By Dr Huma Baqai
February 19, 2018
The crux of President Trump’s South Asia Policy is “India is in” and “Pakistan is out.” This turnaround is embedded in the shift in Washington focus from being Asia specific to Indo specific to counter the new power dynamics of South Asia, where US now views China more than just a latent adversary. China’s rise has changed the regional balance, making it imperative for US to sustain its supremacy.
US has tweaked its policy towards South Asia several times since World War II, however, its ultimate goal has remained unchanged and that is to dominate the region. Pakistan was cultivated to contain Communism and later to actively fight and defeat it. Fast forward to contemporary times, India is being courted by the US to curtail China. Now, as per new US policy, which is to cater to its new objectives in the region, presence in Afghanistan is not time bound but condition bound.
Admiral Harry Harris, the head of US Pacific command, called China a disruptive power in the Indo Pacific, while speaking alongside Indian and Japanese counterpart at the annual Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi in January 2018. Earlier in 2011, Hillary Clinton wrote an article titled “America’s Pacific Century,” where she says, “the future of politics will be decided in Asia, not in Afghanistan or Iraq, and the United States will be right at the center of the action.” 2013 onwards, senior US officials like Joe Biden, John Kerry and former commander of US Pacific Command Samuel Locklear III began to use terms like Indo-Asia Pacific or Indo Pacific. The outcome of this is very active engagement with India in the Asia-Pacific and the Indian Ocean becomes the new field for the rebalance. US also sees a strategic convergence with India’s “Act East Policy.” India is now the lynchpin of US Asia Pacific Rebalance Strategy.
The relationship between US and India, as a result, has both deepened and strengthened in recent years. India, in 2015, signed the US-India joint strategic vision. India is also a member of the Quad (a strategic grouping of the United States, India, Japan and Australia). The annual Malabar Naval exercises have India, US and Japan as participants and Australia may shortly join-in. The National Security Strategy of US for 2017, also supports India’s “leadership role” in the Indo Pacific region.
The deepening Chinese foot print in South Asia, through the CPEC and some sanity of conduct by Kabul to cultivate Pakistan and China for the peaceful resolution of the seventeen years old conflict has made India more receptive to projects like the Expanded Partnership for Quality Infrastructure initiative, co-sponsored by Japan and the Asian Development Bank as an alternative to the rising Chinese influence.
Modi is cultivating Japan and the US both as economic partners and key strategic allies, sharing the threat of the rising China. The “Act East Policy” of Modi is a giant leap from the “Look East Policy” of 1991, which was actually an effort of cultivating economic and strategic relations with the nations of Southeast Asia in order to strengthen its position as a regional power and a counterweight to the strategic influence of the People’s Republic of China. The Act East Policy was put on full display in January 2018, when for the first time in seven decades, all ten leaders of the ASEAN groupings were the guest of honour at India’s celebration of its 69th Republic Day. New Delhi has also boosted its relations with the Pacific Islands, increasing its grant in aid to each of the fourteen Pacific Islands to $200,000.
The Indian growing focus in the Indo Pacific region has US backing; both of them share the same objective of curtailing China and have a complicated relationship with Pakistan. President Trump wants to boost ties with India to counter China. Bringing the discussion to the catchphrase of Cold War mentality and zero sum games, China typically uses for US and Australia rings true. It was in 2009, when Barrack Obama’s administration had published its National Intelligence Strategy, in which China together with North Korea, Iran and Russia was listed as countries that challenged US interests. The frequency of the phrase has increased since Trump’s Presidency. This is because China in US policy documents under Trump is painted far more adversely.
The truth of the matter is that US is working with the objective of maintaining supremacy in the region, India is getting completely sucked into it and Pakistan, by default, is party to this divide. The strategy is outdated, its relying on military force and the cold war construct of pitching one state against another. Pursuing a zero sum game in the region with two nuclear armed neighbours that have the conflict baggage of seventy years, is not a recipe for peace. Both India and US should look at the region as an arena for cooperation and not military competition. China and Pakistan have shown the pragmatism to work cordially, with both India and US to turn this into a positive sum game. US Asia Pacific Policy which is very Indo-specific need a revisit.
Dr Huma Baqai is Associate Professor, Dept of Social Sciences & Liberal Arts at IBA Karachi.