It would seem India and Pakistan are again battling it out for a trophy, in the form of United States President Donald Trump. With Trump trotting by with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Houston many Indians now believe that the US is firmly on their side and that Washington has finally de-hyphenated Islamabad and New Delhi.
Nothing can be more far from the reality, which is that the US president is merrily two-timing the South Asian rivals. Trump is keeping Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan happy as the US needs both. If the maverick US president concurred with Modi about cross-border terrorism, he played along with Khan by saying he would mediate between the two neighbours on Kashmir, if needed. Plus, of course, making it clear both were his friends.
Of course, if one goes by spectacle, hype, glitz and public appearances, Modi did steal a march over Khan at the Houston rally. Probably this was what made Khan rue Pakistan’s cooperation with the US over the war on terror post-9/11. If one were to go by this statement, it would seem that Islamabad had the option of refusing to go with the US during the tense period after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. Again, this was wishful thinking as no country, leave alone Pakistan, could dare come in the way of a frothing US juggernaut intent on taking revenge.
The biggest myth that is gradually growing is the self-delusion in Pakistan and India that they are independent in the making of their foreign policy especially where the US is involved. Trump may dance with Modi, or proclaim great friendship with Khan but the fact of the matter is Washington calls the shots.
Eyeing huge Indian market
It requires no great investigation to figure out that the US is enamoured by the huge Indian market and would like to grab as much as possible for its own companies. The Houston rally was preceded by Modi meeting top energy leaders and that, in reality, is why the US establishment went out of its way to pamper the Indian prime minister.
With Indian energy investments touted in the range of $1 trillion, should it surprise anyone if Washington goes out of its way to get the biggest bite?
As for Kashmir, many seem puzzled by Trump’s repeated statement that he is willing to mediate to resolve the decades-old dispute. Well, the US president is simply repeating it to keep Pakistan assuaged, if not happy. Islamabad, for years, has been attempting to somehow internationalise the issue, and get foreign mediators involved. India has so far refused to play ball.
If the US needs India for its market and as a door-stopper to check China it also needs Pakistan for implementing its agenda in Afghanistan, and will need its help in handling Iran if the situation worsens.
Islamabad has been a longtime ally of the US, and the relationship between the two countries goes back to the time of the creation of Pakistan. Until the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1990, the US was pro-Pakistan including on Kashmir. If at all many of the Pakistan-sponsored resolutions brought before the United Nations Security Council on Kashmir could not be discussed, it was due to the intervention of the Soviets.
The US has economically bolstered the Pakistani economy for years. In fact, Islamabad is one of the biggest recipients of Washington’s financial aid. In the last decade, the US handed over nearly $8 billion to Pakistan.
A few statements here and there by any US administration in favour of India or seemingly against Pakistan therefore should not be taken seriously enough to imagine that the tide has turned against Islamabad.
In fact, what Imran Khan’s regret about cooperation with the US on 9/11 indicates is a loss of sovereignty. In 1979, when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, Pakistan was dragged into the US game plan which involved using the country as a base to counter the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The repercussions on Pakistan internally has been deadly and has all but turned the nation into a social and political mess with the emergence of a three-pronged power structure – the government, military and the intelligence agency ISI.
For the US, however, the purpose was served with the Soviets withdrawing from Afghanistan and eventually vanishing as a nation. Similarly, the US managed to trace the architect of the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden, with reports indicating that it was possible because of the tacit support of a section of the Pakistani security establishment.
The only failure for the US so far has been the inability to destroy the Taliban in Afghanistan. This has occurred as the Pakistani state has not been able to delink itself from its creation, the Taliban, despite pressure from the US and its own attempts to kow-tow to Washington. This is the reason why, occasionally, sections of the US government criticise Pakistan but that is not to be mistaken for any fundamental change in Washington’s relationship with Islamabad.
US embrace of India is more like a forced marriage
In the case of India, the US is now enjoying the fruits of a close relationship. It has managed to prise open the Indian market to its advantage and continues to pressure New Delhi to fling it wide open using threats. Washington has already shown, by deleting India from the list of preferred trade partners, that it can act tough if US interests are ignored.
For India, the US embrace is more like a forced marriage where the dominant spouse controls the narrative. An occasional hug or a smile, as in Houston, should not lead to self-delusion.