The US’s South Asian Dilemma

South Asia is one of the most sought regions by the world’s sole superpower, the US. Stability in South Asia has often remained the cornerstone of the US foreign policy towards this part of the world. If one closely follows the current US policy towards South Asia, that too, specifically under President Trump, one would find Afghanistan and India continue to decide the fate of not only the entire region but also the future of Pakistan-US relationship. Since Afghanistan does not show any signs of stability shortly, so is the case with regional stability and Pakistan-US relations. The US seems to have decided to engage Pakistan via Afghanistan but the road ahead is slippery. Right from the beginning, the international community, especially the US, relied on swift short-gains in Afghanistan, which kept on ignoring the long-term future costs involving the country. The strategic community in Islamabad stands well aware of nature and scale of problems in Afghanistan and its spillover effects on Pakistan-US relations.

The US steers India, and India determines Pakistan’s response. Likewise, Pakistan’s navigation of its predicaments in such a situation makes the US-Pakistan balance in jeopardy. No matter what India claims about de-hyphenating the US relations in the Indo-Pakistan context and dealing bilaterally with the US, the Indo-US relationship would often be at the mercy of how geopolitical puzzle, about Afghanistan, Pakistan and China, evolves in the region. Pakistan would try everything to equalise concerning the Indian conventional superiority as Pakistan faces discrimination when it comes to South Asian security dynamics. The US is putting its strategic weight behind India, making Indian posture offensive in nature. India is part of America’s global strategy and both Indian and American policymakers know this well. Using and exploiting geopolitical dynamics of the South Asian region along with that of China and Iran is a dangerous game for not only the US’s interests but also for India as the region is marred by complexities.

The US is the only country that has the leverage to defuse tensions, especially between Pakistan and India

The Pakistan-US relationship saw and survived the most difficult times in the past. But, today, India has been trying to influence the US policy towards Pakistan and the dotted past between Pakistan and the US and between India and Pakistan may serve as an accelerator. For example, during the “2+2” talks between US and India in September 2018, former Defence Secretary, James Mattis, in reply to a question on India’s plans to buy sophisticated air-defence system from Russia had said, “Freedom means that at times nations don’t agree with each other,” and “that doesn’t mean we can’t be partners. That doesn’t mean we don’t respect the sovereignty of those nations.” But when it comes to Pakistan, the US officials often have different meanings of respect, sovereignty, and freedom. Even, Pakistan’s economic engagement with China in the CPEC, does not go well with the US.

The US is the only country that has the leverage to defuse tensions, especially between Pakistan and India, and it did so successfully in the past. But, during the recent crisis between India and Pakistan, the US somehow remained oblivious of the dangers in the region. The US’s role as a sole superpower should not be seen as permitting, encouraging or rewarding one country in the region over others. Being the sole superpower, the US must realise South Asia is not India only, there are other important states too. Until and unless the US keeps on looking at Pakistan through Afghanistan and Indian prism, relations may not stabilise between the two. India has been making every effort in making the US realise that stronger and pro-US India is in the interests of the US. At the expense of the regional peace, a stronger India is neither in the interests of the US nor South Asia. The US must understand that an imperative to ensure stability is to set the basics right, i.e. lingering disputes, especially the Jammu and Kashmir should be resolved in the region.

The writer can be reached at khalidhussainchandio@gmail.com

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