The Pulse

Pakistan: A Catch-22 in the India-US ‘Special’ Relationship

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The Pulse

Pakistan: A Catch-22 in the India-US ‘Special’ Relationship

How far can Trump push with Modi’s agenda of changing Pakistan’s security policy?

Pakistan: A Catch-22 in the India-US ‘Special’ Relationship
Credit: Twitter via @MEAIndia

The meeting between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and U.S. President Donald Trump has put to rest New Delhi’s fears that the latter’s erratic approach to politics and diplomacy might disrupt the continuation of steady partnership between the two countries.

Clearly, Modi has been successful in enlisting Trump’s support for a number of security and economic issues that are central to his country’s foreign policy priorities. At the symbolic level, Modi’s first meeting with Trump has squeezed out all major strategic gains which India has been pursuing in South Asia.

Chief among them remains India’s long-desired approach to push Washington to put effective and sustained pressure on Pakistan to take action against various militant organizations that have, for a long time, carried out cross border terrorism that New Delhi believes emanates from Pakistan’s soil.

For India, the Trump administration’s declaration of Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” reflects a significant diplomatic triumph. The timing of this announcement could not have been better, for the recent violence in India-administered Kashmir brought attention to the question of legitimacy in New Delhi’s growing reliance on military force to stifle protests in the valley.

Moreover, Trump also lent support to India’s stance of rejecting China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative because part of it runs through Pakistani controlled regions that remain a matter of dispute between Islamabad and New Delhi. Arguably, by securing Trump’s endorsement against China’s economic vision, Modi was able to send a strong signal that the United States and India remain committed to a partnership that is not just looking to check Beijing’s prolific rise, but also its world view, economically and militarily.

While Modi may have achieved some quick diplomatic points to showcase his country’s image as an emerging player in global politics, it remains to be seen to what extent he can actually turn this warm rhetoric into action, particularly in terms of his country’s anxieties with Islamabad and Beijing.

It’s fair to argue that in the first Modi-Trump meeting, it was not just the former that sought to court the latter but rather it was a shared objective that both leaders eagerly sought in their haste to score political points. But the question remains: how does India profit from this mutual courtship when it comes to forcing Pakistan to give up its alleged policy of supporting insurgent groups or getting China to stop its economic projects in regions that New Delhi considers disputed?

It’s clear that while India and United States may share host of common interests in the Asia-Pacific region, the latter has no desire to push forward strongly with India’s anti-Pakistan or anti-China policies. In essence, the naming of Salahuddin as a global terrorist doesn’t help in any way in easing India’s challenges in Kashmir, or its aims to discredit Pakistan by exposing its alleged ties with militant groups.

The Trump administration’s developing policy toward Pakistan aims to employ a toughen approach in a bid to end the country’s alleged links with militant groups. However, this approach is hardly driven by India’s concerns: the new administration in Washington is desperate to spot a change in Pakistan’s behavior as far as the latter’s policy toward Afghanistan is concerned. For Trump, it’s a risky path to take, for Pakistan has experienced and lived through such tough phases before albeit without making any changes to its security policies. In fact, now With China’s active support, Pakistan is better positioned now to overcome any economic or military obstacles that the U.S. may be planning to unveil.

Hussain Nadim, the Director of South Asia Study Group at the University of Sydney, recently wrote an op-ed for War on The Rocks in which he discussed Washington’s growing limitations when it comes to employing an overarching “stick” approach toward Pakistan. Nadim argued that “the increasingly large presence of China in Pakistan due to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, threats of economic or military sanctions on Pakistan don’t appear credible, nor does it appear the United States has the capacity to pursue that course of action.”

“Pakistani officials truly believe the United States does not have the capacity or credibility to provide a long-term solution in Afghanistan. If anything, the Pakistani security establishment sees China as playing a major role in the Afghan peace process – something that Pakistan is a lot more comfortable with,” added Nadim.

Arguably, pushing Pakistan into isolation may not be in the interests of either New Delhi or Washington. An isolated Pakistan with nothing to lose can further increase its support for various insurgent groups while undermining Washington’s efforts in Afghanistan, which will surely increase violence in the country.

Other prominent scholars have also warned of similar challenges when it comes to pushing Pakistan into a corner. Joshua T. White, an associate professor of the Practice of South Asia Studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, writes:

The United States still has numerous equities with Pakistan, and can little afford to alienate Pakistani leaders precisely when it is considering reinvesting in an Afghan peace process. New Delhi may continue to hear a tougher rhetorical line on Pakistan, but so far there are few indications that Trump would be willing to use America’s limited leverage with Pakistan to press for action against India-focused groups like Lashkar-e-Tayyiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad, rather than groups like the Haqqani Taliban network that directly target US forces in Afghanistan.

While Modi may like to see Trump move swiftly and comprehensively to undercut Pakistan and China’s position, Washington’s hands are tied with numerous political, diplomatic, and security limitations rearing their heads.

The warnings of containing China’s political and economic clout and Pakistan’s audacious polices in the region are going to draw Islamabad and Beijing closer. Both countries have already condemned India and U.S.’s joint mapping of China and Pakistan as the states that are triggering tensions in the region.

From here onwards, it will be the above-mentioned challenges that will test the resolve and commitment of special relation between India and America.