The US-India-Pakistan Triangle: How new US-Pakistan relations are going to impact India

Donald Trump has indicated a new warmth to Pakistan. As US-Pakistan ties thaw and Afghanistan simmers, can India take the heat?

 |  4-minute read |   04-08-2019
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Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recent visit to the US was aimed at resetting US-Pakistan relations that have been strained for several years, especially since the assumption of office by President Trump

The primary reason for this has been Washington’s displeasure at the continuing covert Pakistani support, including the provision of safe havens, to the Taliban and other terror networks operating in Afghanistan against US forces and the Kabul government.

trump-india-today-in_080119125727.jpgJust say no: Earlier on, the US suspended $1.3 billion aid to Pakistan. Is that returning? (Photo: India Today)

The Trump administration suspended $1.3 billion of military aid and put on hold $800 million of economic aid to Pakistan.

On January 1, 2018, President Trump castigated Pakistan in no uncertain terms: “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies and deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan... No more!”

Initially, Pakistan responded to such charges with defiance — turning to China and Saudi Arabia for financial support.

However, the past year has seen significant attitudinal changes on both sides.

Pakistan is in deep financial crisis with its foreign exchange reserves down to barely two months of imports and that too, thanks to a $1 billion emergency loan from China. It has had to take recourse to a $6 billion IMF bailout to temporarily alleviate its dire economic situation. Pakistan requires US support to continue to receive international financing, given Washington’s voting clout in both the IMF and the World Bank.

The US, on its part, needs Pakistan to extricate itself from the Afghanistan quagmire — this can be achieved only if the Afghan government and the Taliban reach an agreement that allows the US to withdraw its forces without loss of face. The US needs Pakistan to act as a facilitator in this process because of Islamabad’s leverage with the Taliban. Trump made it clear during Khan’s visit that his administration depends on Pakistan to help get the US out of Afghanistan — without Washington losing credibility.

And Imran Khan has indicated that his government is willing to do so — but has, at the same time, warned the US, "Do not expect this to be easy, because it is a very complicated situation.”

It is also Khan’s signal to Washington that Pakistan will help only if the price is right.

This would include resumption of military and economic aid frozen by the Trump administration as well as the US putting pressure on Kabul and New Delhi to recognise Pakistan’s strategic and political interests both in Afghanistan — and in relation to Kashmir.

imran-ani-inside_080119010004.jpgDriving a hard bargain? Using the Taliban, can Imran Khan end Pakistan's perilous pariah state? (Photo: ANI)

Such a bargain, if it is struck, will have major implications for India.

It would mean a significant divergence of American and Indian interests regarding Afghanistan.

This process is already underway with the US negotiating directly with the Taliban but is likely to be accelerated if Pakistan puts real pressure on the Taliban. This outcome is anathema to India but New Delhi has little leverage to reverse the process. Recent differences between India and the US regarding trade issues, and New Delhi’s decision to acquire the S-400 missile defense systems from Russia, for which it has become a candidate for US sanctions, have already begun to negatively affect relations with Washington.

Trump’s statement during Khan’s visit that he was willing to mediate between India and Pakistan on Kashmir and that Prime Minister Modi had apparently requested him to do so should also be seen in this context. It was not merely a gaffe emanating out of his ignorance of the Indian position that rejects any third party interference in the Kashmir dispute.

It was also a signal to Pakistan that Washington was willing to face Indian ire in order to placate Islamabad. 

American involvement in India-Pakistan disputes is not new — it was President Clinton’s intervention, with Prime Minister Vajpayee’s blessing, that forced Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to withdraw Pakistani forces from across the LoC and bring the Kargil conflict to an end. But the talk of American 'mediation' and 'arbitration' on Kashmir is new — at least since the signing of the Shimla agreement in 1972, which clearly stated that all India-Pakistan differences must be settled bilaterally without external involvement.

President Trump’s remark seemed to be a well-calibrated message to New Delhi as much as it is to Islamabad.

India’s week-kneed posture when it gave in to American pressure to stop purchasing oil from Iran, a potential strategic partner for India, may have encouraged Trump to push New Delhi even further.

India now needs to show more courage to push back against American pressure on Kashmir and on other issues.

modi-ani-inside_080119010859.jpgIt's complicated: Can India tell the US exactly what it thinks? (Photo: ANI)

Merely releasing statements denying that Prime Minister Modi had requested American involvement is not enough.

One wonders if the present government is up to the task.

It is likely India needs someone of the moral and intellectual stature of Jawaharlal Nehru to stand up to the world’s lone superpower.

Also read: Three Reasons Why: PM Modi's pictures are showing up in Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu's election campaign


Mohammed Ayoob Mohammed Ayoob

The writer is a distinguished professor emeritus of international relations, Michigan State University; non-resident senior fellow, Center for Global Policy, Washington,DC.

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