The Pakistani Shadow on Indo-US Relations

Secretary of State John Kerry held talks with the visiting Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif

We should be treating the visits of Pakistani leaders abroad as part of normal diplomacy that all countries engage in. By paying too much attention to them we boost Pakistan’s political importance and diminish our own stature. Unfortunately, we cannot easily ignore the visits of top Pakistani leaders to the US, not because of concerns about what Pakistan may seek but what the US may dispense.

US policies towards Pakistan have always been a source of serious strategic concern to us. Even with the visible improvement of India-US ties, now elevated to a strategic partnership, we have to be watchful of US dealings with Pakistan and their impact on our security interests. Pakistan has always been, and remains, a US blindspot in its relationship with India.

This has been proved again with Nawaz Sharif’s just concluded visit to the US. Prior to the visit, US sources leaked to the media that Washington was contemplating some sort of a nuclear deal with Pakistan that would legitimise its nuclear status despite its known proliferation activities, the rapid expansion of its nuclear arsenal, its development of tactical nuclear weapons and open threats to use them against India. While Sharif’s visit did not produce such a deal, the US ignored all these Pakistani nuclear provocations and transgressions and preferred to focus self-servingly on the success of the Nuclear Security Summit to be hosted by Obama next year and “welcomed Pakistan’s constructive engagement with the Nuclear Security Summit process and its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency and other international forums”. Obama also noted “Pakistan’s efforts to improve its strategic trade controls and enhance its engagement with multilateral export control regimes”. All these were approving chits of Pakistan’s nuclear policies, unfortunately at the cost of India’s security, given that a day prior to Nawaz Sharif’s Washington visit, the Pakistani Foreign Secretary publicly brandished the tactical nuclear threat to India, spoke of full spectrum deterrence and dismissed any talk of Pakistan accepting any restraint on its nuclear arsenal. The un-named US official’s categorical declaration that the US was not contemplating any 123 type agreement with Pakistan or an NSG exemption has come after Sharif’s visit and in the wake of Pakistani defiance.

The recognition by Obama and Sharif in their joint statement of their “shared interest in strategic stability in South Asia” is seriously objectionable from our point of view, even if similar language figured in the Obama-Sharif joint statement in 2013. Such a stance is inconsistent with the import of the India-US nuclear deal which was intended to free India from some strategic constraints while also bringing large parts of its nuclear program, present and future, under IAEA safeguards in a bid to restrict its scope. There are no such constraints on China’s nuclear program, or on China’s nuclear cooperation with Pakistan in both civilian and military areas. There can therefore be no strategic stability in South Asia unless China and its cooperation with Pakistan is brought into the equation and India’s strategic needs vis a vis China are recognised. Until the India-US nuclear deal, the US has viewed the nuclear equation in the sub-continent as a purely India-Pakistan affair. Even before India and Pakistan became overtly nuclear the US pressed for “strategic stability” with a view to curbing India’s nuclear program, in the belief that this would deprive Pakistan of the argument that it must match India’s nuclear capabilities to ensure its security.

The tenacity of such US thinking surfaced during discussions on the “Next Steps in the Strategic Partnership” when the US tried to introduce the concept of strategic stability to offset Pakistani concerns about US tilting in favor of India on strategic matters. Why after the nuclear compromise inherent in the India-US nuclear deal the US continues to stress strategic stability in South Asia and wants all sides to “continuously act with maximum restraint and work jointly toward strengthening strategic stability in South Asia”, is difficult to understand. So is the reference to “the importance of regional balance and stability in South Asia” which unreasonably equates India with Pakistan, including in the sphere of their security interests.

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Even if we ignored the reference to strategic stability in 2013, we have less reason to ignore it today. India and the US have in 2015 greatly widened the scope of their geopolitical engagement by releasing a US-India Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region and upgrading the trilateral India-US-Japan relationship relationship in a certain strategic perspective. In this context it makes little sense for the US to still talk of strategic balancing India and Pakistan. This merely sends confusing signals about the depth of India’s strategic commitment to India.

Likewise, in January 2015, on the occasion of Obama’s January 2015 visit, the US-India Delhi Declaration of Friendship was issued, which proclaimed a higher level of trust and coordination between the two countries. Furthermore, in the joint statement issued then, Obama and Modi “committed to undertake efforts to make the U.S.-India partnership a defining counterterrorism relationship for the 21st Century by deepening collaboration to combat the full spectrum of terrorist threats”. It “called for eliminating terrorist safe havens and infrastructure, disrupting terrorist networks and their financing, and stopping cross-border movement of terrorists”, besides asking “Pakistan to bring the perpetrators of the November 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai to justice”. In September 2015, as part of the inaugural India-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue, a U.S.-India Joint Declaration on Combating Terrorism was issued with expansive provisions.


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