Indo-US relations in Post Cold war era and its implications for Pakistan




The Cold War parameters of international relations which had been based on the conflict of two alliance systems are undergoing radical shifts. In the great chessboard of the 21st century new trends in the international arena are now influencing US Cold War policy preferences indicating new choices that will determine the direction of its relations in the new century. The changing nature of US relations with Japan, its reconciliation efforts in the Korean peninsula, a growing, yet cautious opening up with China, and a constructive engagement with India clearly reflects a paradigm shift in the structure of many of its ‘traditional’ Cold War relations in the efforts for a new strategic configuration.

In the scheme of American grand strategy for the ‘new world order’, India has emerged as an attractive regional ally. With a population of over a billion people, relatively stable political and economic structures, and growing conventional and nuclear power, India is seen in the White House as a country which may prove to be a useful partner in meeting challenges confronting the United States’ policies within South Asia and the larger Asia-Pacific region.

In its efforts to bring India closer to US position, the US Congress since 1993, has sought ‘new assistance categories reflecting modern realities’ which would fulfil the requirements of the post-Cold War concerns. This approach has found the scales of US policy preferences tilting considerably in favour of India despite a commitment to follow an ‘even-handed’ approach in relations with Pakistan and India. Consequently, the thrust of this growing relationship at the expense of valid regional concerns of its once ‘most allied ally’ has become increasingly evident. While India has been getting away with its nuclear programme and worst kinds of abuses in the occupied state of Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan has had to bear the brunt of not only economic and military sanctions, but has been under tremendous pressure by the United States to control religious extremists and militant activities from its territory.

The Indo-US dialogue following the nuclear tests of 1998, has led to the crafting of a multifaceted partnership in the post-Cold War milieu between the two ‘largest’ democracies. The 10th round of Indo-US talks held in London in January 2000, discussed the possibility of institutionalising these bilateral consultations on a number of issues regarding defence and security, economic relations and strategic co-operation, dialogue on nuclear non-proliferation, and other issues of concern such as drug trafficking, small arms and terrorism. These concerns of the new millennium have now provided the material for a more broad-based, forward looking ties.

The Vision document signed by President Clinton and Prime Minister Vajpayee during this sojourn “resolve(s) to create a closer and qualitatively new relationship between the United States and India” on the basis of “common interest in and complementary responsibility for ensuring regional and international security.” The document signed on March 21, 2000, declared that India and the US were partners in providing “strategic stability in Asia and beyond. There can be little doubt that in the new US strategy towards South Asia, India seems to have been assigned a role despite the US nuclear non-proliferation policy. Clinton’s visit failed to focus on the real issues of regional concern: the issue of Kashmir and the dangers of India’s growing nuclear programme. The President’s statements on the most vital issue – Kashmir – preventing peace in the region did not point to any specific US commitment to its solution; if anything, it was Pakistan who was warned against drawing borders with blood.

Moreover, seen in the context of the Vision Statement of “working together to prevent proliferation”, and the Indian declaration of its nuclear doctrine in August 1999, the US failed to engage India in any meaningful discussion on nuclear disarmament. India and Untied States represent a fifth of the world’s people, and more than a quarter of the world’s economy. Both have built creative, entrepreneurial societies, and both are leaders in the information age, and in many ways, the character of the 21st century world will depend on the success of (their) co-operation for peace, prosperity, democracy and freedom.

The Nature of Indo-US Relations

The US ‘tilt’ towards India evident throughout the 1990s is not really a new phenomenon, in principle since 1947, two basic objectives have dominated US policy towards South Asia:

  1. A mutually beneficial relationship with Pakistan.
  2. Seeking increased co-operation with India.

Because of the initial US reluctance to get too deeply involved in the subcontinent, the region was tagged as a ‘low priority’ area in the overall US policy. Nevertheless, even within the context of reinforcing Pakistan and establishment of friendly relations with India in spite of the latter’s communist leanings and a treaty relationship with the Soviet Union, it was felt within the US policy circles (e.g John Foster Dulles) that despite, “treaty alliances such as SEATO with Pakistan……Bharat must be given greater aid than an ally of the US because it was making genuine efforts to develop institutions of freedom“.

Such sentiments, however, did little in terms of advancing any meaningful co-operative relationship between the two paragons of democracy. While the US saw India through the Hollywood portrayals of the British Raj, many Indians including Nehru, saw US through the left-wing British lens as not only racist, but as the best field for the study of economic imperialism. Consequently, despite slogans of democracy as a common factor, US and India remained ‘estranged democracies’.

However, the only time that the US and India did actively co-operate was during the Indian conflict with China in 1962. Fears of the ‘awakening giant’ opened the doors of US assistance to Indian nuclear programme bringing in assistance in training, materials, and technical know-how like plutonium enrichment and fabrication of a limited number of plutonium fuel elements for insertion on a test basis in the Tarapur and/or Rajasthan reactors during their initial phase of operation. It did not last very long, overcome by mistrust, miscues, and mishaps.

. US policy makers felt that India, backed by a large and improving military force and a growing advanced industrial economy could no longer be treated merely as a pawn in the world power strategies. It was felt that the goal of drawing India closer to the US would serve as model of progress for the developing countries, because “India is both a developing country and also an industrial power, (and is) in a position to promote constructive international discussion about trade, energy, investment, balance of payments, technology and other questions“.

In what became known as the Reagan Doctrine, the US administration emphasized improvement of relations with India even as it increased economic and military assistance to Pakistan. Within the ambit of this doctrine, three goals were of paramount importance:

  1. The US desired better US-Indian ties because they could help in preventing the opening of a two-front confrontation for Pakistan.
  2. Substantial improvement of US-Indian relations could be used to better Indo-Pakistanties.
  3. American support for the expulsion of the Soviets from Afghanistan was important for regional security and a key element of the Reagan Doctrine.

Seen from the perspective of the above goals, India figured as an important element of the American foreign policy thrust even as the Soviets ravaged Afghanistan.

Throughout the Reagan years, the US encouraged good relations between India and Pakistan as it was felt that both these countries could play an important role in maintaining peace and security in South Asia and work for a Soviet withdrawal. The emergence of new threats in the form of a defiant China and radical Islam have brought India and US to share new opportunities for co-operation. India is now considered not only to be a potential huge ‘market’, but also a country that may be a willing surrogate for containment of these ‘new enemies’ both within the larger Southern Asian region and the Indian Ocean

Indo-US relations in the Changing Environment

“The question arises whether we can distil from past international politics as viewed by some of our wisest interpreters a body of common principles or a core of residual truths”. Kenneth W. Thompson. American Approaches to International Politics.

. While the US no doubt remains the most powerful force, this does not decrease the importance of the emergence of new power centres in the 21st century. In any of its international relations, three core objectives are of paramount importance to the United States:

  1. Enhancement of its security.
  2. Bolstering its economic prosperity.
  3. Promotion of democracy abroad.

, with the growing phenomenon of globalization, there is now a growing competition of political, economic, ideological, and cultural relations in a gradually evolving multipolar world. In this context, relations between India and US have taken a new turn. Where once the US had been cautious about Indian non-alignment and its penchant for the Soviet Union, policy circles within and outside the White House have, in current times, sought to engage New Delhi for a more co-operative and stable relationship. In this regard, three fundamental variables form the crux of the growing Indo-US relations:

  1. Defence and security considerations concerned with the problems of the strategic balance of power.
  2. Economic relationships involving the flow of economic resources which the Indian market can provide.
  3. Spread of nuclear weapons in the South Asian region which can create instability and may precipitate local nuclear conflicts which might draw in major powers.

In spite of the fact that the US has been trying to court both India and Pakistan, evidence of its approach suggests that it does not equate the two. The US has important but quite different interests regarding the nature of its relations with India and Pakistan. Numerous recent examples of its preferential approach can be cited viz. mild reactions to Indian Kargil air bombing in May 1999, use of chemical gas, increased human rights violations in Kashmir, a tacit acceptance of the Indian nuclear programme despite its stubborn stand on CTBT which clearly points towards delusions of a ‘super power’, and co-operation on terrorism despite Indian sponsored Tamil terrorism in Sri Lanka.

While both India and Pakistan have come under pressure to accept the US non-proliferation agenda after their nuclear tests negotiations in this regard have been particularly favourable with regard to India.

Given the fact that US interests in South Asia are not vital but nevertheless important, US approach to relations with India needs to be seen in the context of several factors which have figured prominently in the attention of its policy makers towards this region. These include:

1)      The danger of nuclear and missile proliferation which have dominated US thinking

2)      Encouraging dialogue between India and Pakistan to resolve their outstanding disputes, particularly Kashmir

3)      The rise of terrorism threatening US interests.

4)      The opportunity of benefiting from one of the world’s largest markets and growing commercial opportunities.

5)      Strengthening democracy, which is seen as advancing United States’ own interests including its security interests since democracies are considered more likely to abide by their international commitments, more likely to be stable trading partners, less likely to interfere in the affairs of their neighbours, and less likely to make war on each other.

While the American perceptions over the Cold War years were built on the basis of the Soviet threat and the nature of its relations with India, the latter’s relatively democratic set-up, its strategic and scientific potential combined with the significance of the ‘big emerging market’ have now forced American policy makers not to treat South Asia as a whole.

The US approach to its current phase of relations with India seem to be predicated on the fact that India having ‘lost’ its Soviet patron, which is by no means a correct assumption keeping in mind the economic and military co-operation with Russia, will now be more co-operative in dealing with global issues such as human rights, free trade, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and might even be interested in some kind of security arrangement against China, Iran and Iraq which are seen as threatening vital American economic interests, if proper inducements are offered. A permanent seat of the UNSC for India has now become a subject of intense debate.

Elements of Strategic Co-operation

In making a case of sustained US effort to bring India into its fold and to prove that its ‘tilt’ has not been a recent phenomenon, it would be helpful to look into some of the elements of their co-operation immediately before and after the Cold War.

1)    Military and Technological Co-operation

It will be pertinent to recall that during the Cold War years India found more support in security terms from the Soviet Union than the distant United States for four main reasons:

  1. The Indian governing elite saw the US as a dynamic, imperialist power, actively involved in supporting Pakistan, and bent on preventing India from playing its due role in regional affairs and beyond.
  2. Soviet conflict with China made it an ideal balancer to deter Chinese action against India.
  3. The Soviet Union was a reliable source of military equipment and diplomatic support in India’s contention against Pakistan over Kashmir, and defence against China in Ladakh and the Northeast Frontier Area (NEFA).
  4. American tendency to dictate its allies was seen as an impediment to independent foreign policy.

In its search of allies in South Asia, the US found Pakistan to be an eager ally, as India professed non-alignment and refused to join military alliances. But while the US preference for Pakistan pushed India into a friendship treaty with the Soviet Union who became a willing partner in transfer of military equipment and technology to India, the US continued to engage India on grounds that if India was lost to the communists “for practical purposes all of Asia would be lost”

With the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979, the US felt “that the stakes were high, and the chance to reduce Soviet power offered an incentive for the United States to improve relations with India.”  In October 1981, the US-Indo defence relations took a turn towards the positive, as both countries considered the benefits of mutual co-operation during the frequent visits of American officials to the region. According to Robert Wirsing, “it seemed to some observers of Washington’s developing arms policy in South Asia that its role was excessively and unnecessarily lopsided, and that a meaningful effortÉmight enable Washington to capture a share of Indian arms import trade“.

In 1984, both countries signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on technology transfer on assurances that such transfers would be protected from leaks and would only be used for agreed upon purposes. However, in May 1985, it was discovered that there was no provision for certain high-technology items such as computers that had possible end-use applications for nuclear projects. In a separate commodity control agreement it was agreed that:

  1. US technology was not to be used in un-safeguarded areas or facilities of India’s nuclear program.
  2. Indian nuclear facilities that were only partially safeguarded could not use American high technology.
  3. Case-by-case agreements could be reached whereby dual-use technologies would be cleared for use in un-safeguarded and partially safeguarded facilities, if the use involved office/administrative tasks and not nuclear material directly.

The establishment of an army and navy Executive Steering Group in 1992, and the airforce in 1993 led to the first ever military exercises on regular basis. By 1997, the two had sponsored five joint exercise between the army, airforce and navy In this regard three separate groups were established to foster more interaction and facilitate discussion:

  • Defence Policy Group (DPG), for tackling issues of defence co-operation. The group also tackles sensitive issues like CTBT and Kashmir.
  • Joint Technical Group (JTG), for discussing issues related to defence research.

Joint Steering Committee (JSC), for discussing personnel and information exchange, as well as joint excercises.

2) Economic co-operation

With the concept of ‘global village’ increasingly gaining credence, globalization of world economies is viewed as a phenomenon for speeding the process of accelerating economic, technological, cultural and political integration, and is increasingly affecting events that had previously been seen in the larger context of superpower military competition across the globe. Much of the current US policy towards many regions of the world is focused on the opportunities offered by the dynamics of global economy based on the notions of free market economics transforming commerce, culture, communications and global relations. Other problems that once seemed distant, such as resource depletion, rapid population growth, environmental damage, new infectious diseases have increased US direct stakes in the prosperity and stability of other nations in their support for international norms and human rights, their ability to combat international crime, in their open markets, and their efforts to protect the environment.

. The ‘global reach’ of the US has made it clear that the latter is interested in developing transnational relations affected by the growing role of markets, industrialisation and the pace of economic development. In this regard India is seen as one of the ten largest emerging markets which the US needs to tap in future. Ambassador Susan Esserman, deputy US trade representative speaking to the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry in November 1999, made it clear that “our administration supports a strong and prosperous India, which is a leader and full partner in the trading system“.

In spite of co-operation both countries have their share of disagreements on such issues as – unjustified quantitative restrictions, minimum import prices on steel imports, investment rules in the auto industry, and access to Indian markets for services and textiles. Nonetheless, following President Bush’s visit both countries have pledged to reduce impediments to bilateral trade and investment and to expand commerce, specially in the emerging knowledge-based industries and high-technology areas such as information and computer software.

3) Nuclear Co-operation

Halting proliferation (of nuclear weapons) is not an option for us – it is an absolutely essential objective of our national security and a crucial factor determining our country’s future. It is, one might say America’s new Manifest Destiny

In 1974, six years after the signing of the NPT, India with its ‘peaceful nuclear explosion’ (PNE), became the second Asian country and the sixth in the world to demonstrate such a capability in spite of the US State Department warning (under the Nixon administration) in 1970, that “the US would consider it incompatible with existing US-Indian agreements for American nuclear assistance to be employed in the development of peaceful nuclear explosive devices”.However, a month after the Indian PNE, the US agreed to reschedule India’s foreign debt and increase economic assistance to India in cooperation with other allies by about $200 million.

In spite of these measures to prevent nuclear proliferation, in 1980, the Carter administration found it convenient to agree to the supply of fuel for India’s Tarapur plants in violation of the NNPA in order for strengthening “ties with a key South Asian country” in the wake of major foreign policy challenges to US interests in the region following the Iranian Revolution and the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan.

Even though the Indian PNE provided a momentum to legislations in the US for halting nuclear proliferation, the US found it convenient to continue cooperation with India despite its refusal to sign the NPT, and later in 1996 its refusal to sign the CTBT, and finally, five overt nuclear tests in May 1998

Several factors have emerged that call for greater cooperation and US engagement of India despite its overt nuclearization:

  1. The Indian tests have confirmed what the US strategic community has always assumed: that India is a nuclear-capable state.
  2. That India, like China, will continue to be committed to nuclear energy as one of the means of alleviating its energy shortfalls.

This flows from the second, that given India’s energy shortfalls, its nuclear sector can be a large market for external investors

With particular reference to nuclear proliferation, however, four elements are considered to be of utmost importance:

  1. Adherence to the CTBT.
  2. A moratorium on the further production of fissile material.
  3. Demonstration of prudence and restraint in the development, flight testing and storage of ballistic missiles and nuclear-capable aircraft.
  4. Strengthening of export controls.

But even as the sixth Review Conference on NPT in April-May 2000, deplored Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests, there are reports that India may be contemplating its eighth nuclear test of a hydrogen device. The report goes on to say that after testing the hydrogen bomb India may make moves to be the first in the subcontinent to sign the CTBT in order to gain the benefits which may accrue as a consequence of this move.

The above discourse on Indo-US relations points to a basic pattern of mutually beneficial co-operation despite the ebb and flows over the Cold War years. One of the key factors which brought US attention towards India was its close relations with the Soviet Union. The US continued to engage India because it did not want to lose it to the USSR, considered India as a potential ally against China, and an important market in terms of the post-Cold War environment. 

Indo-US Strategic Co-operation: Implications for Pakistan

While the Cold War order gave a definite shape to the nature of threat, there is little agreement over the shape of the emerging international order. The whole concept of security has essentially become a contested concept. Where once security thinking centred on the idea of national security largely defined in military terms, many contemporary security threats: globalization and the prospects of realignments in the global financial and trading system effecting monopolization, human rights, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, drugs and terrorism are now having an impact on the nature of traditional alliance systems.

Pakistan was significantly different in contrast to that conveyed to India. Clinton’s address to the Pakistani nation carried a blunt warning that Pakistan needs to critically examine its place in the region and the sort of society it wishes to build, and that there is a very thin line between support and sympathy and total collapse as “there was a danger of Pakistan growing even more isolated, drawing even more resources from the need of the people. Pakistan must help create conditions that will allow dialogue to succeed and pursue reconciliation for the sake of the future.

Given the Indian efforts to strengthen their conventional military capabilities, the intentions of increasing their maritime boundaries, the blatant use of force against neighbours, and the silence of the international community, it would not be too presumptuous to suggest that India may have been given the nod to go ahead on its agenda of establishing itself as the South Asian policeman even if it means using force against recalcitrant neighbours. The invitation to India to attend the community of democracies meet in Warsaw in July 2000, indicates that it has been accepted to stand as a peer among nations who determine the destinies of lesser states.

This will only serve to increase the discord between India and Pakistan, which has been of great concern to the US, as any efforts to bring the two countries to a dialogue table have assuredly been in favour of India. In his trip to South Asia, President Clinton made it clear that the US will not mediate between India and Pakistan as far as the settlement of the Kashmir issue is concerned. While the US has chosen to castigate Pakistan for its support to the so-called ‘terrorists’ in Kashmir, presence of 700,000 Indian forces has been completely ignored. The message is quite evident. Any initiative on making ‘innovative’ concessions must come from Pakistan and bring changes in its Kashmir policy which has been a source of three conflicts in South Asia, and is regarded as the ‘fuse’ which may lead to the use of nuclear weapons by the two countries.

 A report known as the Livingston Proposal by the Kashmir Study Group led by an American Kashmiri, Mr. Farook Kat Wari titled “Kashmir: A Way Forward” which suggests three fundamental solutions for settling the Kashmir problem. The first envisages the creation of two Kashmiri entities, one on each side of the line of control, each with its own government, constitution, and special relationship with India, and/or Pakistan. The second proposes a single Kashmiri entity straddling the line of control with its own government, constitution and special relationship with both India and Pakistan. The third envisages only one entity on the Indian side of the line of control. The proposal explores ideas and options for rationalising the line of control in conjunction with creating one or two reconstituted Kashmiri entities imbued with “Kashmiriyat” (the cultural traditions of Kashmir), and relating to the creation of free trade zones and open borders initially relating solely to the area of the new Kashmiri entity or entities, but subsequently expanded to the whole of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, or cover an even wider region.

US pressures on Pakistan for democracy, the rule of the law, and the development of its civil society, indicate that the Cold War US preference for its most ‘allied ally’ has come to an end. President Clinton in his report to the Congress and his address to the Pakistani nation on March 26th, 2000, clearly signalled that Washington will now be dealing with India and Pakistan “in terms of their own individual merits and reflecting the full weight and range of US strategic, political and economic interests in each country“.

. Many in Pakistan regard the US attitude as unfair and a symbol of American discrimination. On the other hand, America has demonstrated increasing understanding of India’s security concerns.

The United States also seems to have bought the Indian argument that these concerns had more to do with China than with Pakistan. As stated by Strobe Talbot, “we realise, that for India, the issue of deterrence is complicated by China factor“.

the growth of Islamic fundamentalism is regarded as a security threat to the US and its allies. The need to control this phenomenon has brought strong US pressures on Pakistan in terms of controlling and eliminating various fundamentalist groups in its territory and across Afghanistan. While India and the US have established a Joint Working Group on Counter-terrorism, Pakistan has been under pressure to control Islamic militants. Both India and the United States have found a common ground for co-operation in this phenomenon.

A State Department report on “Patterns of Global Terrorism, 1999” released in April 2000, states that Pakistan is one of the only three countries that maintain formal diplomatic relations with the Taliban regime in Afghanistan which permitted many known terrorists such as Osama bin Laden to reside and operate from its territory. The US has repeatedly asked Pakistan to end its support to elements that conduct militant activities in Afghanistan and Kashmir.


In the post cold war period, the US and Indian interests will indeed increasingly converge on the ideological front. The Indian strategy of connecting with the United States on the issue of terrorism argues that it holds the first line of defence against the threat of terrorism that emanates from Pakistan. While the speculations arising out of Indo-US co-operation in combating terrorism that the United States will declare Pakistan a state sponsoring terrorism seem to be misplaced, the implication of such statements is that Pakistan will be put under pressure to help the US achieve its objectives in this regard in the region.

The image problems, “bad behaviour” by Pakistan has influenced US policy preferences and has generated policy changes with regard to its relations in South Asia indicating that the US will increasingly be relying on India for ensuring regional and international security. Even during the Cold War, the US had viewed India as being more relevant to its strategy of ‘containment’, these have now been overtaken by new challenges which need to be ‘contained’ such as terrorism, narcotics, proliferation of small arms, and most important of all elimination of Islamic groups imbibed with the concept of ‘jihad’. The latter has been of grave concern to the United States.

Given the rivalry with China and the increasing American presence in the Indian Ocean, there seems to have been an erosion in the Indian vision of nonalignment. Over the last five decades, India has evolved a set of policies and strategies in order to play a dominant role in the South Asia and the Indian Ocean hoping to be recognised in that role by the great powers

. In recent times, the country seeks a more offensively oriented strategy in order to deal with the complex strategic dilemmas related to internal unity and potential threats from outside. Today, more than ever, all Indian geo-strategic planning seeks to: prevent any of India’s smaller neighbours from recourse to foreign policy or solicitation of external support deemed inimical to Indian interests..

For all serious observers of international relations, it must be apparent that the strategic dynamics of US interests no longer see Pakistan as a stable partner for securing strategic interests in and around South Asia. Moreover, despite the Indian litany of China being a major factor in its larger security concerns, there is no longer a possibility of a India-China dispute developing into a conflict, rather the possibility of a nuclear confrontation between Pakistan and India seems a likely possibility. And, with the United States now more concerned with access to economically viable markets, the emphasis is on extracting maximum mercantilian advantages rather than any serious concern for resolving contentious issues in the region.

While this does not mean that the US will ignore Pakistan in any regional security arrangement, it does, however, mean that it will be making efforts to promote India as the dominant power in South Asia. Already, there have been efforts to bring India as a permanent members of the UNSC. While India may not be willing to play the US surrogate, in terms of the vastly changed international environment, it is bound to attract greater attention from the United States.


Source by Prateek Shanker Srivastava

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