India and the US—Pakistan partnership

How should India view the US—Pakistan relationship? What are the circumstances under which the US will cease its support to Pakistan’s military—jihadi complex?

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

In my previous post, I had written about the 3 schools of thought on India—US partnership. Well, Pakistan is the main protagonist in one of the three strategies and hence it makes sense to look at the US—Pakistan equation in greater detail from an Indian perspective.

This Pakistan centred line of thinking goes as follows: why should India support the US when it continues to support and even encourage Pakistan’s military—jihadi complex (MJC), an irreconcilable adversary of India? This perspective has further found an availability heuristic too: our minds are fresh with the news of approval on the sale of F-16 to Pakistan, further confirming the bias that the US continues to play a double-game with India.

So, how should we view the US—Pakistan relationship? What are the circumstances under which US will cease its support to Pakistan’s MJC?

The US continues to mull over its relationship with Pakistan. The policy paralysis on this front was explained in this article. Suffice to say here that at present, Pakistan is important to the US national interest for two reasons. First, US still continues to see Pakistan as a part of the solution to the Afghanistan problem. There is no scenario in which US policymakers see a decline in threat from Taliban, Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups in Afghanistan without an active role of Pakistan.

Second, Pakistan’s demand for war machinery, F-16s for example, serves the US military-industrial complex well. In fact, the optimal scenario from a US perspective is not the one where it blocks equipping Pakistan militarily, but a scenario where the US military-industrial complex can be a service provider to India and Pakistan, both. In that sense, a simmering localised conflict between India—Pakistan is not a particularly adverse outcome for the US.

Given that these are the two policy priorities for the US with regards to Pakistan, what will wean the US influence away from Pakistan? First, India has to demonstrate leadership in working with Afghanistan and other countries in restoring peace in that country. The US is desperately looking for alternatives but hasn’t managed to cobble up anything apart from an already faltering quadrilateral peace process. If this goal is beyond India’s capabilities, India will have to make peace with US—Pakistan cooperation on the Afghanistan issue in the near term. This also means a realisation that the co-operation will remain fungible—benefits accrued to Pakistan on its western front will, in turn, be used against India.

The second scenario in which the US might be forced to reconsider its Pakistan policy is when China becomes a major threat to US interests in East Asia and the Indian Ocean Region. In such a case, it would be in direct interest of the US government to ensure that India is focused on one common adversary only. It might then seriously reconsider its support to the MJC in the form of both arms and money. Whether India chooses to align itself with the US or chooses to be a swing power will then become an important question.

Until these two scenarios unfold, the US will continue to secure its partnerships with both India and Pakistan — and its support to the military—jihadi complex is a bitter reality that India will have to swallow.

Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas) is a Research Fellow at the Takshashila Institution.

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