The politics of the Cold War had aligned India with the erstwhile Soviet Union and the United States with Pakistan. US and India should have been allies as democracies that advance free speech, multi-party debates and religious tolerance. Instead, both decided to be unwise in choosing friends. India tilted towards the Soviet Union, the US aligned herself
with Pakistan, which became increasingly unstable, teetering between terror and progress.
America’s alliance with Pakistan yielded a key victory. The Soviet defeat in Afghanistan helped in ending the Cold War on the West’s terms, expanding democracy and human rights to eastern Europe. After 9/11, a temporary alliance was formed between the US and Pakistan when former secretary of state Colin Powell delivered a tough ultimatum to Pakistan.
Pakistan helped the US in the war on terror for a few years, but lately seem to have changed its mind.
Islamabad’s real leaders in the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) seem unable to give up on their addiction to terror, whether carried out against civilians in Mumbai or Kabul. In recent weeks, key US officials have spoken out on Pakistan’s official support for the Haqqani Network. Despite cashing billion-dollar annual cheques from the US taxpayer, the Pakistan-backed Haqqanis attack US and Afghan targets. US ambassadors in Kabul and Islamabad confirmed the links, backed up by the secretaries of state and defence.
Some might see this as a crisis in US-Pakistan relations. I see it as an opportunity for India and the US to be allies. Both nations fight terror, advance democracy and are committed to tolerance in an increasingly intolerant world. India needs access to US markets to boost economic growth as well as defence technology to secure an increasingly dangerous Indian Ocean.
The US needs India too. As one of the fastest-growing markets, its export sector can expand in India, reassured by India’s common law and western-style institutions. As two of the three largest economies of the 21st century (China being the third), there is an economic synergy that would benefit both nations.
Most importantly, India doesn’t have to be convinced to fight terror. India’s leaders and her people know all too well the costs of terror. India, in fact, is the more experienced partner in fighting terror.
One last point. As the US leaves Afghanistan, who can help the Afghan government fight terror? The ISI in Islamabad hopes that the Haqqanis will wait till America leaves, and then build more terror training camps inside Afghanistan.
The US should respond by encouraging a long-term partnership with India in Afghanistan. It should ‘tilt’ towards India in its diplomacy, assistance and military planning, building an alliance of democracies to support stability in Afghanistan. As one of Afghanistan’s largest donors, India’s $1.3 billion bilateral assistance programme has been crucial to foster the transition in Afghanistan.
An India-US alliance would serve both economic and military purposes. It would join the largest democracies, building synergy between two huge economies. In the long run, it would replace the US in Afghanistan with India giving Afghans, who reject terror, a long-term regional partner. Most importantly, it would change the current calculus of the Haqqanis and ISI who hope to wait out till the West leaves Afghanistan.
Mark Kirk is the junior senator for Illinois
The views expressed by the author are personal