In an announcement recently, the US approved the sale of F 16 aircraft sustainment and related equipment to Pakistan in a deal valued at USD 450 million. The sale does not include new capabilities, weapons or munitions. It was granted on the premise that it would enhance Pakistan’s ability to support counter terrorism operations. The US is well aware that F 16s are never employed for anti-terrorist operations, especially on their own soil, instead drones and helicopters are used. The F 16s are solely for use against India.
It is possible that this could be in response to overflight of US drones aimed at Afghanistan or provision of a base.The US had earlier in 2019 approved a similar sale worth USD 125 million. The Biden administration has reversed the ban imposed by Trumpon Pakistan for supporting terrorist groups. This sale conveys a message to India that though you are our ally and strategic partner, your independent foreign policy is unacceptable, and we can add to your security concerns if you do not toe our line.The sale was announced just prior to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Heads of State summit scheduled in Samarkand, Uzbekistan from 15-16 Sept.
India’s refusal to blame Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, continuing its procurements as also a possible meeting between Putin and Modi in Samarkand are adding to US’s concerns. Putin had recently declared his intent to expand export of oil and gas to Asia to counter the west’s sanctions. There are also reports that India is considering procuring Russian steel at lower prices to add to its reserve stocks. India’s procurements will go against the plans of the west, which seeks to stifle Russia economically.
Europe is facing an economic crisis with Russia stopping flow of gas, while Asia is benefitting. Public protests in Europe are on the rise with people demanding that it adopt an India type neutral policy, causing heartburns to the US. Governments are tottering, economies heading for recession with the scenario possibly getting bleaker as winter sets in. All this while India grew by 13% in the last quarter with a projected annual growth rate of 6.5%.
India’s diplomatic power is displaying its independence in foreign policy, irking the US.Hence, while the US Government claims to support India in its development and military capability enhancement as also terms it as a strategic partner, multiple Government backed organizations and independent European institutes continue to rant and rave on India’s human rights and democratic credentials.
Taking a cue from its Government, the US media remains highly critical of India. It leaves no opportunity to project India in poor light. While this has little impact in India, it does build an anti-India narrative in the west. It enables the US Government to maintain pressure on India.
Actions by the US have been well comprehended by the Indian Government, which refuses to be cowed down. Jaishankar, in an India Today interview termed US and western organization claims as ‘hypocrisy.’He stated that this is the result of India not adhering to western policies in its global dealings but adopting an independent approach.
In response to negative comments in the International Religious Freedom report, the Indian spokesperson stated, ‘In our discussions with the US, we have regularly highlighted issues of concern there, including racially and ethnically motivated attacks, hate crimes and gun violence.’ Jaishankar stated, on US soil, in response to claims of human rights abuses in India by Blinken, ‘we take up human rights issues when they arise in this country (US), especially when they pertain to our community.’Attempts to project India in poor light will increase as India’s power grows.
The US has yet to officially condemn China for its incursions in Ladakh, while exploiting India’s concerns by upgrading the QUAD, over which India was hesitant. The US hopes that the Indo-China standoff in Ladakh would keep an additional front open for the Chinese, thereby reducing threat to Taiwan. Its Chief of Naval Operations Admiral, Mike Gilday, stated, ‘The fact that India and China currently have a bit of a skirmish along their border … it’s strategically important. They now force China to not only look east, toward the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, but they now have to be looking over their shoulder at India.’
The US is aware that the QUAD is only effective as long as India is a major participant. It is India which controls the Indian Ocean permitting the US and its allies to dominate the Pacific. In case India and China settle the LAC then India may no longer seek to be an active member of any organization seeking to contain it. As Gautam Sen states, ‘there is every possibility that an empowered India (post growth in economy) will prompt China to reach an understanding with it, thereby removing India from the wider equation of Sino-American geopolitical global rivalry.’ Thus, the US would desire that Indo-China rivalry continues, enabling it to exploit Indian military power to contain China.
India’s self-reliance in defence manufacturing will also possibly reduce its dependence on the US and Russia over the next decade. India is expected to be a 10 Trillion economy in fifteen years. This will further enhance India’s strategic independence, adding to US discomfort and forcing it to take measures to ensure India stays in its camp and backs its efforts at containing China, even though it may not be at desired levels.
Currently, India is being courted by the west, Russia and China. Despite the Galwan clash and intrusions, the Chinese foreign minister visited India extending a hand of friendship, which India rejected. The resolving of the Gogra- Hot Springs standoff on Indian terms could lead to a Modi-Xi dialogue in Samarkand and result in resolving pending standoffs. This could impact India’s current anti-China stance and offset US’s calculations. While Indo-US ties continue being strong, relations with the US must be considered with a pinch of salt as the US is known to attempt to even keep its allies under pressure, solely to fulfil its own strategies for the region. India will be no exception.
The author is Major General (Retd)