New Delhi: India and the United States, officials met in Washingto DC on June 13, 2012 for the third time to carry forward the ongoing strategic dialogue. The discussions covered issues of far reaching strategic consequences. Cordiality and keenness to accommodate each other’s point of view was obvious from the trend of the dialogue which was reflected in a 13 page summary issued after the discussions.
This dialogue is a part of the new US initiative for exploring areas of common interest and finding a lasting convergence of views between the two countries on strategic issues. The discussions span various geo-strategic factors and cover a vast canvass of diverse issues such as agriculture, education, science and technology, women’s empowerment, cyber security and counter-terrorism, police training, even subjects as creating virtual institutes on mathematics.
It is believed both the governments fully understand each other’s sensitivities that may come in the way of developing a lasting relationship. India wants a partnership of the equals and would not like to play a second fiddle to any one in South Asia or elsewhere, and the US understands this position. The main aim of the US at this stage seems to be to help India build a greater capacity and the US has indicated that latest defence technology will be made available to India to enable rapid growth of national power; but this may be only an opening gambit.
Whether India will gain a strategic advantage over China or Pakistan by getting closer to the US is open to doubts. By merely getting packages of the latest technology from the US the big picture will not change or get better unless the long term strategic aims of both the countries converge substantially and this may not be easy in the present circumstances.
Will the US administration change the game in South Asia by crafting a new strategic pattern in which Pakistan’s importance will be downgraded and will it relentlessly target all terrorists and their affiliates based in Pakistan is yet to be seen? Has the dubious and dangerous role of Pakistani generals in South Asia has finally dawned on the US authorities is also not clear yet. However, America’s new approach in South Asia is a welcome sign and will help restore greater stability in the region.
Pakistan has been exposed as a power that is nurturing and unleashing terrorists on its neighbours to achieve its ambitious strategic aims in the region The new US policy unveiled by President Obama is an open admission that it has now come to a definite conclusion that Pakistan will continue to play a double game regardless of any financial and arms assistance it receives from America and therefore can be trusted no longer. Unless Pakistani generals, the chief architect of the policy of exporting terror, realise the disastrous results of this policy and reverse it the future may be bleaker for Pakistan.
The US vision and aim of assigning a greater role to India in Afghanistan after the departure of US-NATO forces from Afghanistan spells doom for Pakistani dreams of achieving strategic depth through a subservient Afghan regime. Pakistan considers Afghanistan as its backyard and will, therefore, do its best to thwart this plan with the help from China. In these environments whether India will be in a position to play a dominant role in Afghanistan after US withdrawal is a moot point, India is understandably cautious about committing itself on taking over greater security-related responsibilities in Afghanistan.
In the developing security environments in AF-PAK more ground work is required to be done to define India’s role in Afghanistan. India’s primary requirements for increasing its footprint under the strategic environments prevailing in the region would be to involve and encourage most regional and international stakeholders in Afghanistan to accept an expanded role of India in the region.
An expanded role of India in Afghanistan will create wider strategic space both for India and the US but the question is how the new option will actually play out on the ground is not clear yet as the close Chinese-Pakistan collaboration will create various hurdle for both India and the US in the region. Despite Chinese friendly gestures towards India during the last Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting it is obvious that China would not allow US to upstage it in Afghanistan by offering a dominant role to India there.
In the face of Pak-China opposition to the US proposals of a bigger India role in Afghanistan the US and India have greater scope of achieving a long term strategic cooperation in the Indian Ocean region and steps must be taken in this direction.
The other important area of cooperation is countering terrorism and this must be pursued more vigorously by both the countries. Close cooperation between India and the US in countering terrorism and putting brakes on the increasing Chinese influence in the Indian Ocean region can be achieved without confronting China directly.