Time to look at US as India’s major strategic challenge

In the standard national security narrative that all of us contribute to, the usual instinct is to concentrate on two or three of India’s major strategic challenges: the rise of China and New Delhi’s past experience with Beijing; the ever present shadow of Pakistan and India’s diminishing clout in the immediate neighbourhood.

Most of us continue to mainly write, discuss, analyse and criticise India’s policy on these three issues but of late, I have had this nagging feeling that in the fog of information overload, we are somewhere losing sight of the threat posed to India by the United States of America and its approach to the rapidly changing geopolitics in Asia-Pacific.

Yes, you read right.I am indeed talking about US policies turning out to be India’s major headache in the near future.

And no, this has nothing to do with the Devayani Khobgragade-Sangeeta Richard affair in New York.

Three or four recent developments in India’s strategic neighbourhood in which the US has a role to play should raise alarm in New Delhi.

For over a decade, India has invested its goodwill, funds and manpower in strengthening an anti-Taliban regime in Kabul. Although it has so far refrained from supplying lethal military hardware, despite repeated pleas by Hamid Karzai, India has done everything else possible to help anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan. All that work is threatening to come undone now because Washington is in a hurry to exit from a war it no longer has stomach to fight. In the process, it is willing to bring the very forces it sought to keep out and entered Afghanistan in the first place.

Attempts to disarm, demobilise and reintegrate the Taliban in a post-2014 arrangement is one of the main proposals in the High Peace Council proposal called ‘A Road Map for 2015.’  So far so good. But when the plan goes on to talk about the next step–that of giving the Taliban positions in ‘the power structure of the state such as ministerial berths and governors’ posts–the magnitude of the problem becomes apparent. There is more. The ‘Road Map’ gives Pakistan  a predominant and controlling stake in the proposed peace process, virtually institutionalising Rawalpindi’s role in the post-2014 scenario. And all this with American blessings.

This plan to outsource Afghanistan to Pakistan under the guise of ensuring stability in the region not only ignores the Afghan anger at Washington but more importantly shows up the lack of importance that  Washington attaches to New Delhi in South Asia. The fact is, any return of the Taliban in Kabul is bad news for India and US is not doing anything to prevent it despite professing to have India’s interests at heart in the new-found bonhomie between the two in the past decade.

There are also straws in the wind indicating revived attempts by influential voices in Washington pushing the old Pakistani line that stability in South Asia can be achieved only if India and Pakistan resolve Kashmir quickly. The proponents of this line are sold on the idea pushed by Islamabad that it can step up and play a role in stabilising the Af-Pak region only if negotiations on Kashmir involve other regional players like Saudi Arabia and China, even if indirectly.

India must also be looking at the rapprochement between the US and Iran with some concern. Its been a lose-lose situation for New Delhi.When Washington and Tehran were on opposite sides, New Delhi dared not get too close to Iran for fear of annoying the US. Now, with the US likely to cosy up to Iran, the prospects of India’s role in the Persian Gulf  getting marginalised further look real.

The third and final factor that should worry New Delhi is Washington’s recent contradictory and timid response to China imposing the Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) over East China Sea. The US reluctance to confront Beijing on behalf of long-term ally Japan would have given India an idea how not to depend on Washington in times of crisis against China. Fortunately in this respect, India has stoutly resisted US overtures to align against Beijing.

Then there are niggling issues like the two sides finding themselves at odds in dealing with the fluid situation in Bangladesh. India believes that it needs to continue backing the Sheikh Hasina led Awami League in Bangladesh but Washington is openly hobnobbing with the Jamaat, seen as pro-Pakistan.

India and US have, since 2001, rebooted their relationship both in the areas of trade and even defence. That India has bought military platforms worth over 8 billion dollars from the US–the latest clearance to buy additional six C-130 J medium lift transport aircraft came as recently as three days ago–should not detract from the fact that New Delhi and Washington have drifted apart in recent months.

This is quite a change from the situation even two years ago.

As 2013 draws to an end, it is disconcerting to note that India’s strategic challenge in South Asia comes not only from its traditional adversaries Pakistan and China but also from the US.

  1. December 23, 2013 -

    Mian Manmohan G Singh Saheb is reputed to have offered Ladakh to China in exchange for Arunachal. China might be responding actively to Manmohan G's invitation vis a vis Ladakh, and may take Arunachal later at their leisure after India's Armed Forces have been further ground down by corruption and Neta -Babu rule.. Having already handed over Tibet and Nepal (by supporting the Maoists and interceding on the their behalf with the US and UK) to China, it is quite likely that the Mandarins of the India International Center as well as South and North Block and the inflation defying Circular Canteen are mulling the possibility of a few decades of peace where an even larger proportion of the defence budget can be deployed on money changing hands to personal profit by offering Gujarat to Pakistan in exchange for Kashmir, Orissa to Male in exchange for the Andamans, Tamilnadu to Srilanka in exchange for Kerala and Goa to the US in exchange for Diego Garcia. While this may not be possible during the brief remaining tenure of the You Pay Too coalition, this will probably form the rump of the most secular You Pay Three and You Pay Four foreign policy. Exchanging Goa for Diego Garcia might set the strategic tone. As for tactics, how about edging out Saab with HAL's LCA to Dilma Roussef? Surely a contemporary 6th generation fighter like the LCA on a shoe string budget with more than a million man years of Research and Development should do the trick?

  2. December 23, 2013 -

    India's relationship with US is More of a Buyer-Seller than of a Strategic One..What I perceived is over last 10 years all the energy of New Delhi was to Chase an not so sure Relationship with US..than to strengthen & develop its Foreign policy . In hurry to Pacify US led western Community india had done many strategic blunders that is costing & will cost India Dearer in near future…a Country craving for Regional Power status should first of all Bring Clarity it's Foreign policy..but India's foreign policy is more on Whims & Charms of Politicians and Political parties than on Facts & ground Realities..India virtually gave up its firm hold on SriLanka,Maldives,Bhutan,Nepal,Bangladesh & Myanmar……..Coming years it will be very difficult to sense the direction of Moves made by these Countries …For or against India..One thing is for Sure…China was Millitarily out of Sight of in Indian Ocean region ..but with the sell of Submarines to Bangladesh & further high tech weapons to IOR countries & Significantly funding vital Projects there..never expect any strong Anti China Move from these states…They rather prefer to stay neutral anyway…US will not confront China because majority of US market depends on China for its cheap delivery of Products……any off with China will create substantial loss to US economically…So Pivot Asia was only to keep track on China’s Military Move. .While using India as a Pawn…..