The situation arising from the recent exchange of fire on the Line of Control (LoC) - a military border between the Indian and Pakistani controlled parts of the former state of Jammu and Kashmir - is unlike similar incidents in the past as it was followed by an unusual threat from Indian Air Chief Marshal NAK Brown who stated India could consider ‘other options’ if violations on LoC by Pakistan continued.
Indian Defense minister AK Anthony has also declared the killing of two Indian soldiers on LoC as ‘the turning point’ in the bilateral relations with Pakistan. This sudden change of attitude by Pakistan’s most favored nation is not merely due to the influence of Hindu extremists over Delhi but shows something else is brewing.
Analyzing the events of military and strategic importance in Asia in the recent past, particularly in Pakistan’s neighborhood, shows that Washington is redesigning its strategy in Asia and Asia Pacific, assigning a pivotal role to Delhi. The U.S. policy making institutions have already redefined their interests in the region giving Delhi a major role and are now devising the modus operandi for securing their interests, especially those at the sea trade routes.
In view of the growing challenges vis-à-vis withdrawing forces safely from Afghanistan in 2014 and rebuilding the depleting economy, Washington wants a strong ally in the region capable of assuming the role of regional policeman on its call, something which Delhi has always desired. The strategic importance of an American military partnership with India has been underlined by different U.S. think tanks in the recent past. Former U.S. undersecretary of state for South Asia, Karl Inderfurth, said a U.S.-India military partnership would be ideal for maintaining the balance of power in the region in Washington’s favor.
U.S. think tanks have indicated a situation where many Asian countries, either opposed to or feeling threatened by U.S. policies, could see China’s fast emergence as an economic and military power as a sign that they should look to the Asian power for protection. Such an eventuality could prove disastrous for U.S. interests and influence in South Asia and the Asia Pacific.
To avoid such an eventuality, promoting military partnership with India has become a U.S. priority. Besides, Delhi has become one of major buyer of U.S. arms and ammunition in the world over the last two decades. Growing the military friendship with India serves as an energy drink for U.S. arms producers who are ready to go the extra mile to convince Washington to cement military ties with India at all costs.
To limit China’s influence in the region, the U.S. has embarked upon the strategy to promote India as its major military partner in Asia and south east Asia. Washington is trying to rearrange a military alliance comprising India, south Korea, Japan, Australia and Singapore to make enemies feel its undeniable presence in the region, and friends receive a strong message against giving up her American ties.
To achieve the same objectives, the U.S. held joint naval exercises in the Indian ocean in 2007 with India, Australia, Japan and Singapore to give a clear message to China. The friendly naval relations between Delhi and Washington were established after the Tsunami relief operations in late 2004 and both countries entered into a new strategic defense framework agreement in 2005.
Delhi is fully aware of its strategic importance for Washington’s redesigned interests in the region and also knows that the U.S. would remain unable to achieve them without India’s active partnership. Therefore, Delhi is trying to continue with its doctrine of having an independent foreign policy, but this practice is becoming increasingly unacceptable for Washington, especially under the present situation. In addition to that, Delhi wants Washington to reciprocate the protection of strategic interests. That is, if Delhi protects U.S. interests in Asia, then in return, Washington must protect India’s regional policies, particularly those governing its relations with Pakistan, and help implement them in letter and spirit.
U.S.-China relations in Asia do not point towards a new cold war, since the ground realities have been changed due to technological advancement. U.S.-China relations and the associated Indian role and ambitions require the neighbors and other stake holders to keep a close eye on the entire situation.
The majority of Pakistani people want friendly relations with India but consider the frequent hostile gestures and threatening ambitions of their larger neighbor as the main hurdle. Islamabad has to maintain its regional importance under the present scenario for its own security concerns and at the same time should not unnecessarily distance itself from the United States. Maintaining close friendly ties with China can provide a useful cover to Islamabad for countering the possible rise in a U.S.-sponsored Indian hegemony in the region.
Mansoor Jafar is Editor of Al Arabiya Urdu based in Islamabad. He can be reached through email: mansoor.jafar [AT] gmail.com and Twitter: @mansoorjafar