A reluctant India


You can’t please ’em all

Soon after President Obama came to office, an exhaustive review of the US Afghan policy was initiated. The policy that evolved represented continuity and was adjusted for the lessons learned and economic realities. Troops surge was implemented in Afghanistan as they were withdrawn from Iraq, drone attacks escalated in Pakistan, and US maintained its focus on Iran’s nuclear programme.

Similarly, the spotlight on building a strategic relationship with India, which had been laid earlier during Bill Clinton’s era, was also sustained. The centrality of India in the emerging US foreign policy has only increased. However, the dilemma is that the country is not gung-ho on playing the role envisioned for it in the Asia Pacific and South and Central Asia.

Learning from the mistakes of Bush era kinetic policies, Obama’s AfPak policy was big on a regional approach and political reconciliation. As part of the new emphasis, strategic dialogues were launched with Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. Since then, talks with Pakistan have faltered to such an extent that the country was almost not invited to the Chicago conference on the future of Afghanistan.

Both India and Afghanistan meanwhile have continued with their respective strategic dialogues. The terms and details of the strategic agreement signed recently between US and Afghanistan have remained vague and have caused confusion in the region, especially for Iran and Pakistan. For example, while US has claimed it will not keep long-term military bases in Afghanistan, its neighbours are not convinced. Furthermore, while US has stated Afghanistan will not be used as a staging ground for attacks, the drone strikes are continuing against Pakistan. This uncertainty regarding the long-term intent of different stakeholders continues to complicate the reconciliation process. Meanwhile, Karzai has reiterated the strategic pact with US is not meant against any other country.

On the other hand, the strategic dialogue between US and India has moved quite swiftly since the Mumbai incident. Five US cabinet officials visited India only this year, with Leon Panetta being the latest one. The third Strategic Dialogue was held on June 13 and was led by SM Krishna and Hillary Clinton. Nonetheless, there are growing concerns that India-US partnership has not lived up to its expectations and potential.

Although India wants US arms and technology, the nation does not want to be used against China. There is a rising sentiment that India does not seek an alliance with the US as it has with Japan and other Asian powers. Meanwhile, US has refuted the relationship with India has been oversold, while emphasizing its importance in regional dynamics of East Asia, Afghanistan.

According to the report of Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), India has emerged as the worlds top importer of arms and accounts for 10 percent of the global arms sales. India’s imports of major weapons surged by 38 percent in 2007-11, closely followed by China and Pakistan. According to SIPRI, India will spend more than $100 billion on weapons and systems in the next 15 years.

This has triggered a competition to provide for India’s defence needs, and friction with some western nations. For example, Britain is concluding its aid programme to India. UK’s International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell stated recently that the aid programme to India was being questioned, and the aid withdrawal came after a series of perceived snubs from India over weapons deals. New Delhi struck a deal with France for Rafale fighter jets while UK was also competing for the contract.

On the other hand, in addition to the nuclear deal, Indian and US intelligence cooperation has grown tremendously in the aftermath of Mumbai attacks. American companies and security institutions are well placed to provide the expertise and capabilities related to the homeland security needs of India. The officials of the two countries are carrying out extensive brainstorming to develop a framework for interoperability in this area.

Although there are economic and security benefits for India’s ties with the West, there are also costs. With the imposition of US and EU sanctions on Iranian Central Bank that go in to effect at the end of June, India is expected to reduce its imports of energy from Iran and this will strain its ties with the country. Furthermore, India has had exemplary relations with Russia, but when it comes to matters related to NATO’s missile defence system and affairs of Libya and Syria, India will have to play a delicate balancing act.

On most of these evolving policy challenges, India’s stance of non-intervention and emphasis on a political solution is closer to Russia and China than US and NATO. On the other hand, when it comes to Pakistan and Afghanistan, including Kashmir issue, the Indian position is contradictory to the stance it has adopted in case of Libya and Syria. Moreover, being part of BRICS and an observer on SCO, further complicates India’s role.

Due to its own large Muslim population, India’s has to be sensitive to the various undercurrents of the Islamic world, such as the Shiite-Sunni divide. With trade relations with GCC countries expected to increase by 34 percent next year, India is adopting a position similar to the US for Gulf States. And as it does, India’s relations with Iran are likely to deteriorate.

The country realises its security cannot be ensured by playing proxy to powers that are far away, while having enmity with neighbours. And, this lesson is not much different for Afghanistan and Pakistan either.

These perhaps are some of the reasons that are causing India to hesitate in fully adopting the role envisioned by US for it.

The writer is the chief analyst for PoliTact (www.PoliTact.com and http:twitter.com/politact) and can be reached at [email protected]


  1. People of Afghanisan, Pakistan and India should not take USA's 'Strategic Dialogue' seriously. It is as if USA says casually, 'chal yaar chai peete hain'.
    USA's strategic dialogues mean nothing and 'kohlu ke bail ki tarah vahin ghumaata rehta hai'.

  2. I am fully supportive of India's foreign policy as they had been wise enough not to enter a Master slave relationship with any country, unlike triabal mentality Pakistanis who will jump at being shown even slightest of Importance by a super power.India has refused to be drawn into US gameplan fully to encircle China, but haven't closed the door completely either.Similarily, India reduced Oil bought from Iran but did not stop it completly as US wanted. India promised ot pump in money in Afganistan bt refused to send its forces to fight their war. The biggest achievement for India's foreign policy had been the INdo-US nuclear deal that ended an era of sanctions against India. Russia still is a dear friend while US/West has drawn very close.So far so good.Good policy.

  3. India’s policy is very swift and peacefull.
    It doesnot wants itself to showcase as BIG BROTHER in Asia, as China is doing. It’s stand was always defensive after independence. It fought fought four wars with Pakistan and one with China, all wars were started by latters not India.
    India wants to become regional superpower without showcasing itself as Aggresive nation.
    Pakistan and Afghanistan are two sides of same coin, India has chosen Afghanistan as future of Pakistan is unsure. The ongoing fight may result in furthur division of Pakistan which might develop a hope of peace in Pakistan.

Comments are closed.