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What US improving ties with Pakistan means for India

What US improving ties with Pakistan means for India

India will be closely following as Washington’s renewed interest in Sharif’s government evolves. If the US decides to resume military assistance to Pakistan in any meaningful manner, India would certainly object.
Last Updated 02 April 2024, 07:11 IST

The letter sent by United States President Joe Biden to Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on March 29 has evoked considerable interest as Pakistan was off his priorities earlier.

Biden had not talked to former Prime Minister Imran Khan and Sharif during his first term, disapproving of Pakistan’s support to the Taliban against the US forces in Afghanistan.

Now, in his letter, Biden has expressed interest in renewing the ‘partnership’ with Pakistan to tackle the most pressing ‘global and regional challenges’. These included ‘health security, economic growth, education for all and strengthening Pakistan’s climate resilience, support for sustainable agriculture, water management, recovery from devastating floods and protection of human rights’.

Renewing ties

Given the irregularities in the elections held on February 8, Biden did not congratulate Sharif on becoming Prime Minister, nor did he make any reference to issues close to the Pakistan establishment’s heart — Kashmir, or on attacks by the Afghanistan-based Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on security personnel and other targets within Pakistan.

A similar letter was sent by Biden to Sheikh Hasina upon being re-elected as Prime Minister, on February 6. Both these missives should be seen as an effort by Washington to improve its ties with these two countries notwithstanding its differences on some issues to safeguard its long-term interests.

The Biden administration has partly accepted the request of the current and previous chiefs of the Pakistan Army to broaden its relationship without providing any support in the political field. The US has always maintained close links with the chiefs of the Pakistan Army by giving military support, and slots for courses in its military institutions — in return using them to mount counterterrorism operations and promote its other interests. For instance, news reports suggested that late last year, Pakistan helped the US by supplying ammunition for the Ukrainian forces. The US could use its enhanced ties to seek Pakistan’s concurrence for military base facilities against the Islamic State and other terror groups in Afghanistan and Iran, and regional balancing (against India) now that the Sharif government and the Pakistan Army are on the same page. The antipathy between Washington and Islamabad over the latter’s support to the Taliban is a thing of the past with the changes in Kabul.

India is watching

India will be closely following as Washington’s renewed interest in Sharif’s government evolves. If the US decides to support Pakistan’s economy through limited bilateral economic assistance, or encourage the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to extend a new standby assistance programme to Pakistan, India could hardly object. A more economically stable Pakistan is also in India’s interest, as a sharply destabilised or weak Pakistan can create new problems for India through greater cross-border flow of terror elements, drugs, threats to the security of its nuclear weapons and deeper inroads by China. The US could well explain its enhanced ties with Pakistan with India’s growing ties with Russia.

If the US decides to resume military assistance to Pakistan in any meaningful manner, such as the supply of a new generation of fighter aircraft, missiles, long-distance artillery, and mountain guns, then India would certainly object. Ditto, if the US supports Pakistan in reviving the Kashmir issue. New Delhi considers the Kashmir issue closed, and would not reopen any talks with Pakistan on it.

It is unlikely that the US would take any of these steps at the current juncture, as it still needs India’s assistance in its current rivalry with China. The Sino-Philippines maritime conflict in the South China Sea in which the US is obliged to support the latter, can worsen anytime. The dumping of electric vehicles (EVs) by China in the US market and China’s alleged cyberattacks against some US agencies are adding fresh tensions between the two nations.

The US is not happy with India’s ongoing ties with Russia including import of crude oil and purchase of defence equipment, but in comprehensive terms, India’s ties with the US are far deeper — save the recent differences on the separatist Sikhs and human rights issues.

Since the US is a source of much-needed investments, trade, technologies, and critical military assistance, India would like to maintain close ties with the US in the long term. India has proved itself as a useful partner to the US by providing important assistance for global shipping with its anti-piracy patrols in the international waters close to the Red Sea. India and the USA also have overlapping interests in the Indo-Pacific, West Asia, Africa, and Latin America in checking the growth of Chinese influence.

It is an extremely valuable relationship which both sides would maintain despite occasional differences.

(Yogesh Gupta is former Ambassador and Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs. X: @AmbYogeshGupta.)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

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