President Barack Obama’s visit to India holds significance for the regional actors, and in particular the US ally – Pakistan. The visit seems to be a determining factor of the US policy towards the region, in post-withdrawal phase. President Obama is the first US President to have attended the Indian Republic Day.India being in the Soviet camp during the Cold War and still having close ties with Russia is being wooed by the US, thus, a strategic shift from the past. At the press conference in Delhi, the leadership of both countries called each other as “natural partners”. Indian Premier Narendra Modi said: “our two nations are ready to step forward together and accept this global partnership of our two countries and shape the future of this century. This is a natural global partnership”. How does India bode well for the US? What could be the rationale behind this move? Well, it would not be wrong to say that India’s market is a source of attraction for the global players. Besides, India being the largest arms import country, could serve the US weapon industry. Apart from these factors, the changing geo-political realities, emergence of China on the world stage is a major concern for the US. Thus, there is a strategic convergence between India and the US. Both view China as a strategic competitor, India at the regional level and the US at the global level. US support to India, over the latter’s bid to join the Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG), has been criticized by China. It is being viewed that the inclusion of a non-NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) state like India in the NSG could damage the credibility of the organization. Meanwhile, India’s entry into the NSG will also impact the strategic stability of the South Asian region. President Obama has also assured India of the US support for the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) membership. India is a violator of UNSC resolutions over the Kashmir issue. There was a complete shutdown in Indian Held Kashmir (IHK) on the occasion of Indian Republic Day.
Seen from Pakistan’s angle, the US President did not visit Pakistan. Prior to his visit to India, President Obama said: “I’ve made it clear that even as the US works with Pakistan to meet the threat of terrorism, safe havens within Pakistan are not acceptable and those behind the Mumbai terrorist attack must face justice”. Pakistan, has been an ally of the US for 65 years, and has also been a front-line state ally of the US in the War on Terror (WoT). No country has sacrificed more than Pakistan in this war. Almost, 60,000 people have lost their lives. In Peshawar school attack, over 145 people, including 133 school children were martyred by the TTP (Tehreek-Taliban-Pakistan). Pakistan has also been the biggest victim of terrorism, including that sponsored and supported from abroad. Despite all this, the Western world in general and the US, in particular, wants Pakistan to “do more”, while the Indian atrocities in Indian Held Kashmir (IHK), violation of Line of Control (LoC) and Indian support to armed separatists in Balochistan are being ignored. During the US Secretary of State’s visit to Pakistan, the Secretary announced US $ 250 million assistance for the IDPs of North Waziristan. But he also called for action against Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), perhaps at the request of India from where he had come to Islamabad. This shows that the US has accepted the Indian version of terrorism. Such remarks at a time when Pakistan is engaged in a military operation (Zarb-e-Azam), in North Warizistan are tactics to discredit the services rendered by the Pakistan Armed Forces. Another point of concern for Pakistan is the Indian ingress in Afghanistan. This has been a source of instability in Pakistan.
The US has its own interests in India and engagement with India is likely to be the cornerstone of the US’s policy towards the region. In such a scenario, if we want our importance to be felt, our voice to be heard on Kashmir and terrorism, we need to make ourselves strong and put our house in order. Besides, we need to diversify our foreign policy options; look for new partners/alliances. We should try to re-build trust with Afghanistan and also forge partnership with China and Russia. The development of the China-Pakistan economic corridor, connecting Western China and Central Asian Republics (CARs) by both land and sea through Gwadar port will strengthen Pakistan’s regional position.
Amna Ejaz Rafi
Researcher, Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI)