America can't be trusted: Lessons from Ashton Carter’s India visit

The US defence secretary made the usual polite gestures, but Washington remains heavily 'invested' in Pakistan.

 |  5-minute read |   12-04-2016
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Can the United States be trusted? Yes and no. Yes, if you're part of the Anglosphere comprising America, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

The US shares sensitive intelligence only with its Anglo-Saxon allies. For the rest, Washington is at best a tactical friend.

US defence secretary Ashton Carter's three-day visit to India, which ended on April 12, did nothing to change the basics of the India-US strategic partnership.

Carter made the usual polite gestures. He described India as a "very influential and powerful player" in the Asia-Pacific. Note the Asia-Pacific caveat - for the US, India is not a particularly influential and powerful player beyond the Asia-Pacific.

Also read - Why is US defence secretary Ashton Carter in India?

Carter added a soothing aside: "We are long past the point in US policymaking where we look at the India-Pakistan (relationship) as the whole story for either one of them. We have much more to do with India today than (we have) to do with Pakistan. There is important business with respect to Pakistan, but we have much more, a whole global agenda with India, an agenda that covers all kinds of issues."

This was taken by US and Indian analysts to mean, for the umpteenth time, that America has dehyphenated India from Pakistan. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The US remains heavily "invested" in Pakistan. It needs Pakistan as a buffer state. Washington knows exactly what Islamabad's game is: extract money and weapons from the US, continue to fund jihadi groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) against India, and fight anti-Pakistan factions of the Taliban while sheltering those which launch terror attacks on India.

Also read - How India must proceed ties with America

Pakistan in return for its duplicity receives blood money from Washington. To appease India, the US meanwhile makes periodic concessions: it scolds Pakistan after every terror attack on India, warnings which Islamabad ignores.

Washington then, in practised fashion, urges India and Pakistan to resume talks, as if admonishing two recalcitrant adolescents. Equivalence with India, which Pakistan craves, is thus established. Indian diplomacy is no match for this US-Pakistan axis of deception.

Our talented Indian Foreign Service (IFS) officers are schooled in the gentlemanly art of diplomacy. They struggle to make an impression on hard-nosed American diplomats who have a ruthless notion of US self-interest.

o-obama-modi-faceboo_041216033533.jpg Narendra Modi with Barack Obama. (Reuters)

Even Pakistan's foreign policy machinery is slicker than India's. High commissioner Abdul Basit has New Delhi's foreign correspondents eating out of his hand. He hosts Hurriyat separatists, announces "suspension" of talks with India, and is still feted by Delhi's gullible chattering classes.

The Americans caught on to the weakness of Indian diplomacy decades ago. They treated Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi with polite deference but had no hesitation sending the Seventh Fleet to the Bay of Bengal to silently threaten the Indian Army during the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war.

The insouciance hasn't changed much. Carter and his boss, President Barack Obama, doff their hats in recognition to India's growing consumer markets and military footprint, but remain focused on self-interest.

The US continues to sell not only F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan (knowing fully well they will be used in a future conflict with India, never on the Taliban), but attack helicopters as well.

Also read - Selling F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan is not a sign of 'American duplicity'

As The Times of India reported last week: "The Obama administration on Monday awarded a $170 million contract to Bell Helicopter of Texas to manufacture and deliver nine AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters to Pakistan, continuing the US policy of arming a country that many of its lawmakers say is two-faced about fighting terrorism. The American reward for Pakistan came even as Islamabad continued to protect Masood Azhar, leader of the terrorist outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad, with Chinese support, while subverting New Delhi's efforts to bring to justice Pakistani perpetrators of terrorist attacks in India."

This duplicitous policy comes down directly from a man with whom Prime Minister Narendra Modi has supposedly developed a special rapport: President Obama.

It is Obama who makes it a point to lecture India on talking to Pakistan after every jihadi terror attack on Indian soil sponsored by Islamabad. And it is Obama who hyphenates India with Pakistan in public statements.

For Obama, Indian lives matter less than America's overwhelming interest in rewarding Pakistan as a "frontier state" against the Taliban - notwithstanding that Punjab-based terrorist groups like the LeT continue to receive arms, training and money from the Pakistani army and ISI.

Also read - America is on India's side against Pakistan terror

In an anodyne op-ed in The Times of India on Monday, April 11, Ashton Carter wrote solemnly: "The United States and India also have a shared vision for peace, stability and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region, as outlined in the Joint Strategic Vision President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi released last January. The United States and India will work together to maintain the progress and stability, that combined have helped so many nations in the region, including India, to rise and prosper. We share a commitment to important principles, including peaceful resolution of disputes, freedom of navigation and overflight, countering terrorism and a belief that countries should make their own security and economic choices free from coercion and intimidation."

Washington is well aware of Pakistan's internal problems. The country faces a growing insurgency in Balochistan. Sindh separatists too are beginning to agitate for independence. The Pashtuns on both sides of the Durand line, in Pakistan and Afghanistan, seek a separate Pashtunistan.

The US fears that a Yugoslavia-type Balkanisation of Pakistan will bring chaos to a region which Russia continues to cast a baleful eye on. In this geopolitical replica of the 19th century Great Game, India - nice, gentlemanly India - suffers the most.

Modi has deferred to Obama over the past two years. He has received little in return. A curtain must be drawn on a counter-terrorism strategy, midwifed by Washington, that hasn't worked. Nice countries, like nice guys, finish last.


Minhaz Merchant Minhaz Merchant @minhazmerchant

The writer is the biographer of Rajiv Gandhi and Aditya Birla. He is a media group chairman and editor. He is the author of The New Clash of Civilizations

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