NationalVolume 14 Issue # 04

The cost of Pak-US estrangement

Pakistan tends to labour under 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 presumptions, 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.