|The cost of Pak-US estrangement
Daily: Weekly Cutting Edge
Pakistan tends to revel in the assumption that the US needs Pakistan more than the other
way round. Much force to this argument is distilled from the fact that, in 2009, US Secretary
of State Hillary Clinton said that the US abandoning Pakistan to its own devices after the
end of the Cold War in 1991 witnessed the rise of the Taliban. The same idea is applicable
to the current state of affairs. That is, when the US is planning to conclude the war on terror
in Afghanistan, the US has no option of abandoning Pakistan. Perhaps, the cost of
dissociation of Pakistan is more than the cost of association.
Driven by such assumptions, Pakistan overlooks another fact. In the wake of the Kargil war
of 1999, the visit of the then US President Bill Clinton to India in 2000 was a turning point in
US-India relations as well as in Pak-US relations. Both the US and India adopted the path of
negotiations leading to a mutually beneficial strategic defence partnership. After 9/11
(2001), India offered a logistic and military support base to the US to fight its war on terror
in Afghanistan. At that time, the US was relying on Pakistan. Nevertheless, in 2002, the US
and India signed the General Security Of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) to
facilitate interoperability between militaries.
Whereas the war on terror brought the US and Pakistan once again closer to each other,
both countries remained entangled in the question of the level of Pakistan’s involvement in
the war. Every government holding the reins of power in Pakistan remained under the
domestic pressure of denying a logistic support base to the US forces in Afghanistan.
Perhaps, the year 2011 was decisive because of US Navy SEAL’s raid in Abbottabad
followed by the Salala Checkpost incident. The US had to find another partner in logistics.
Consequently, the US had to opt for India in South Asia even at the cost of Pakistan. The
later years witnessed the US’s gradual distancing itself from Pakistan and precipitous
sliding towards India.
In 2016, the US and India signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement
(LEMOA) for getting a reciprocal access to logistical support for compensation either in kind
or cash. In this way, on the one hand, the negotiation prospects bilaterally kept on
improving, while on the other hand, new agreements meant for interdependence were
signed. Whereas the recent 2 plus 2 dialogue (two foreign ministers and two defence
ministers, one each from the US and India) held in New Delhi on 6 September was next in
the series of dialogues, the huddle gave birth to another agreement called the
Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA). The agreement will
enable India to procure specialized equipment for encrypted communications installed on
the US made military platforms, acquired by Indian armed forces, like the C-17, C-130 J and
P-8I aircraft, and Apache and Chinook helicopters. In this series of agreements, the fourth
agreement, which is yet to be signed, is the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement
(BECA) for geo-spatial cooperation.
Generally, the US signs these agreements with its close allies to facilitate interoperability
between militaries and sale of sophisticated technology. These agreements have not only
upgraded the regional status of India as an equal partner of the US, but these agreements
have also allowed the US to gain access to important Indian naval bases and airports for
logistic purposes. In short, in India, the US has become able to develop a logistic base for
its armed forces in South Asia.
In 2004, the US offered Pakistan the status of Major Non-Nato Ally Status (MNNA); however,
in 2016, the US offered India the status of a Major Defence Partner, which could get access
to the US defence technology. To substantiate this status, the US Department of Commerce
is inclined to grant India the status of a Strategic Trade Authorization Tier 1 country thereby
permitting India to have access to a wider range of US defence products. This is how the
US is compensating India for the past US inclination to strengthen Pakistan’s defence.
On 21 August, 2017, US President Donald Trump announced a new South Asia strategy
called the Strategy in Afghanistan and South Asia (SAS) encompassing both Afghanistan
and South Asia including Pakistan and India. President Trump demanded from Pakistan to
“demonstrate its commitment to civilization, order, and peace” by assisting the US in the war
on terror in Afghanistan.
The SAS has two legs. The first leg is in Afghanistan. The SAS is an endorsement of India’s
role in Afghanistan in terms of investing money to lay down infrastructure and carry out
social development projects. India’s persistent engagement in reconstructing Afghanistan
has endeared it to the US. This is where Pakistan remained at loss owing to its economic
insufficiency: Pakistan could not spare funds to help reconstruct Afghanistan.
On 16 October 2017, the European Union (EU) also announced its New Strategy on
Afghanistan to bolster up the (first leg of the) SAS, with a focus on the development sector
coinciding with the focus of India. This was how both the US and the EU started seeing India
in Afghanistan as their economic partner sharing their financial burden of sustaining a
seventeen-year long war. Both the US and the EU think that the reconstruction of
Afghanistan meant stability of Afghanistan and, concomitantly, development of Afghanistan,
and which means averting any future global terrorist attack from the soil of Afghanistan.
The role of Pakistan in Afghanistan has been external, confined to security only. That is,
the US needed Pakistan for security assistance whereas the US needed India for economic
assistance in Afghanistan. Pakistan is now averse to any “do more” mantra of the US and
has lately refused to offer further security assistance to the US, India has welcomed the “do
more” demand of the US, financially, in Afghanistan. This is how India has ingratiated itself
with both the US and the EU. Even Afghanistan sees economic assistance provided by India
as a goodwill gesture to bring both countries closer to each other.
The second leg of the SAS is the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). Whether or not the US is
ready to use India against China in the South China Sea, the US is ready to embolden India
in the IOR. In June 2018, the US renamed its Pacific Command (PACOM) as the Indo-
Pacific Command (INDOPACAM), which might be interpreted as a joint venture or an
inclusive project. Nevertheless, it was a step to give India a regional boast and offer it a
bigger pedestal, the feel of a regional power.
These developments indicate that since 2000 US and India are nearing to each other, and
this is happening at the expense of Pakistan.
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