What are the Americans really up to? Asks India: The Statesman columnist

US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter meets with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi, on April 12, 2016.
US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter meets with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi, on April 12, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

For India, the main area of countering China is the Indian Ocean, not the South and East China seas, which is the United States' area of concern.

Harsha Kakar

The Statesman/Asia News Network

The visit by United States Defence Secretary Ashton Carter to India last week was to enhance military ties with India.

The US visualises India as a counterweight to China's growing military power in the Asia-Pacific region and hence seeks closer cooperation. India has refused the US desire to join any alliance aimed at China, as it seeks to enhance its own stable relationship with its eastern neighbour.

Based on US requests, India included Japan in its recently-concluded Malabar exercise which irked China and provoked an angry response.

Thus while India has not agreed to joint patrols, it would aim to work together on common naval matters.

For India the main area of countering China is the Indian Ocean, not the South and East China seas, which is the US' area of concern.

The US is presently India's largest arms supplier. India, till fairly recently, was reluctant to purchase equipment from the US due to its stringent terms and conditions which permit it to stop supplies and spares in case any conditions are violated, or if equipment is employed contrary to US national interests.

The US armament industry is also willing to participate in the 'Make in India' model.

This could also be as India does not seek weapon systems on concessional military sales agreements, but against payments.

India has indicated its willingness to sign the modified Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), now reworded as the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), which permits logistics support to forces from one another's bases, mainly benefitting naval forces.

While US intentions towards India may be honourable, their arming of Pakistan and its supposed logic indicates another side of their strategy.

Pakistan presently obtains military hardware from both the US and China; hence is able to effectively marginalize Indian conventional superiority.

The recent decision of the US to sell eight F-16 fighter aircraft and a similar number of AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters to Pakistan raised eyebrows in strategic circles.

The US Senate and India had objected to the sale of the aircraft on the ground that they were unsuitable for employment against terrorists in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and are more likely for operations against India. 

The Obama administration in its wisdom pushed the sales through, irrespective of objections and observations. Pakistan does not possess funds to make payments, therefore both sales would be on concessional military sales agreements.

US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter justified the sales on the logic of its use in anti-terrorist operations, as the US is worried about terrorism emanating from Pakistan.

The question that remains unanswered is use against which collection of terrorist groups? Groups that target the US and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in Afghanistan, as also the country, are the Taliban and the Haqqani network.

The leadership of tboth the Taliban and Haqqani network are located within Pakistan and protected by the government. Pakistan has never targeted them.

The same is the case with groups which operate in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), while simultaneously continuing to target innocents in India.

Hence logically, these are for employment towards only those groups which are presently waging war against Pakistan or seeking justice and freedom.

Therefore, the US' arming of Pakistan enables it to continue with its policy of state-sponsored terrorism unabated, as also enhance application of force on innocents within their state.

The US could have a number of reasons that have officially not been announced for arms supplies to Pakistan. Firstly, it could be the fear of anti-Pakistan terrorists gaining ground and threatening the nation.

This could threaten nuclear security in a nation where tactical nuclear weapons have been deployed at various locations for fear of India's conventional superiority and its 'cold start' doctrine.

This logic may justify the sale of attack helicopters, but not of F-16 aircraft. Second is the need to continue humouring Pakistan with the intention of compelling them to bring the Taleban to the negotiating table in Afghanistan.

These supplies would possibly come with riders that unless there is progress on ground, deliveries could be affected. This again is a flawed policy of pouring good money after bad, as Pakistan has neither been able to curtail the Taliban nor the Haqqani network nor even bring them close to negotiations.

Third is to support the flailing armaments industry in the US. Lack of orders is adversely affecting the industry.

These orders would ensure that the companies do not retrench manpower.

While this does appear logical, especially in an election year, the question being asked is why Pakistan?

The supplies could have been made to any other nation it supports, even Afghanistan or Iraq, as both are battling terrorists and cannot afford to pay for their purchases. 

Fourth could be a desire to maintain a balance of power within the Indian subcontinent. If this scenario is in any way credible, then this action could be the start of another arms race in the region.

India would always desire to continue to maintain a superior conventional military edge. Pakistan would aim to counter this by enhancing its holding and deployment of tactical nuclear weapons.

Pakistan already has Chinese support to be a counterweight to India and gaining US support also would compel India to enhance its defence spending at the cost of development.

Thus US action appears contrary to its honourable intentions of enhancing military cooperation with India. For India there is need for better and subtler diplomacy including restricting military cooperation with the US in case it continues to alter the balance of power in the region.

India needs to remain a stabilising force in the region, considering that the region has nations facing instability. At the same time, if India has to avoid internal turmoil, it has to grow economically, without enhancing defence expenditure emanating from an arms race.

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The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army.