India should ignore reset in Pak-US ties The Statesman 18 Oct 2022 Maj Gen harsha Kakar

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India should ignore reset in Pak-US ties The Statesman 18 Oct 2022

          Recent weeklong visits by Pakistan’s foreign minister, Bilawal Bhutto and army chief, General Bajwa, to Washington, signal resetting of US-Pak ties, believed by some to be a message to India. These were preceded by sale of maintenance stores for US delivered F 16s and followed by the US Ambassador to Islamabad visiting POK, which he referred to as Azad Kashmir. Past US ambassadors have used the same term for POK.

The US disregarded Indian objections on the provision of maintenance stores, claiming it was their responsibility to ensure the aircraft’s air worthiness. Blinken, the US Secretary of State, mentioned, ‘This is about sustaining an existing programme and not adding a new one. We have an obligation to do that.’ He added that relations with Pakistan are independent of US ties with India. When put together US actions appear to project a picture of it wooing Pak.

          Two recent Pak initiatives possibly influenced the US. The first being Pak opening its airspace for the US to target al Zawahiri whose whereabouts were shared by the ISI. The second was Pak, in collaboration with UK, supplying its ordnance factory produced 122mm artillery ammunition to Ukraine. The ammunition was airlifted in 12 sorties spread over 15 days from Pakistan’s Nur Khan airbase by UK’s Globemaster aircraft. 

          Pak-US relations deteriorated when Trump decided enough is enough on Pakistan’s double game in Afghanistan. He stopped release of coalition support funds, totalling USD 1.3 Billion annually. Meanwhile, the US defence and intelligence establishment maintained their connectivity with Pak GHQ, aware that it needed them for multiple reasons, most important being its strategic location, bordering Central and West Asia, China, Iran and Afghanistan.   

Hence, throughout the ups and downs of US-Pak diplomatic ties, relations between their defence establishments remained cordial. In 2018, the US blocked the International Military Education and Training Program for Pak officers only to restore it in end 2019, all during the Presidentship of Trump. Re-setting of ties gained pace with the ouster of Imran Khan.

          For the US, Pakistan’s cooperation is essential for monitoring Afghanistan, as relations with Iran and Russia remain tense, limiting options for use of airspace. Last week’s meeting between US officials and a Taliban delegation led by its intelligence chief in Qatar was possibly prompted by Pak. As Hussain Haqqani, a former Pak ambassador and currently with the Hudson Institute stated, ‘Pakistan’s only relevance right now is its geographical location and the issue of terrorism, and only those Americans who are interested in this would take Pakistan seriously.’

The US has always been concerned of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. President Biden stated at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Reception last week, ‘what I think is maybe one of the most dangerous nations in the world: Pakistan. Nuclear weapons without any cohesion.’ Military to military ties are also aimed at mitigating this concern.

          The US is also keen to draw Pak away from the clutches of China especially with deteriorating US-China ties. Pakistan remains China’s sole ally in South Asia. The US administration maintains closer contact with Pakistan’s army chief rather than its political leadership. The recent release of IMF funds was a fallout of Bajwa’s direct interjection with the US government. A possible reason for the army backing removal of Imran Khan was his anti-US, pro-Russia and pro-China stance.

          Bajwa’s two comments during his address at Pakistan’s Military Academy in Kakul, appear intended to appease his American backers and are a fallout of his US visit. The first was his mention of peace with India. He stated, without naming India, ‘We must give peace a chance by developing a mechanism to resolve all our bilateral issues peacefully.’ This conveyed that Pakistan, adopting US advice, has taken the first step in peace overtures. India must be convinced to reciprocate. The second was his warning to Imran Khan when he mentioned, ‘the armed forces with the support of our citizens will never allow any country, group or force to politically or economically destabilise Pakistan.’ Evidently, Imran has crossed the threshold of acceptability. The US also appears to be against his return.

Within India, there is a perception, that the US mending ties with Pakistan, is blackmailing it into toeing its line on global issues. This is backed by the logic that the Biden administration has yet to nominate a permanent ambassador to Delhi. Added is regular needling of India on human rights and democracy by members of their administration. Simultaneously, the US remains aware that without Indian support, its China and Indo-Pacific policies are doomed, QUAD effectiveness is questionable, and imposed sanctions unlikely to succeed.

The reality is that the US will exploit Pakistan’s territorial advantage. Their relations will remain restricted in scope. Pakistan can never replace India as being visualized by a few. The US will do no more than assist with aid when Pak desperately needs it, as with the current floods and IMF loans. It is unlikely to provide it with additional weaponry as, apart from objections from India, these would probably be technologically exploited by China.

India is possibly the only country which has stared down China by refusing to accept any terms other than restoration of status quo along the LAC. Thus the US cannot ignore India despite its dislike for Indian foreign policies as also the fact that India refuses to bend and toe their line akin to its other allies. India may be different but remains reliable. Its growing power and global respect make it an ideal partner. Hence, India-US ties will remain strong, despite differences on Ukraine. 

The recently released US National Security Strategy 2022 sums up US’s India engagement. It states, ‘As India is the world’s largest democracy and a major defence partner, the United States and India will work together, bilaterally and multilaterally, to support our shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific.’ On the contrary Pak, which was mentioned 19 times in the 2010 strategy was missing in this edition. It appears that the US is leading Pak down a garden path. Hence, the best course for India is to turn a blind eye to resetting Pak-US ties.