The tone for the US President’s much-talked-about visit to India was set well before he set off to New Delhi. As is the norm in high-profile foreign visits, President Obama spoke to India Today, an Indian publication, on a subject that touched the right chord with his Indian hosts. While expressing his country’s resolve to continue working with Pakistan in war on terror, he unequivocally said that “terrorists’ safe havens within Pakistan are not tolerable”. In what can be termed as toeing the Indian line, the president demanded that the culprits of Mumbai terror attacks must face justice; conveniently turning a blind eye to hitherto-forgotten investigation into Samjhota Express tragedy and recurring violations of Working Boundary by the Indian army.
Underscoring the need for unity between India and the US on the issue of fighting terrorism, President Obama said that those who perished in 9/11 attacks included some Indians whereas among the victims of India’s 26/11 i.e. 2008 Mumbai attacks, there were some American citizens as well. It is important to recall that Mr Obama, during his first visit to India, opted to stay at Taj Hotel as a gesture of solidarity with the victims of Mumbai attacks; giving a strong message to the world community that the US stood together with India to protect its values. He also expressed the resolve that the US would continue to work with India and other allies to bequeath a bright and promising future to the world.
Going by the outcome of the visit, it is a significant development that has the potential to reshape strategic balance in South Asia. The joint communiqué issued at the end of the three-day visit includes a major breakthrough in civil nuclear technology agreement, signing of ten-year defence agreements, solid steps for elimination of terrorism, more trade agreements, continuation of dialogue on clean energy, enhanced cooperation in the field of science and technology, and establishment of more hotlines between National Security Advisers of both countries. The US also supported the Indian bid to seek a permanent berth in the powerful United Nations Security Council in addition to expressing its withdrawal from demand of attaching tracking device on the India’s nukes. It means that the US would not be able to keep track of nuclear fuel export to India including its possible uses. The bilateral defence cooperation also includes joint production of drone aircrafts and spare parts of C-130 planes.
The signing of nuclear, trade and defence agreements between the two countries has set the direction of the US priorities in South Asia and beyond. Washington now has a promising ally in New Delhi as it does have the potential as well as prowess to play a leading role in the world’s most volatile region. The US President made no bones about it when he said that the American mission in Afghanistan has almost wound up and that it needs a reliable partner for stability and peace in Afghanistan. It opens up more prospects for increased Indian role in Afghanistan, thereby renewing prospects for a kind of cold war as both Islamabad and Beijing would surely be observing these developments with concern. The US might be pulling out of the longest-running war in its history but its post-withdrawal handling of war-torn country doesn’t augur well for establishment of durable peace in South Asia.
Prime Minister’s Adviser on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz, in the wake of the Obama’s visit said:
“Pakistan reserves the right to safeguard its national security interests; the operationalisation of Indo-US nuclear deal for political and economic expediencies would have a detrimental impact on deterrence stability in South Asia.”
These words evince the thinking that currently prevails in the country’s establishment. Candidly, Pakistan’s concerns are not out of place if seen in the context of the Indian military build-up that will increase with the US support to New Delhi in a bid to contain the rising China.
Currently, India is involved in large-scale purchases of weapons from Russia and the US. It also seeks advanced technologies for the production of missiles and delivery systems related to them. Its defence expenditures have increased by 12% in 2014-2015, and accounted for US$ 38.35 billion. India has been on the list of Washington’s top buyers of military equipment for the last three years. Pakistan apprehends that an increased military build-up, considering the recently signed US-India defence agreement, will further intensify the existing imbalance of conventional and nuclear weapons and, consequently, will lead to the strategic destabilization of South Asia.
Pakistan has long pleaded for righting of strategic imbalance in South Asia. The Strategic Restraint Regime advocated by Islamabad is premised on three core areas: conflict resolution, nuclear and missile restraint, and conventional balance.
Pakistan, in principle, supports revamping the UN Security Council to reflect changed ground realities. The country has always advocated turning the world body into a more representative, democratic, effective, transparent and accountable one that is capable of protecting interests of the member states.
However, Pakistan’s opposition to India’s permanent seat in the UNSC stems from the fact that New Delhi has always violated the UN resolutions on Kashmir issue; hence, it is, on this count, not entitled to this slot. Secondly, Islamabad looks at the Indian inclusion in the UNSC as an effort to create additional centres of power, which will make UNSC even more undemocratic.
The situation calls for dispassionate and cool-headed analysis of the developments in the region. Both India and the US have a right to advance their bilateral relations as long as they are not detrimental to Pakistan’s legitimate security interests. Pakistan is fighting the war of survival in form of Operation Zarb-e-Azb in the North Waziristan aimed at cleansing its territory of terrorism. Being Afghanistan’s next door neighbour, Pakistan’s interests are justified and legitimate. Hence, an open-ended Indian role in Afghanistan as the US proxy will be contemned by Islamabad as well as Beijing, which sees Indo-US strategic partnership as an effort to contain its rise.
As a friend of both India and Pakistan, the US is well advised to play its role as a bridge between the two countries by nudging India to resume stalled dialogue with Pakistan. It should ask India not to use Afghan soil to undermine Pakistan by supporting insurgents in Balochistan and elsewhere. Only a collective approach based on understanding of each other’s concerns can translate dream of a stable South Asia into a reality.