  • United States policy establishment’s fixation with “Pakistan's Primacy” as the cornerstone of American policies in South Asia”
  • United States double standards on counter-terrorism, in not holding Pakistan responsible for Al Qaeda, Taliban and 9/11.
  • United States double standards in WMD counter-proliferation policies, by not condemning Pakistan’s criminal WMD proliferation worldwide and publicly condoning the same.
  • United States infusions of advanced military equipment to Pakistan after designating it as a major non-NATO ally in 2004. This results in over-militarisation of Pakistan and stimulating India into an arms race.
  • United States insensitivity to India’s strategic requirements, views and vision of South Asia.

In a paper entitled: “United States Time to be Honest in South Asia” (SAAG paper No.680 dated 05-05-2003), this author had maintained that “ the United States needs to face squarely the following strategic home truths in South Asia”

  • “Strategic asymmetry in South Asia between India and Pakistan is a hard reality. Both USA and Pakistan need to  recognize and adapt to it.”
  • “ South Asian peace and stability cannot be brought about by creating an “artificial balance of power” by building up Pakistan as a counterweight”
  • “ Nuclear war, if ever, in South Asia can only be initiated by Pakistan. USA should therefore address its concerns on this issue on Pakistan”
  • “India cannot be “cut down” to the size of Pakistan strategically, under the guise of concerns based on WMDs, terrorism or Kashmir issue.”
  • “USA has to concede “strategic space” in South Asia to India as the naturally pre-eminent power in the region and an emerging global player to manage South Asian security”

The course of events in the last four years  indicates that the United States has chosen to be not to be strategically honest with India when it comes to South Asia. Such policy and attitudinal fixations could complicate and stimulate estrangement in United States-India relations in the future. Corrective steps have to come from the United States and not India, obviously. 

United States Scholars too Foresee a Possible Estrangement in US-India Relations:

That estrangement is a possibility in United States-India relations is also being reflected in the writings of US scholars. Prof Harold Gould, a visiting scholar in South Asian studies, University of Virginia in an analysis on December 3, 2004 (India Abroad) has stated:

  • “ For strategic reasons and for reasons pertaining to potential political developments within the United States, there are forces in play which could transform optimism into “estrangement” or worse down the road.”
  • “ At the international level, the ramifying strategic quagmire in Iraq and the Middle East gives much cause for alarm. It threatens to spillover into South Asia with unpredictable consequences for US-India relations.”
  • “ Political disintegration there (Pakistan) will immediately compel the Bush Administration to intervene in ways that will alter the course of US-India relations.”
  • “Every time this  (revitalization of Pakistan military capabilities) has happened, it has impacted negatively on India, usually in the form of open hostilities, proxy insurgencies, or nuclear blackmail. US-India relations will quickly sour should any of these happen.”
  •  “ ..certainly of great concern on any grounds is the lingering obsession in the American neo-conservative camp (which includes the White House and Pentagon) with Pakistan as the eastern anchor of the war on terrorism.”
  • “Thus the danger to the future of US-Indian detente down the road is greater than ever.”

In  brief, even in terms of the perceptions of the US strategic community, it is this fixative obsession of United States with Pakistan which casts questions and shadows on the future of the US-India relations. 

Concluding Observations

India cannot permit US-India relations to be held hostage to United States strategic obsession with Pakistan. India can never permit a stance, which smacks of being an American protégé or of a “ collusive handmaiden” like Pakistan. India, however, would not be averse to be an equitable strategic partner with the United States where strategic convergences exist. 

United States, to be honest, must appreciate and recognize that the strategic “fulcrum” or “centre of gravity” in South Asia lies in India. If this reality is recognized then automatically United States policies in South Asia will stand corrected and also force US Administration policy establishment to move away from their strategic insensitivities  towards India’s national security interests and national aspirations.   

The United States needs to recognize that India at large does not accept American formulations in its South Asian policies. The Indian public when it comes to Pakistan believes like President Bush that "Either you are with us or against us".

The United States, should it persist on the present course, would surely be putting United States-India relations and its strategic partnership envisaged in 2000, on a glide path towards estrangement.

(The author is an International Relations and Strategic Affairs analyst. He is the Consultant, Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. Email drsubhashkapila @yahoo.com)

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