For many in India the moment has come too soon. Within 10 days of a landmark presidential visit where India and the US agreed on a joint strategic vision for the Asia-Pacific and the Indian Ocean, news has emerged that US President Barack Obama has proposed over $1 billion in civil and military aid to Pakistan. Nothing should be read into the timing of the news as the proposed aid to Pakistan is part of the budget that the White House has sent across to Congress for approval. This development will, however, interest policymakers in New Delhi, since the US is effectively resuming aid to Pakistan after holding it up since 2013. In a sign that the US and Pakistan are tiding over the chasm that opened up after finding Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Washington hopes to increase financing to the Pakistani military from $42 million to $265 million.
Usually any US aid to Pakistan causes heartburn in New Delhi. There may be reasons why such a reaction now may be unwarranted. Washington has, of course, yielded to Islamabad’s lobbying, hoping to secure the latter’s cooperation in managing the endgame in Afghanistan. Cynics are well within their rights to argue from recent history and say that Islamabad has played Washington before, securing American aid while plotting with terrorists against the US. The changed context could generate different outcomes. The Pakistan army is now waging a long-drawn counter-terrorism offensive against the Pakistani Taliban in North Waziristan and the military component of the aid is meant to shore up the army’s capability to secure its western borders. A significant chunk of the aid is meant for economic and infrastructure development, which a cash-strapped Pakistan needs. While there are many reasons to despair about Pakistan, it makes more sense for the international community to offer Islamabad rigorously conditional aid rather than compound its isolation and let its society slide into further capture by illiberal, radical elements.
There are also geopolitical considerations at work. The US will have no illusions about Pakistan after the bruising experience in Afghanistan but it would like to retain a measure of influence in Islamabad lest it completely be in Beijing’s sway — which would not be in India’s interests either. New Delhi will understand Washington’s balancing act, keen as it is to draw close to the US while not entirely alienating China. New Delhi can take some comfort that the US now takes the Lashkar-e-Taiba seriously. It should keep pressing Washington to not lose sight of anti-India jihadi groups that are nurtured by Islamabad.