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China: Future Directions of US Relations with India and Pakistan – Latest Views of Experts

Updated: Dec 23, 2022


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As appeared in www.saag.org


Mr. D.S Rajan



Beijing continues to be cautious and guarded in officially commenting on US-India nuclear cooperation. No open Government-level criticism of the two sides has so far come to notice. China’s solitary response ( Foreign Ministry spokesperson, March 2,2006) was only in the nature of expressing ‘hopes’ that the ‘relevant’ countries would conform to the regulations of international non-proliferation regime. But, the other side of the story is more important to get a full picture. What China does not want to convey diplomatically for understandable reasons, are being strongly echoed in the authoritative opinions of experts belonging to think tanks affiliated to both Party and State; views noticed of late clearly signal that academic discussions have reached the next stage – focus of analysis is now shifting from specifics (nuclear issue) to overall geo-political factors ( implications of the emerging US relations with India and Pakistan).


Examining the development of US ties with India and Pakistan in the context of Bush’s visit to South Asia, has been the theme of Professor Zhang Weiwei, a prominent Chinese expert on strategic affairs ( attached to Analysis Trends Centre, Foreign Ministry- affiliated China Institute of International Studies, Beijing, issue dated March 20,2006 of the Chinese language journal (“China Institute of International Studies”). He identified the following as three main objectives behind Bush’s South Asia visit – broadening and deepening cooperation with India in an all round manner and pushing the US-India relation of ‘global strategic partnership’ to its height, strengthening counter-terrorism and security cooperation with South Asian nations and expanding economy and trade cooperation with South Asian nations.


In relation to the first objective, the expert mentioned that the US is considering India as an important component of its Asia strategy. In particular, Washington is making attempts towards establishing a four-power alliance system consisting of Japan , Australia and India with US as leader, in order to consolidate and develop the American influence over Asia. On counter-terrorism, he felt that Bush needed more support on this account from Afghanistan and Pakistan particularly at a time when the task is going to be protracted, the anti-American feelings in the Islamic world are rising and both Musharaff and Karzai are increasingly facing internal pressures. The third goal of expanding economic co-operation with South Asian nations reflects US intentions to realize the unification of the South Asian and Central Asian economies with Afghanistan and Pakistan as links.


On US-India civil nuclear co-operation agreement, Professor Zhang commented that the US has made some compromises by agreeing to supply nuclear fuel and technology to India for civilian use. ‘To a certain degree, the US has recognized India’s status as a nuclear weapon power’, ending the latter’s international isolation prevailing since 1998. In comparison to the case of India, the visit of Bush brought little to Pakistan; Islamabad was told that on nuclear issue conditions in Pakistan are different, on Kashmir the US did not go beyond stating that it desired a solution acceptable to India, Pakistan and Kashmir and even the bilateral investment treaty, considered sure sometime back, did not materialise. Thus, the existing asymmetry in respective strategic partnership relation of the US with India and Pakistan comes out clear; the US cooperation with India is going to be global and multi-faceted, whereas the one with Pakistan will remain restricted to regional security co-operation.


Evaluating the future prospects of US strategic partner relation with India, the scholar commented that with the US initiative to lap up and support India remaining a prominent characteristic of Washington-New Delhi relations, bilateral ties would continue to rise. The US considers India as a ‘natural ally’ as the latter fulfils Washington ’s foreign policy demands in matters of democratisation, security and promotion of economic prosperity. In politics, India’s healthy democratic system and stability will appeal to the American psyche. Also important for the US could be India’s central position in the South Asian sub- continent in terms of Indian Ocean Maritime Security, capabilities to prevent the spread of Islamic fundamentalism, willingness to share intelligence helping US military action and potential even to act as the main force in the region to balance ‘China’s rise’. In the field of economy, India – US trade has bright prospects. From India’s point of view, it wants to realise its goal of becoming a big power with American help and is keen to benefit from the resources-rich US. Professor Zhang at the same time saw no possibilities of US-India relation becoming an ‘alliance’. The US lapping up of India will be conditional and limited; while dealing with US and other big powers, India will be more realistic taking care of its sovereign rights. “As such, there is no likelihood of India becoming a staunch ally of the US within a certain period of time. Both the US and India will watch every step they take”, he assessed.


Touching the question how the US-Pakistan strategic partnership is going to develop further, the Chinese scholar remarked that the partnership is likely to continue because Pakistan will remain as a long term important ally of and front line nation for the US in countering terrorism. The second reason is that Pakistan occupies an important place in the US plans for ‘Middle East Democracy transformation’ and ‘South Asia- Central Asia economic unification’. But so far, the US- Pakistan strategic partnership relation has been confined to counter terrorism and security spheres, lacking depth and speed in other fields like economy. The relationship thus has a weak basis. Professor Zhang then found that the American policy towards Pakistan has contradictory foundations; the US wants support of Musharaff regime in counter terrorism, on the other hand it desires to push for democratisation in Pakistan through applying pressure on Musharaff to yield power and carry out democratic reforms. This means that the US will oscillate for some time between two irreconcilable stances, which can have a certain impact on the political situation in Pakistan. Bush’s elevation of India and cold-shouldering of Pakistan during his tour has already caused a high–tide in anti-American feelings in Pakistan and increased the pressure faced by Musharaff. The latter’s regime already faces ethnic, religious and regional challenges including from a majority of the political parties. The result of the impending 2007 elections appear unclear. If the extremist forces takeover power, the US- Pakistan relations will suffer. Further development of US-Pakistan relations will be difficult as long as Pakistan’s political situation remains volatile.


The views of the scholar apparently close to the foreign ministry merit close scrutiny; Well articulated are Chinese perceptions about the future pattern of US relations with India and Pakistan.


(The writer, Mr.D.S.Rajan, is Senior Fellow in ORF – Chennai Chapter. He was formerly Director, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India. email: dsrajan@gmail.com)

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