US-India Strategic Alliance and Its Impact on Pakistan

The US-India strategic partnership has been the hallmark of the bilateral relationship between India and the United States since 2005 when the two countries signed the civil nuclear deal. The then U.S. President George W. Bush wanted to address the Indian historical hesitancy to join the America-led world order through expansive diplomacy with India. The Indo-US civil nuclear agreement was one such feat in the Bush-Singh interaction that brought the two countries closer than ever before. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), responsible for nuclear safeguards and security oversight, also acknowledged the safeguard agreement and inspection plan with New Delhi on August 1, 2008. The strategic community in the world criticized the deal as it overruled the Nonproliferation Treaty’s (NPT’s) principles, since India was not part of the NPT. To add insult to injury, the successive American presidents, leading from Bush and Obama, have tried to secure for India a membership of the Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG), the elite network of suppliers of nuclear materials and technology, confined to around forty members states of the NPT. However, China has blocked the move of Indian membership in the NSG because it would be discriminatory and a violation of the standard non-proliferation criteria.

The two countries, India, and the United States, also signed defense agreements to supply high-tech military machinery to India. Since Washington saw India as the “net provider of security and stability in South Asia,” the then U.S. President Bush also signed another agreement with the then Indian Prime Minister, called Next Steps in Strategic Partnership (NSSP). Later, the succeeding president Barrack Obama signed the $10 billion agreement of Defense and Technology Trade Initiative (DTTI). These two agreements essentially elevated India’s status in the region, not least when President Barak Obama considered the Indo-US strategic partnership as the defining feature of the 21st century. In the second term of President Obama, the American Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act in 2016 that regarded New Delhi as the “major defense partner” of the United States. No wonder then that between 2010 and 2020, India’s defense purchases from the United States have crossed $15 billion.

The sale of 22 Predator Guardian drones to India in 2017 made the country the only country after the U.S’s NATO allies acquired the technology. The U.S. also supplied the P-8 maritime patrol aircraft, C-130 and C-17 transport aircraft, M777 howitzers, and Apache and Chinook helicopters to India.

Under the Indian Congress-led governments, India had been reluctant to sign the foundational agreements with the United States that would have made India a kind of ally of the U.S., and the American forces could use the Indian military and naval platforms. Due to the reluctance, the U.S. didn’t provide India with high-tech defense weaponry. However, after Bharatiya Jannata Party’s Modi came into power, he started signing the foundational agreements with the United States, starting with the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), a modified version of the original Logistics Exchange Agreement (LEA), which would otherwise make the American forces use the Indian military platforms and naval ports permanently. Under the LEMOA, the U.S. would be able to use Indian military and naval facilities on a case-by-case basis, and that too temporarily, pending the Indian government’s approval. Another agreement that India signed with the U.S. is the Communication Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) in 2018. Under this agreement, the two countries can make the military platforms interoperable and work toward secure communications, the characteristics essential for joint naval and military operations.

However, India’s potential purchase of the Russian-supplied S-400 missile defense system worth US$6 billion would make the chances of interoperability between India and the U.S. impossible. Moreover, the U.S. has enacted the Countering American Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) to sanction any country that acquired a large-scale military technology from Russia. In the recent visit, American deputy secretary of state Wendy Sherman did allude to the challenge in the relationship as far as the Indian purchase of S-400 was concerned. The U.S. has already sanctioned Turkey, one of its NATO allies, under the CAATSA, for its purchase of S-400.

Apart from that, the two countries have also conducted joint maritime exercises in the Indo-Pacific. Lately, India has projected itself as the military, and economic counterweight of China and the U.S. has also labeled New Delhi as the “net security provider” in the Indo-Pacific. The U.S., India, Japan, and Australia, collectively called the QUAD, have joined hands in coordinating efforts to uphold the freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific Ocean and counter China’s maritime assertiveness. However, due to China’s possible annoyance at such policies conducted by Quad, these countries do not name China in their official declarations. Therefore, the India-US strategic alliance has negative implications for Islamabad’s security and regional peace.

The increasing sale of advanced military and dual-use nuclear technologies to New Delhi has engendered strategic stability in Southern Asia. The quantitative and qualitative increase in India’s arms and strategic forces, growing nuclear policy ambiguity coupled with the policy of surgical strikes, has resulted in deterrence and strategic instability in South Asia.

As mentioned earlier, the supply of advanced military technology, nuclear-related material, and state-of-the-art weapons to India has the potential to lower the nuclear deterrence in the region. Hence, it encourages Pakistan to pursue defensive plans, including, acquisition of sophisticated and long-range delivery systems, production of fissile material and Low Yield Battel Field Weapons to maintain the credible deterrence against India. Ironically, Pakistan’s defensive response and efforts to establish Balance of Power (BoP) and strategic stability in the region face opposition of the U.S. As mentioned earlier, supply of advance military technology, nuclear related material, and stat of the art weapons to India has the potential to lowe the nuclear deterrence in the region.

Hence, it encourages Pakistan to pursue defensive plans, including, acquisition of a sophisticated and long-range delivery systems, production of fissile material and Low Yield Battel Field Weapons to maintain the credible deterrence against India. Ironically, Pakistan’s defensive response and efforts to establish Balance of Power (BoP) and strategic stability in the region face opposition of the U.S. that highlights double standards of the major powers when it comes to other states safety and security from the external threats. Ironically, Islamabad’s efforts to ensure its security from its historic rival, India and efforts to establish its security and strategic stability against external threats face external opposition, especially, United States and Western Powers. That highlights the double standards of these states.

Afghanistan Factor-Taliban Regime

After the Taliban took control of the entire country of Afghanistan, they announced an interim government, the majority of which comprised the Pashtuns, had no women representation, and literally no one outside the Taliban movement.

Pakistan’s demands resonate with those of the international community’s that the Taliban must form an inclusive government, one that has members from most of the ethnic communities, including women and the minority groups. Also, the Taliban respects human—and especially women—rights, eliminates safe havens for transnational terrorist groups, and stops them from using Afghan soil to conduct terrorist strikes in the region and abroad.

The Taliban, full of rhetoric, has failed to make a score on any of those points. However, Pakistan has made a global campaign to ask the international community to engage with the Taliban to stave the country off from suffering the worst humanitarian crisis.

The international community, including especially the United States, which holds keys to most of the disbursements of funds, including those withheld by the World Bank and the IMF, struggles to navigate tackling the impending economic catastrophe and humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan recognizing the Taliban government.  The struggle is due in part to domestic political opinion and in part because the basic contours of President Biden’s foreign policy revolve around supporting human rights abroad.

The incidents of the suppression of media, exclusion of women from public participation, and the ban on girls’ education in Afghanistan do not portray an encouraging picture for the U.S. and other major democratic powers to overcome that struggle and help the Taliban address governance economic issues. That kind of engagement would, in a way, confer legitimacy on the Taliban.

Still, there is a silver lining for mitigating the humanitarian crisis. Chatham House recommended recently that the United Nations through its Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) could coordinate with other international donor agencies to “simply ensure that Afghans can get through the coming winter with enough to eat and the support of essential basic services.” To what extent it does that is yet to be seen.

But Pakistan cannot hold its breath. It is receiving an increasing number of refugees on its two main transit points, and terrorists might be disguising themselves among those refugees.

To conclude, instability in Afghanistan has always been touted as having the potential to cause instability in Pakistan. The Taliban’s military victory in Afghanistan has resulted in refugee flows in Pakistan and has the potential to push terrorist attacks on an upward trajectory. 2019 was considered the safest year in Pakistan’s recent history; however, 2021 has already seen hundreds of attacks, including those that killed the Chinese servicemen and contractor workforce. Subsequently, before the Taliban took control of Kabul, Pakistan was desiring a geo-economic shift in its foreign policy. It wanted to engage with the U.S. and other major countries, including those in the neighborhood, for regional economic integration and peace in the region. It turns out, strengthening the India-US strategic alliance and emerging dynamics in Kabul has simultaneously thrown a wet blanket on Pakistan’s plans. In order to counter the implications of the India-US partnership and emerging dynamics in the region, Pakistan should enhance military capabilities and reach out to other like-minded countries for a collective framework to mitigate India’s offensive designs and bring peace-stability and security in Afghanistan.

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About Asma Khalid 11 Articles
Author is Editor of the Melange International Magazine and Research Associate at Center of Pakistan and International Relations (COPAIR). Her research interests include South Asian Security and Strategic issues. Her analysis of these issues has featured in national and international publication platforms.