The problem in the West
For a true partnership, the United States must understand India’s concerns to the West. It is in the west that India confronts a military-controlled Pakistani establishment, which believes in using terror and religious extremism
With the announcement of the new Australia-United Kingdom-United States (AUKUS) security arrangement, the Indo-Pacific theatre has got a strong military element to counter Chinese aggression across the maritime domain. Quad is already in place as an arrangement which brings together key democracies (India, US, Japan and Australia), primarily to contain China’s belligerence and ensure that it stays within the framework of the current international order. Quad does not have a military component — and that is good for now, since a constructive agenda helps it gain credibility with citizens in the region. It is also more palatable for the Southeast nations, which have to eventually be a key pillar in any arrangement in the region, and do not want to be seen as making a choice between the US and China. All of this underlines the fact that the US focus on Indo-Pacific— essentially code for China — ties in with India’s interests.
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But even as the strategic convergence to the east is clear, there remains a strategic disjunct to the west, which is at the moment India’s core concern. It is in the west that India confronts a military-controlled Pakistani establishment, which believes in using terror and religious extremism. It is in the west that India now confronts a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, which is a potential hub for radicalised Islamist groups, including those terror outfits which have a clear stated agenda against India. It is in the west that India also confronts a possible China-Pakistan-Afghanistan nexus, given Beijing’s active support for Islamabad and tentative outreach to Kabul. And it is in the northwest that India today confronts a China which has intruded into Indian territory.
To be sure, India’s convergence with the US helps. It creates leverage in negotiations with China. It leads to intelligence-sharing and support, as has happened in Ladakh. But Washington must realise that New Delhi cannot continue to make artificial distinctions between its east and west, between China and Pakistan, between formal State aggression and informal State-backed terrorism, between continental and maritime borders. Policymakers have to see it as a contiguous whole. And for the India-US strategic partnership to be truly sustainable and mutually beneficial, it is time for America to pay attention to India’s views about its western neighbourhood. The exit from Afghanistan should lead to a new start, where the US finally begins trusting India’s strategic judgment and recognising India’s needs, not in silos, but as a whole.