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Inconsistency in the US policy in South Asia

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Mahmudur Rahman

The British colonial authority, the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League agreed to partition the Indian subcontinent in 1947 along demographic lines; Hindu and Muslim majority areas to constitute India and Pakistan respectively. Two independent and asymmetric countries were born in disagreement about their border and specifically about the future of Jammu and Kashmir, a princely state in 1947 with overwhelming Muslim majority ruled by a Hindu King. Under the principle of partition, irrespective of the wish of the Hindu ruler, the Muslim majority state should have been either integrated with Pakistan or allowed to become independent. Unfortunately, India with the connivance of the then British Governor General of India, Lord Mountbatten encouraged Hindu King Hari Singh to unilaterally sign the instrument of accession of the valley with India in defiance of public aspiration and legal status. This was blatantly unjust and consequently the bitter historical baggage never allowed the bilateral relations between the two neighbours to prosper. Pakistan refused to submit to the material superiority of India and challenged the latter’s hegemonic aspiration to control the smaller states in its neighbourhood. As a result, Indo-Pak relation has remained a story of recurring events of bloodshed and crisis management.

Pakistan, at its birth, found itself in a very adverse security environment. To balance the threat from a much larger and hostile neighbour, Pakistan needed material and political support from an external great power. Suffering from existential threat perception, the country aligned itself to capitalist block in the then bipolar world order and joined CENTO and SEATO. Pakistan became the only member of both the US-led military alliances among South Asian countries. Emboldened with technologically superior western military hardware, Pakistan effectively challenged the Indian attempt to stamp its hegemonic authority in the region. However, Washington establishment kept the door always open for rapprochement with India which they considered more important asset to counter the communist threat from China. President Kennedy strongly expressed his support for India in the wake of 1962 Sino-Indian war and militarily assisted the country without any prior consultation with supposed ally, Pakistan that created an environment of mistrust. The US even went further in its effort to woo India. At the time of 1965 India-Pakistan war, as a show of impartiality and goodwill towards India, Johnson administration imposed temporary embargo against supply of armaments to CEATO and SENTO member state Pakistan. Generally, the United States remained unreceptive to Pakistan’s threat perception regarding India although the latter remained a close Soviet ally. In fact, the US-Pakistan relationship has been a history of inconsistency, failed expectation and opportunism.

The collapse of the Soviet Union greatly altered the global geopolitics. As the defeated Soviet troops exited from Afghanistan, Pakistan suddenly lost its strategic utility to the US. In the Huntington thesis-influenced strategic thinking of Washington establishment, presently India became the most sought after regional ally to contain both China and Islam. Then came the tragedy of nine eleven. In the greater context of global war declared by President Bush Jr. against the so-called ‘Islamic terror’, India’s importance to the western world further enhanced. In spite of Pakistan’s assistance in the NATO military operation in Afghanistan and Cold-war era close relationship, Bush administration declared India as its strategic ally in South Asia. President Obama further strengthened the Indo-US security relations following the radical transformation of bilateral relations made by President Bush during his two terms. The successive administrations in Washington in the 21st century have given tacit approval to India to act as the regional police. Bangladesh tasted the first adverse impact of the new Indo-US romance. The US supported a regime change in Bangladesh in 2007 at the behest of India to install a puppet and Islamophobic government in Dhaka that would listen to all Indian directives. This ultimately destroyed the democracy in the second largest Muslim majority country in the subcontinent. Today Bangladesh is ruled by a fascist regime of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, a known and historic stooge of New Delhi. The current regime has not only destroyed democratic electoral system, but also curtailed the liberty of the people as part of the de-Islamization strategy of the Indo-US axis in the country consisting of 90% Muslim population. Emboldened by unflinching support from India, Sheikh Hasina continues its oppressive acts and gross human rights violations. Persecution has reached to such a level that, even the United States now questions the legitimacy of the 2018 farcical election in Bangladesh. In the 2021 Human Rights report on Bangladesh, the US State Department has raised serious concern about the abysmal human rights condition. The unfortunate people of Bangladesh largely blame India for the rise of the most brutal authoritarianism in the country during the last decade. India and her client emerged as the ultimate victor as a result of American folly in Bangladesh. By making Bangladesh a client state of India, Washington has lost its historic influence in this emerging economy. India dictates the terms in Dhaka which the world’s principal superpower follows meekly.

There has been a recent regime change in Pakistan for which the deposed Prime Minister Imran Khan publicly blames the United States for blatant interference. He has launched a movement against the new Pakistani regime with the twin slogan of independence and Islam that has apparently touched a chord with the common people. The people are highly charged and have come out to streets in huge numbers to protest against the alleged interference of Washington in the affairs of Pakistan. Anti-American sentiment across the country is apparently on the rise. It is to be seen whether the movement gather further momentum and can sustain to force early election in the country. The change in the administration in Pakistan signals a possible active return of the United States in South Asian geopolitics after a period of indifference. They mostly abandoned the region and handed over the policing role to India in the beginning of the century that has resulted erosion of democracy and rise of Indian hegemony. Bangladesh, the former eastern half of Pakistan has been the sorry victim of the US policy to promote India as the regional bully. It is now too early to predict the regional outcome of regime change in Pakistan. Among the Muslim majority states in South Asia, the United States has already lost Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Tiny Maldives in the Indian Ocean is primarily a battleground between China and India where US has taken a supportive role in aid of its so-called strategic ally. During the five decades of Cold war, Pakistan had been the strongest ally of the US in the region. After the demise of the Soviet Union, Pakistan was abandoned and India replaced her historic enemy to become new strategic ally of Washington. Russian aggression in Ukraine may have forced the decision makers in the US to review its South Asian policy. India will now try to take advantage of the changed political environment in Islamabad to weaken her nuclear power adversary at the western border. The demand of Indian foreign minister to ‘do more’ is a clear indication that New Delhi aims to take maximum advantage of the internal turmoil in Pakistan. Is America going to encourage such irresponsible rhetoric from New Delhi and ignite more anti-Americanism in Pakistan? Another American failure to balance its policy in South Asia may further complicate the geopolitics of the region which is already threatened by the rise of extremely militant Hindu communalism. The sad persecution of the Muslims in India reminds us the policy of Nazi Germany. It is time for Biden administration to review the neo-con thesis of clash of the civilizations that pit western world against Islam.

Editor-Amar Desh

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