The Indo-US Alliance
By Munir Akram
Recently, US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter reportedly opened a meeting with senior Pakistani military leaders by declaring: “I must tell you, I am a friend of India.”
The statement, besides being gauche, was superfluous. Carter’s closeness to the Indians is all too evident. The US defence secretary has met four times in the last year with his Indian counterpart, as noted in the joint communiqué issued after his recent visit to India.
The joint communiqué outlines the vast scope and depth of the present and planned Indo-US military relationship; including co-production of advanced defence articles, joint research on advanced jet engines and aircraft carrier technologies, and strategic cooperation on maritime security.
Most significantly, India endorsed the US stand on the South China Sea islands dispute with China by reaffirming “importance of freedom of navigation and over-flight throughout the region, including in the South China Sea” and vowed support for “a regional security architecture”.
The US alliance with India has obvious and significant negative implications for Pakistan’s security.
The US has opened all military and technology doors to India, and encouraged Israel and other allies to do so as well. For the past eight years, India has been the world’s largest arms importer, buying over $100 billion in weapons each year, two-thirds of which are deployed against Pakistan. Moreover, US military and political support encourages India in its bellicose behaviour towards Pakistan.
It is not merely that Pakistan suffers ‘collateral damage’ from the US arming of India against China. The US has imposed — formally and informally — severe and discriminatory restraints on Pakistan’s acquisition of advanced and dual-use technologies and weapons systems from the US or allied sources.
It opposes Pakistan’s defensive responses to India’s build-up: fissile material production, theatre nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. Pressure has even been exerted on China not to transfer advanced weaponry and technologies to Pakistan. Unless this dynamic is changed, Pakistan’s capabilities for conventional defence and nuclear deterrence against India could be significantly eroded.
The latest confirmation of the Indo-US alliance comes at a time when Pakistan’s limited convergence with the US on Afghanistan may be fading. According to Indian press reports, Ashton Carter conveyed to the Indians that the US has given up on Pakistan’s cooperation to stabilise Afghanistan, and wants India to play a larger role there.
The US alliance with India has negative implications for Pakistan’s security.
Worse, the US appears to be encouraging closer ties between India and the GCC states, especially Saudi Arabia, which Modi’s visited recently. There may be an Iranian gambit as well. Given India’s close relations with Iran and informal US-Iranian cooperation against the militant Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, collaboration between the US, India and Iran to ‘stabilise’ Afghanistan cannot be ruled out.
Pakistan must formulate a well-considered and calibrated military and diplomatic response to these adverse developments. Capitulation is not an option. India’s treatment of Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh should be a lesson against acceptance of Indian hegemony.
Pakistan’s military response will have to be defensive, asymmetrical, and designed to preserve the ability to deter and repel a conventional Indian attack, and the credibility of nuclear deterrence.
To break up a large Indian surprise attack (projected by the Cold Start doctrine), Pakistan can multiply its short-range, conventional missile capabilities. Air defence can also be best assured by anti-aircraft and ballistic missile defence systems. On the sea, Pakistan cannot afford expensive aircraft carriers; its defence will have to rely on submarines, large numbers of fast missile boats, and anti-submarine warfare capabilities.
To maintain credible nuclear deterrence and dissuade a pre-emptive enemy strike, Pakistan needs to continue to multiply its short, medium and long-range missile capabilities. Ultimately, the deployment of nuclear submarine-based missiles offers the most credible second strike option.
And, so long as India persists in its reported support for the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, and the Balochi Liberation Army, Pakistan would be unwise to give up the option of supporting the legitimate struggle of the Kashmiri people for freedom and self-determination.
Pakistan’s diplomacy will have to be dynamic and imaginative.
Strategic cooperation with China will remain critical. Just as the US is willing to share cutting-edge military technologies with India, China should be expected to share its most advanced weapons systems with Pakistan, including nuclear submarines, stealth aircraft, and its anti-aircraft carrier missiles.
Pakistan also needs to do much more to enhance military and diplomatic cooperation with Russia, which is locked in a new Cold War with the US, displeased with India’s embrace of America, and much closer to China. Several Russian weapons systems — the S300 anti-ballistic missile and the SU-31 fighter-bomber — are among the best in class.
In Afghanistan, Pakistan should clearly draw its ‘red lines’: no Indian military presence or use of Afghan territory for subversion against Pakistan. While continuing to support inter-Afghan dialogue, Islamabad should be prepared for a collapse in Kabul and prolonged Afghan chaos. Fostering an understanding with Iran is essential. Pakistan and Iran can cooperatively normalise their respective parts of Baluchistan and stabilise Afghanistan — unless Iran decides to align itself with India.
Rebuilding a close relationship with Saudi Arabia will restrain Indian penetration in the Gulf. This requires full support to the House Of Saud; it does not require participation in hostile operations against Iran.
Pakistan should continue its diplomatic engagement with the US, although there may be rough times ahead in the relationship.
The Sino-US rivalry is likely to get worse in the near future, given the angry and ugly mood in America, and rising nationalist sentiment in China. Eventually, once China acquires comparable military power, and large parts of Eurasia are incorporated into China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ economic community, Washington may come to accept coexistence and cooperation with the new superpower.
It may also come to recognise that Pakistan is a critical country whose cooperation is vital to ensure regional stability in south and west Asia, to prevent nuclear non-proliferation, and to defeat global terrorism. Perhaps then, Washington will respect Pakistan’s legitimate security concerns.
The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.