US Relations with India and Pakistan
Globally, Donald Trump’s current US administration’s attitude on multilateral trade, climate change, and terrorism have raised questions. But more broadly, potential global US disengagement, stated by the foreign secretary as “changes in the terms of engagement between the United States and the world” continue to raise crucial challenges, and some opportunities, for Indian and Pakistani policy makers. The White House has stated the Trump administration’s priorities and the nature of relationships with the India and with Pakistan are different. US relationships with India and Pakistan according to one White House official “stand on their own merits and terms”, though the US wants to have an effective partnership with each country.
Tensions between India and Pakistan
US relations have to take into consideration concern about tensions between India and Pakistan. The US would like to see the normalisation of relations between the two countries, believing this to be in both countries’ interests as well as is in the interests of the region and worldwide since both are nuclear-weapon powers. The US has encouraged India and Pakistan to engage in direct bilateral dialogue aimed at reducing tensions.
Trump’s election brought uncertainties for India. India has invested heavily in its US relationship, so the Modi government reached out swiftly to the president-elect and his transition team. The appointment of Lisa Curtis as senior director at the National Security Council and the potential nomination of Kenneth Juster as ambassador to India are welcome in Delhi.
With India, this involves building a strategic partnership. The fight against terriorism is a common interest for both the US and India as well as the promotion of economic growth and prosperity, plus expanding security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region.
Mutual cooperation in Afghanistan
India and the US have a common objective in Afghanistan, and the two countries could increase their cooperation to enhance the Afghan economy. The US believes India has played a positive role in Afghanistan. India has pledged over USD3 billion in assistance to Afghanistan, has built the parliament building, assisted in the education sector, the health sector as well as supporting democracy and democratic development in Afghanistan. It is said that Afghans appreciate the kind of support and assistance that the Indians have provided, not just from the government, but also from the general population.
The current US administration believe that India has played a helpful role in Afghanistan both in aiding stabilisation of the country and assisting in strengthening the government in its fight against the Taliban insurgency. This work aligns with the US own major assistance programs in Afghanistan and the two countries can encourage and perhaps maybe cooperate in terms of development projects to help Afghanistan reach the ultimate goal of becoming financially self-sufficient.
It has been stated by the White House that India and the US have mutual security interests and believe that defence sales will help advance these interests. They say the sales are not about Pakistan, though defence deals do take into account the regional situation, to avoid an escalation of tensions between India and Pakistan. The US deny that their sale of high-tech defence items to India may have any adverse impact on Pakistan.
With Pakistan, the productive partnership moving forward would have different priorities to suit the different relationship. The US cooperates with Pakistan in a partnership that focuses on some security, defence and counter terrorism issues.
Yet Washington has been pushed, by India, to put effective, sustained pressure on Pakistan to take action against various militant organisations that have, for a long period, carried out cross border terrorism that New Delhi believes comes from Pakistan’s soil.
In August 2016 the then secretary of defence Ash Carter withheld USD300 million in military reimbursements to Pakistan because he could not certify that the country was taking adequate action against the Haqqani terror network.
India have been delighted with the new US administration’s declaration of Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist”, but the US has no desire to push forward strongly with India’s anti-Pakistan policies. In reality, the naming of Salahuddin as a global terrorist does not help ease India’s challenges in Kashmir, or its aims to discredit Pakistan by exposing its alleged ties with militant groups.
Pakistan and Afghanistan
The new administration in Washington is keen for Pakistan to change its policy toward Afghanistan. Yet Pakistan has experienced such tough phases before without making any changes to its security policies. The increasingly large presence of China in Pakistan due to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, mean that threats of economic or military sanctions on Pakistan are not credible, even if the US had the capacity to pursue that course of action.
Pakistani officials believe the US cannot provide a long-term solution in Afghanistan, but think that China can play a major role in the Afghan peace process, something that Pakistan is a lot more comfortable with.
Pushing Pakistan into isolation may not be in the interests of the US, or its ally India. An isolated Pakistan with nothing to lose could increase further its support for various insurgent groups while undermining Washington’s efforts in Afghanistan. For these reasons, the US are unlikely to press Pakistan to take action against India-focused groups like Lashkar-e-Tayyiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad, rather than groups like the Haqqani Taliban network that directly target US forces in Afghanistan.
The warnings of containing China’s political and economic clout and Pakistan’s audacious polices in the region will draw Islamabad and Beijing closer. Both countries have already condemned India and US joint mapping of China and Pakistan as the states that are triggering tensions in the region. It is likely that relations around China will test the resolve and commitment of the relationships between India and America; Pakistan and America.
While India may like to see Trump move swiftly and comprehensively to undercut Pakistan and China’s position, Washington’s hands are tied with numerous political, diplomatic, and security limitations rearing their heads.