As Friends And Foes Converge, Where Does It Leave India?
The implication of the defence pact took time to analyse. Meanwhile, Russia was also increasing its trade with China—a massive $400 billion energy agreement—which has been an all weather friend with Pakistan since 1955. And more importantly, not-so-friendly with India. So the two hostile countries to India had been wooed by a State, the leaders of which, Bulganin and Nikita Khrushchev had, while in Srinagar looking towards Pakistan, warned with their fists raised upwards not to cast an evil eye at the valley.
India did not lose its time-tested ally but was forced to share it with two hostile countries. Then the super power US has continued to be for Pakistan the most dependable lender who has never hesitated to give it billions, apart from war machines like F-16s. Ostensibly, it wants Islamabad to be powerful enough to deal effectively in Afghanistan, after US Army leaves Afghanistan. But, what about earlier years? Washington must know that Pakistan would use everything against India, for which it has endemic hatred.
Indeed, billions to Pakistan is almost a tradition with its policy-makers, ever since the American money began flowing into Pakistan in 1954, when a mutual defense agreement was signed.
In the last one year, the friendly relations charted by Barack Obama and Narendra Modi, ushered in an era of co-operation. The purchases of military wares from the US exceeded for first time from that of Russia. This would not have gone down well with President Putin.
It was hoped that despite the Pact, Russia will not actually supply military wares to Pakistan. But there has been talk of Russia selling helicopters to Pakistan, which not too long would have been impossible to imagine. And then about the same time the US too agreed to give financial assistance to Pakistan. However much, Obama might be informal with Modi, calling him Narendra, Americans have not stopped looking at India through Pakistani prism.
So Islamabad has now Russia, China and the US to take care of it in any eventuality. Of the three Pakistan even now trusts China the most. There is a reason for it. China has stood by Pakistan, helping it with weaponry, with vehicles for nuclear missiles. In fact, it has taken care of every Pak needs, except rescuing it from any financial crisis. That need is fulfilled by Americans.
So it is Pakistan which has gained the most in this triumvirate, its economy is being prevented from slipping into something like the crisis in Europe. And it is being well armed, to be able to stare back at India.
The major question is where all this leaves India. Is it in a lurch, is it friendless—no Big Brother in the Kremlin, no one in Beijing who will favour it at the cost of displeasing Pakistan. Nor Uncle Sam is willing to treat an enemy of India as its enemy. Washington needs Pakistan for dealing with Afghanistan. India has to accept this fact. Afghanistan as ever continues to be the cause and effect of most political tremors not only in the region but among the power blocs. India’s present dilemma is not due to any direct manifestation of political games being played for some sort of influence in Kabul but certainly due to concerns related to Afghanistan.
Moscow is worried about the drugs trade from Afghanistan. China fears the exodus of the extremists to its Islamist-troubled province. Americans want to keep their control in a strategically crucial Afghanistan. India is worried about Taliban. But India’s present worry, a real one, is that it has willy-nilly irked its most tested and trusted ally—Moscow. Dr Manmohan Singh in his 10-year tenure left no one in doubt whom he considered his and India’s friend. Moscow could not be pleased but kept itself away from Pakistan, knowing its hostility towards India. Moscow also backed Delhi’s stand on Kashmir.
The Afghan Angle An Analyst’s Views
The security situation in Afghanistan is a huge concern for both India and Russia. India worries that extremists targeting it might find safe haven in the country. It has signed a pact under which it will pay Russia for supplying arms to the Afghan military. Moscow has been critical of NATO pulling out of Afghanistan because it feels there could be dire security consequences, which might spill over to Russia’s immediate neighborhood.
Another key concern for Moscow is the drug-trafficking emanating from Afghanistan and illegal substances ending up in Russia—a threat that’s leading the Russians to team up with Beijing to control drug production in Afghanistan.
Islamabad is also keen to have Moscow’s and Beijing’s involvement in Afghanistan. The three have met several times to discuss conditions in Afghanistan.
The tripartite effort is laudable, but it might have implications for India, which apart from security concerns also has interests in accessing Central Asia energy via Afghanistan. Traditionally not a donor nation, India has already assisted Afghanistan with a cumulative amount of $2 billion, as well as participating in mid to large infrastructure projects.
These efforts are viewed by Islamabad as deliberate attempts to grow India’s influence in Afghanistan in a bid to encircle Pakistan. China too is bidding for a bigger role in Afghanistan. So the competition is heating up in the region; both China and Pakistan—already deepening their ties—will try to limit India’s influence.
That considered, the way Moscow’s relationships shape up with Beijing and Islamabad will also determine what kind of influence India will have in the wider region. An overly close convergence of Russia, China and Pakistan may run the risk of isolating India, unless Moscow strikes the right balance in its relations with the three nations.
Narendra Modi’s focus, in his first year was also on Washington but he tried to balance by either inviting President Putin for bilateral talks or himself talking with him regularly. But over the years Moscow had gone through much and it tried to find its pivot in the east. Its annoyance at India’s nonchalant attitude towards it for years found expression in Moscow literally crossing the Lakshman Rekha resulting in the declaration of defence pact. The result and its manifestation we have already discussed.
Now India has lost its only friend tag in the region, has it been limited? Is there a solution? There is an apprehension that India might have to fight at two borders, is the fear real?
There are a plethora of issues and questions, the answers to which it would be hazardous to predict. But one can look back to conclude what might happen in the near future. Its not that India is in some sort of trouble. And its not honky-dory for Pakistan all the way.
China, the most trusted ally of Pakistan has never supported it through supplies or sending its army whenever there has been an armed conflict with India. In fact one is told that Beijing leaders were quite cut up with Pakistan over the Kargil intrusion.
The US President Bill Clinton had, during the Kargil war, called Nawaz Sharif saying that the US had picked up movement of nuclear weapons and severely warned him against any deployment. The warning was so severe that the weapons were sent back immediately.
In 1990, President George H. W. Bush cut off military aid to Pakistan. Ostensibly, this was in response to Pakistan’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, but it’s also true that, after the Soviets were pushed out of Afghanistan, in the late eighties, the U.S. lost interest in Pakistan. U.S. assistance, directed almost entirely toward food and counter-narcotics efforts, fell to forty-five million dollars a year, and declined further after 1998, when Pakistan began testing nuclear weapons.
It is clear that America is not the all-weather friend of Islamabad. It is only when it is in its interest that the US becomes Islamabad’s ally. Like after the September 11 attacks, Pakistan abruptly became America’s key ally in the “war on terror.” Under President George W. Bush, the U.S. gave billions of dollars to Pakistan, most of it in unrestricted funds, to combat terrorism.
Pervez Musharraf, President between 1999 and 2008, admits that during his tenure he diverted many of those billions to arm Pakistan against its hobgoblin enemy, India. “Whoever wishes to be angry, let them be angry—why should we bother?” Musharraf said in an interview on the Pakistani television channel Express News. “We have to maintain our security.”
Since Musharraf left office, there has been little indication that U.S. aid—$4.5 billion in 2010, one of the largest amounts ever given to a foreign country—is being more properly spent.
Ironically, the main beneficiary of U.S. money, the Pakistani military, has never won a war, but, according to “Military Inc.,” by Ayesha Siddiqa, it has done very well in its hotels, real estate, shopping malls.
This is corruption, most brazen. But it’s the backbone of Pakistan’s economy. It is now almost entirely dependent on American taxpayers.
The relationship between Beijing and Islamabad will determine not only the future of Indo-Russian ties, but also what kind of influence India will have in the region at large. We know the two are close and China has been very protective, it has about 1000 soldiers in the PoK. The Kharakhorm highway has been widened. But it has never intervened in any armed conflict between India and Pakistan. And Beijing is astute enough to realise that with the bilateral trade with India set to go much beyond $20 billion and border dispute likely to be resolved and also because of fast growing economic and defense capabilities, it will be unwise to cut off relations with India. True, Beijing will never back India in anything that will hurt Pakistan’ s interests.
‘Two-front War’ On India? A Commentator’s View
New Delhi’s main concern is not really Sino-Russian trade—much higher than Indo-Russian business—but the nature of defense cooperation between Moscow and Beijing.
While most of the weapons China purchased from Russia—Amur submarines and C-400 air defense systems—will seemingly be used in the East and South China Sea, there’s a growing apprehension: what if the deployments are changed in a way that’s detrimental to Indian security? What if China chooses to transfer this military technology to a rival country? The implication is clearly Pakistan. This is all the more alarming because of the recently signed nuclear deal between China and Pakistan.
Defense circles in India feel strongly that the country’s security frontier is getting more challenging with the growing bonhomie between Islamabad and Beijing, who both possess nuclear weapons. India’s Chief of the Integrated Defence Staff Air Marshal PP Reddy even stated that India must be prepared for a “two-front war with China and Pakistan.”
A diplomat was quoted, “From Crimea to Western sanctions over Ukraine and now falling oil price and the devaluing of the ruble, 2014 hasn’t been easy for Russia. What Russia went through and the consequent actions it might take will have a lot of implications for its long-term ally India, and New Delhi’s influence in the South.”
Pakistan is at the centre of U.S. hopes to turn around the flagging Afghan war, but persistent anti-American feelings limit the extent of Pakistani co-operation. Once the then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that Americans must wonder “why we’re sending money to a country that doesn’t want it.”
And if we analyse the reasons, apart from the fact that India had tilted too much towards the US, Russia with a loosening grip over the Western market, Moscow—“India’s closest friend” as described by Indian PM Narendra Modi’s—has been slowly picking up its own pivot towards the East, drawing closer than ever to China and finding new friends like Pakistan.
India has tense relations with both China and Pakistan over border conflicts. Although there were reports of Indian and Chinese border troops celebrating the new year, border flare ups have been reported as recently as mid December, 2014. Border violations in India’s northern region bordering Pakistan continue unabated . Reportedly, the Pakistani Rangers at Wagah border refused to share Eid sweets.
Such behaviour is not surprising. Its suitors include all powerful countries- the US, Russia and China and with such allies if Pakistani Generals who have never won any engagement are getting enough confidence to at least try and destabilise India through cross-border terrorism and more intrusions in Kashmir.
They know beyond a point none of the three allies would countenance a war with India, so its highly unlikely they will dare to initiate any major confrontation with it.
Pakistan knows that in 1971 China never intervened. America had ordered its Aircraft carrier enterprise to sail to Dhaka. The situation changed when Soviet Leadership ordered its battleship which could have escalated into a major war. America will not do any such thing now. So Pakistan knows it has three powerful friends but their help is with conditions. And now India has become a favourable destination for trade and investment, it’s the biggest buyer of defense equipment and has a huge, young and cheap work-force.
New Delhi is also striving to expand its influence in neighboring South Asian countries including Nepal and Bhutan—a region where Beijing is fast establishing
its footprint. Modi’s initiatives have helped in clearing the suspicion in SAARC member countries that India being big will be a bully.
In fact the expeditious help during and after the earthquake in Nepal showed the other SAARC countries how good and beneficial India can be to them.
India has thus re-established its leadership of the region. It can, if New Delhi acts fast, make Iran a major ally. Iran and Pakistan are poles apart and the former is never going to be friendly with the latter. Iran will give India a chance to expand its influence in the area. Iran has influence in Yemen, Syria and Lebanon. But India will have to move fast, before all sanctions against Iran are removed, because then many countries will line up for alliance with Tehran. Japan is another friend and its powerful too. The membership of SCO will also help open many doors.
India has also to work urgently to whatever cracks have developed in its ties with Russia. The influence of the history of long friendship will do the rest. One is told that negotiations have started for manufacturing in India 200 military helicopters. India is too big a country, and with its fastest growing economy and equally growing army and defence preparedness, it should not be left in a lurch or be isolated.
By Vijay Dutt