Modi’s eagerness to serve as America’s ‘natural partner’ to contain a rising China is based on the expectation that this will provide India multiple advantages: latest military equipment and technology; expanded US investment; unconditional US support against Pakistan, a free hand in Kashmir and vigorous endorsement of India’s great power ambitions in South Asia, the Indian Ocean and beyond.
The Indo-US alliance has grave security implications for Pakistan. It will exacerbate the military imbalance and make India even more intransigent on Kashmir and belligerent towards Pakistan. Indeed, to deflect attention from its failed oppression of the popular Kashmiri revolt, Modi may feel sufficiently emboldened to actually attempt a cross-LoC ‘surgical strike’ against Pakistan, provoking a war which is unlikely to remain limited.
However, the alliance with America will involve challenges and costs for India which Modi appears to have discounted.
The US and India are unequal powers. As the practitioner of the Art of the Deal, Trump will not be shy to exercise the leverage which the US will progressively acquire over India, eg, to open India’s restrictive trade regime or curtail its traditional ties with Russia and Iran. To sustain the ‘partnership’, India will have to learn to bend, often, to America’s will, compromising the ‘independence’ of its foreign policy.
The alliance with America will involve challenges and costs for India.
As Pakistan discovered, defence ties with the US can be a mixed blessing. The arms and technology tap can be turned on and off by Washington to secure desired behaviour from its allies and partners. When Lockheed’s F-16 production is relocated to India, will the US, as it did with Pakistan, implant software to neutralise the aircraft’s operational capabilities in a crisis? New Delhi will never be sure that any equipment it acquires from the US, or Israel, will not be ‘compromised’ if India attempts to use this for purposes other than those endorsed by the US.
While the US will wish to use India to strategically harass China, it may be more reluctant to support all India’s aims against Pakistan and other smaller neighbours. As a ‘global’ power, the US will want to retain direct influence over Pakistan and other South Asian states rather than delegate this to India.
Undeterred by such considerations, Modi seems to have embarked already on his assigned mission to contain China. India is the only major country to reject China’s Belt and Road initiative. It provoked China by inviting the Dalai Lama to disputed Arunachal Pradesh/south Tibet. And, it has blocked Chinese road construction on Chinese territory along the Bhutan-China border. Beijing has demanded the withdrawal of Indian troops “as soon as possible” and reminded India of the lessons of history, ie India’s 1962 defeat.
In his book, Implosion: India’s Tryst with Reality, John Eliot argues that India is not well placed to confront China. Although India’s GDP is growing annually at seven per cent and China at 6.5pc, the gap is widening since the Chinese economy is more than four times the size of India’s.
Given that India has been unable to bully Pakistan, it is hardly in a position to confront China simultaneously. Even the smaller South Asian states are entering into economic and defence relationships with China. The Bangladesh government, although deeply beholden to India, is buying Chinese submarines and will exploit its major Bay of Bengal gas field with a Chinese rather than an Indian partner.
China’s Global Times asked: “With GDP several times higher than that of India, military capabilities that can reach the Indian Ocean and having good relations with India’s peripheral nations, coupled with the fact that India’s turbulent northern states border China, will Beijing lose to New Delhi?”
India’s vulnerabilities are extensive. Kashmir remains India’s Achilles heel (where, so far, China has urged Pakistan to exercise restraint). India is fighting 17 ‘active’ insurgencies in 119 districts (according to former prime minister Manmohan Singh), including the Naxalite, Naga and Mizo rebellions, the latter two in areas adjacent to China. With millions of Muslims and ‘lower’ caste Hindus alienated by BJP-RSS inspired discrimination and violence, India is also fertile ground for civil chaos.
Despite the grave implications of the Indo-US alliance, Pakistan should exercise strategic patience. India is on the wrong side of history. It is building alliances with distant powers, the US and Israel, both of which are disliked by the people if not all Muslim regimes. Pakistan has the opportunity of building strong ties not only with China but also Russia, Iran, and others across Eurasia who will be part of the Belt and Road initiative, which is likely to have a more profound impact on regional peace and prosperity than the US military interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, etc.
Faced with India’s growing militarisation, Pakistan’s primary objective is to ensure ‘full spectrum deterrence’ against India. The successful test of the short-range Nasr missile is an important step. Islamabad desperately needs a clear, active, national Kashmir strategy to support and sustain the indigenous Kashmiri freedom movement. There is no longer any downside to raising the Kashmir dispute formally in the UN Security Council and other international forums, including the International Court of Justice.
Despite its imbalanced posture, there is no point in a confrontation with the US. In the immediate future, Pakistan may need to reach tactical ‘accommodations’ with the US on Afghanistan in exchange for its active support to end Indian-inspired terrorism in Pakistan.
Over time, the ‘correlation of forces’ in the region will change. India’s friendship with Russia and Iran will erode. (Ayatollah Khamanei mentioned Kashmir twice of late). India may blunder into a conflict with China. Its alliance with the US may erode if India proves reluctant to actually confront China, loosen its links to Iran and Russia or to open its market to US trade and investment.
Meanwhile, Pakistan should continue to ask Washington: would not US interests in Asia be better served by cooperation rather than confrontation with China? Do you really want to step into the Thucydides Trap?
Modi’s American embrace, The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN: By Munir Akram, www.dawn.com
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