Modi Govt Must Pay Heed As US ‘Hyphenates’ India & Pakistan
Wendy Sherman’s visit to Pakistan after India is another example of how the US has put the two countries at par.
US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman’s visit to the sub-continent beginning today is an embarrassing setback for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government as the trip by America’s second-highest ranking diplomat clubs India with Pakistan, putting them in the same league.
New Delhi loves to call Pakistan a “failed state”, but Washington clearly disagrees and feels the necessity of counselling both countries — whose bilateral equation has plunged to its worst-ever since the Kargil war — behind closed doors on their soil. The Biden Administration has re-hyphenated Pakistan and India, instead of treating India independently and separately, leaving New Delhi squirming.
Bracketing India with Pakistan, Sherman will go to Mumbai tomorrow before flying to Islamabad to enjoy the fabled Pakistani hospitality on October 8 and 9. New Delhi abhors world leaders and high-ranking officials travelling directly from India to Pakistan, but that’s exactly what Sherman will do, causing India immense pain.
On an Equal Footing
Exactly a month ago, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) chief, William J Burns, held secret talks with the powerful Ajit Doval-headed security establishment in New Delhi, from where he flew to Islamabad for meetings with Pakistan army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) head Lt General Faiz Hamid.
Washington is increasingly talking of India and Pakistan in the same breath, refusing to buy External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar argument: “How do you hyphenate a country, which is one-eighth of your economic size … which is reputationally your exact opposite … with us?”
It is immaterial whether Sherman chooses to discuss Kashmir, Afghanistan, China, COVID-19, vaccines or climate change. The unmistakable message is that the US is going to engage with India and Pakistan on an equal footing – and New Delhi must disabuse itself of notions of India’s superiority over Pakistan articulated in Jaishankar’s rhetoric. India will get no preferential or special treatment.
Importantly, the Modi government was even more distressed when Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov recently flew to Islamabad from New Delhi, demonstrating Moscow’s intention to party with Pakistan whether India likes it or not. India expects Russia to be mindful of its sensitivities as it imports so many weapons, but Russia clearly believes in arm-twisting buyers rather than mollycoddling them.
India is No US Favourite
Just because Biden lets Modi into the White House while Imran Khan hasn’t even received a telephone call, let’s not presume that we are the apple of US eyes. The biggest reason for Modi’s entry into the White House is that the world’s most powerful leader is also a salesman of the US arms and energy industries. Another reason for nominally indulging Modi is that he has assigned India a small, symbolic role in countering China.
India couldn’t stop bragging about its defence partnership with the US and bagging a key role in the US’s Hawaii-headquartered Indo-Pacific Command through the QUAD. But New Delhi has been jolted out of its stupor by the recently formed Australia-United Kingdom-United States (AUKUS) defence pact to provide nuclear submarines to Australia.
India had been hankering after nuclear propulsion submarine technology for decades, but was fobbed off by successive US regimes.
What the US mercilessly denied India has been suddenly given to Australia on a platter, creating a caste hierarchy in the QUAD, with India right at the bottom.
The US and Australia now comprise the QUAD’s white “A” team. Japan is not bothered as its defence and security is anyway guaranteed by the US. India is now an outlier, or, to be blunt, an ‘outcaste’ in the QUAD that our diplomatic establishment raved about.
US Wants India & Pak to Normalise Relations
There are many reasons for the US re-grading India. The Left progressive section of the Democratic Party has very serious misgivings about the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), particularly Modi. India’s advice to ousted Afghan President Ashraf Gani not to abdicate also angered Washington. India also did not act on persistent US advice to start talking to the Taliban. India torpedoed the prospects of a Taliban-headed interim government in Kabul, which would have facilitated an orderly US withdrawal. The US also holds India’s protectionist tariff and customs responsible for their failure to clinch a trade deal.
But America’s biggest grouse is New Delhi’s refusal to normalise relations with Pakistan so that Islamabad can fully focus on implementing Washington’s post-withdrawal strategies in Afghanistan.
According to the US, the successful eight-month-long ceasefire at the India-Pakistan frontier is the perfect launchpad for peace talks, but New Delhi is not holding out an olive branch to Pakistan. India and Pakistan have recalled their High Commissioners, the strength of their embassies has been reduced by 50 per cent, and the nuclear-armed neighbours are not on talking terms.
Regardless of Sherman’s publicised engagements in both nations, her main goal is to convince Khan and Modi, or their representatives, to sit across the table as soon as possible.
The just-released paper – “India’s path to power: strategy in a world adrift” – by New Delhi’s Centre for Policy Research hits the nail on the head by declaring that India’s “foreign policy is being driven by domestic political and ideological factors that are having a perverse impact on relations with Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh”. India can kickstart its re-engagement with Pakistan by allowing it to host the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit that the Modi government has been stonewalling since 2016.
(SNM Abdi is a distinguished journalist and ex-Deputy Editor of Outlook. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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