Two caveats to the notion of South Asia as a distinct sub region anymore. First, with the introduction of MRBMs and IRBMs by the countries of the region – and the ICBM programme of India (See slides), one cannot really talk of South Asia as a distinct region.
Second, post-9/11 US forces in Central Asia, Afghanistan and the Indian Ocean also show that one cannot talk of South Asia in isolation anymore from its surrounding region. (See slides)
Having stated these, it may be more useful to examine what US stakes in South Asia are because that will illustrate the trends in the US-India relationship as well as the US-Pakistan relationship.
The US has very critical interests in South Asia and these interests are not simply the result of 9/11 but were operational much before. My contention is that the US has had an evolving strategic relationship with India post the disintegration of the Soviet Union –
This post-bipolar Indo-US relationship has, contrary to popular perception, not been the result of a new thinking on the part of the two protagonists. Rather it reflects the fruition of concepts and images that both countries have held of each other and of themselves from the beginning. It was simply that the Cold War dynamics meant that these perceptions led the two down differing, often conflicting paths.
With the disintegration of the Soviet empire, it was natural for the two to come together and move towards a strategic relationship – a relationship that suffered a jolt with the Indian nuclear tests of 1998, but which quickly picked up its momentum soon after, especially with the visit of President Clinton in March 2000.
Both the US & India have always viewed themselves as major powers – a status the world must acknowledge. As such, they have defined international peace within their terms – and their relations with other states within these parameters. During the Cold War, the US saw itself as the defender of freedom and democracy and sought to encircle those who challenged this view through the creation of military alliances. India sought to buy time to build up its military potential through notions of “peaceful coexistence” – the panch sheel doctrine. Diplomacy had to be the substitute for economic and military power which India lacked in the early years. But it was Nehru who put India on the nuclear track and on indigenous defence production.
For India, non-alignment became a cheap strategy for getting involved in global politics. Also, even in the early years of independence, India saw its security parameters well beyond South Asia. For instance, in a message to the youth of what was then called Ceylon, in 1945, Nehru had declared that India “is likely to become the centre for defence purposes and trade for Southern and South East Asia. It is my hope that regional arrangements within the four corners of a world agreement will bind together all these countries of South and South East Asia.”
As for the US, it not only allocated to itself a global security role, it saw the importance of India as an ally even while India was linking itself to the Soviet Union and trying to project itself as a leader of the non-aligned movement. As early as the Dulles era of anti-communist defence pacts, there was a feeling that despite “treaty alliances such as SEATO with Pakistan … Bharat must be given greater aid than an ally of the US because it was making genuine efforts to develop institutions of freedom.” And when the first opportunity arose, in the shape of the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962, US military and economic aid to India far surpassed that to Pakistan.
In the post-bipolar world, since 1993 the US Congress has sought “new assistance categories reflecting modern realities” in an effort to bring India closer to the US position. The US is once again focusing on the notion of regional managers of security – of pivotal states in different regions.
As for India, when it went overtly nuclear, it did so within the parameters of a well-defined, long term security policy and gradually the parameters of this policy are being carefully enunciated by Indian analysts. Primarily, India is seeking to reassert its regional and global ambitions within the overall context of a nuclear capability. The reach of this capability has been translated into an expansion of India’s regional parameters as India once again seeks to be acknowledged as a major regional and global power. The Indian nuclear doctrine gives practical expression to India’s theoretical rationalisation of its ambitions that had been enunciated in advance of the anticipated tests of 1998.
India is also now seeking to move beyond the South Asian geopolitical framework to what it is trying to define as a “Southern Asian” framework. And, the nuclear doctrine with its focus on Agni-II and submarine-based nuclear missiles as well as the eventual development of ICBMs and space-based systems, is aimed at this Southern Asian geopolitical milieu. Within the framework of Southern Asia, India includes China, Central Asia, Afghanistan, Iran, Oman, South Asia, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the northern Indian Ocean!
As for the US, the bonding between Vajpayee and Clinton reflected the coming together of the two states. The Vision document signed by Clinton and Vajpayee declared a “resolve to create a closer and qualitatively new relationship between the US and India” on the basis of “common interest in and complementary responsibility for ensuring regional and international security.” This document declared that India and the US were partners in providing “strategic stability in Asia and beyond.”
The Bush Administration has shown every intention of further bolstering this strategic partnership – as made clear in the NSSP of September 2002.
“The Administration sees India’s potential to become one of the great democratic powers of the twenty first century and has worked hard to transform our relationship accordingly.”
“The United States has undertaken a transformation in its bilateral relationship with India based on the conviction that U.S. interests require a strong relationship with India. We are the two largest democracies, committed to political freedom protected by representative government. India is moving toward greater economic freedom as well. We have a common interest in the free flow of commerce, including through the vital sea lanes of the Indian Ocean. Finally, we share an interest in fighting terrorism and in creating a strategically stable Asia.”
Dismissing earlier concerns over the development of India’s nuclear and missile programmes, the NSSP states that “while in the past these concerns may have dominated our thinking about India, today we start with a view of India as a growing world power with which we have common strategic interests.”
The Indo-Israeli defence relationship also bolsters what can be seen as a triangular relationship between India, Israel and the US – and this has a strong defence component. The defence cooperation in terms of weapon systems really began in April 2002 when India signed its first arms deal with the US in more than four decades, agreeing to buy eight Raytheon radar systems. Since then India and the US have signed agreements to cooperate in space and the peaceful nuclear fields, including the transfer of technology. India also has US support in going forward with the acquisition of BMD systems.
So the US has a strong stake in seeing India develop as a regional power – playing the role of a major strategic partner in its region – [e.g. the joint patrolling agreement of Indian Ocean etc.]
India’s Bangalore is now among the top five world-class IT centres with the cheapest pool of skilled manpower. On his visit to India, Clinton had signed a dual-use technology transfer agreement in the IT sector worth $ 5 billion. In 1999 Indo-US trade reached $16 billion in goods and services, with most of it coming from India to the US. The US is one of the largest foreign direct investors in India. The stock of actual FDI inflow increased from US $11.3 million in 1991 to US $4132.8 million as on August 2004 – recording an increase at a compound rate of 57.5 percent per annum. The FDI flows from the US constitute about 11 percent of the total actual FDI inflows into India. (Source: SIA newsletter, Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, Govt of India)
What about Pakistan?
The US has declared that its relationship with Pakistan is delinked from its relationship with India but for Pakistan it is not so simple because the defence cooperation with India and the supply of BMD systems to that country have a direct bearing on Pakistan’s security.
For Pakistan, the US-India relationship raises some new security concerns not only in terms of the destabilisation of the military balance in the region but also in terms of the energy security issue. The US and India have an agreement to jointly patrol the Indian Ocean from the Red Sea to the Malacca Straits, thereby controlling the critical oil transport routes. Also, joint US-India military exercises in sensitive areas like Ladakh along the Pakistan and China borders, sends negative signals in terms of the security concerns of these two neighbours of India. But the most serious issue that has arisen in terms of threat perception is, as stated earlier, the destabilisation of the strategic balance by the supply of systems like the Phalcon to India. This means that Pakistan will not be able to sustain its unilateral commitment to nuclear restraint and minimal deterrence. To counter the Phalcon factor Pakistan will have to go in for an increased production of its missiles.
Another negative fallout for Pakistan of the Indo-US relationship is the invitation by the US to India for joining the PSI. (EXPLAIN)
The US-Pakistan relationship has really begun to evolve again after 9/11 – and is very much an issue-specific cooperation (despite claims to the contrary) – but already this relationship has certain problems – especially on issues of democracy and nuclear proliferation. Pakistan’s open-ended cooperation has only led to increasing pressure and demands on Pakistan – Presently US has a stake in allying with Pakistan because without Pakistan’s cooperation US cannot nab any al-Qaeda –
In the context of the renewed Pak-US relationship, the US has been given extensive access to Pakistan’s intelligence and security structures, but there is a growing questioning of this relationship within Pakistan – especially as the strategic partnership between India and the US unfolds. Pakistan has expressed concern over the Phalcon sale to India, since this directly destabilises the strategic nuclear balance established in South Asia. The Phalcon sale to India is part of a massive US-India strategic partnership, which has a strong defence component – and is linked to the Indo-Israeli relationship which centres on defence cooperation.
The Major Non-NATO Ally status (March 2004) and its impact on Pakistan: The benefits seem to be mostly symbolic, focusing on a close relationship between the defence forces of the two countries. There is an advantage in the foreign assistance process because the status makes a state eligible for priority delivery of excess defence articles as well as stockpiling of US defence articles. It also allows for the purchase of depleted uranium anti-tank rounds and for participation in cooperative research and development programmes. Finally, it will allow Pakistan participation in the Defence Export Loan Guarantee programme, which backs up private loans for commercial defence exports. But this means that one has to buy American – with all that that implies in terms of future sales of supplies and technology updates! Our experience in this field has been a particularly painful one despite being members of SEATO and CENTO.
As for the cooperative research and development, there may be some minor gains in terms of training access to our armed forces in the US – but we seem to have done fairly well without it and, in any case, since the war on terrorism began, this cooperation had already commenced. But the question is: Would the US demand similar access and cooperation from our end in terms of our strategic research and development? This has serious negative repercussions for us in the long term – given US proliferation policy and its strategic partnership with India.
In fact, what is important is what has not been stated in the details available regarding the notion of MNNA – an idea that first surfaced in 1989 and the early states designated for this status were Australia, Egypt, Israel, Japan and South Korea. Later on Jordan (1996), Bahrain (2001) and Kuwait (2004) joined the club. New Zealand and Argentina are also members of this club! After all, if the US is going to allow certain “privileges” to MNNA members, what is it seeking in return? Clearly, access to the militaries of the member states as well as base facilities on a formal and permanent footing once required. Also, as the US official justification in the case of Bahrain put it: “The Government of Bahrain has been a steadfast supporter of our (US) foreign policy objectives.”
So, all in all, for Pakistan there is little in the MNNA beyond the symbolism – especially since substantive state of the art weapon sales/transfers have to have Congressional approval and so we are back to square one. In fact, in the long term the MNNA has all manner of debateable repercussions for Pakistan – in terms of policy objectives and preserving our control of our strategic assets’ development.
Another aspect of the bilateral Pakistan-US relationship that has the potential to pose a threat is the manner in which the US government and its media perceive Pakistan. At one level, the US relationship with Pakistan is focused primarily on the demand that “Pakistan can do more” on the issue of terrorism – without appreciating the tremendous contribution it has and is making. But even more damaging, at another level, there is the constant assumption of Pakistan being a “soft” state, a “failing” state and so on. This shows either a lack of comprehension of the Pakistani state and society or a deliberate effort to undermine the stability of the country. In either case, it does not help US policy goals in the region in the long-term. This constant critique of Pakistan finds a hostile response within the broad spectrum of Pakistani civil society as does the constant refrain of Pakistan increasing its support for Islamic extremism at a time when the government is moving aggressively in the opposite direction. These misperceptions undermine the building up of a positive US-Pakistan relationship that will endure over the long term and on this count the US has to seriously rethink its perception of Pakistan.
Delinking of the leadership from the state is also a cause for further suspicions regarding US intent. It also undermines the leadership’s efforts to effect structural changes within Pakistan.
On the issue of WMD, for the future, for extraneous political reasons, Pakistan may continue to be dragged into the WMD issue relating to US-targeted states like Iran and North Korea. For Pakistan, the issue is critical because this pretext could be a means of trying to target Pakistan’s nuclear programme, which sits uneasily with the US. And since WMD remains one of the rationalisations for the US pre-emptive doctrine, the present framing of the WMD issue impacts and aggravates Pakistan’s security concerns. Also, a recent move in the House of Representatives threatens to link all arms sales to Pakistan with a Presidential certification that Pakistan has allowed the US complete access to Dr Khan. The bill, entitled the Pakistan Accountability Act 2005, introduced by Gary Ackerman, has been referred to the House Committee on International Relations. The bill states:
“No United States military assistance may be provided to Pakistan and no military equipment or technology may be sold, transferred, or licensed for sale to Pakistan … unless the president first certifies to the appropriate congressional committees that the government of Pakistan has provided the Untied States with unrestricted opportunities to interview the Pakistani nuclear scientist, Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan …; the government of Pakistan has complied with requests for assistance from the international Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) …” and so on. Even before Pakistan has negotiated the terms of the F-16 sale, given that the April visit to Islamabad of the US Defence Security Cooperation Agency did not have the mandate to actually discuss the terms of the deal, moves are afoot in the US to block it.
The strategic aspects of the Indo-US relationship and Pak-US relations have impacted South Asia in two main and contradictory ways: On the one hand, the US pressure has compelled India to move away from a policy of brinkmanship with Pakistan and towards dialogue – thereby improving the regional stability factor. On the other hand, the US-India military relationship is threatening the strategic stability of South Asia (EXPAND).
Given this growing dialectical nature of the US presence in South Asia, Pakistan needs to be more clear-cut and unambiguous in expressing its national perspectives within the Pakistan-US relationship and the problematique that confronts it presently. Especially within the US-India military context, the repercussions for Pakistan need to be clearly highlighted.
Pakistan has to also clear the air on a number of issues including the manner in which the domestic polity is perceived and the demands on Pakistan in connection with the War on Terrorism. US economic assistance to Pakistan remains focused primarily on reshaping domestic education and social structures and US FDI for the year 2003-2004 was $238.4 million.
In the long term, Pakistan’s interests lie in having a well-defined issue-specific coop with the US as long as the US strategic relationship with India continues to have a strong military component.
So what are the prevailing US stakes in South Asia?
• Ensuring peace and stability so that US agenda including war against al-Qaeda and moves against Iran are not interrupted by local conflicts.
• Seeing Kashmir frozen or resolved through acceptance of status quo.
• Pakistan-India rapprochement so that trade is liberalized and India can play its regional hegemon role unchallenged – In long-term, the US would like to see India-Pak strategic coop against China –some Indian analysts are already referring to this (e.g. Bharat Karnad)
• Also US would like to gain greater access not just to the Indian market but to an opened South Asian market.