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Wednesday, January 27, 2021

US and Pakistan; Russia and India: Re-aligning South Asian Alliances?

Reading Time: 5 minutesThere has been a definite shift in the strategic alignments between India and Russia on the one hand, and Pakistan and the US on the other, writes Future Directions International’s LINDSAY HUGHES
While it is too early to tell if a permanent re-alignment of the historic ties between India and Russia on the one hand, and Pakistan and the US on the other, is taking place, there has been a definite shift in their strategic alignments.

Background

There have been increased calls for the US to cease providing Pakistan with the military component of its aid funding until that country terminates its perceived links with terrorist groups that operate from its territory.
If Washington does indeed terminate those funds, it will be reversing a decades-old stance of supporting Pakistan in its fight against terrorism.
It has been claimed, however, that the US seeks to create a closer relationship with India, Pakistan’s neighbour and arch-rival, in order to balance China and, consequently, is looking for a means of moving away from Pakistan.
India, meanwhile, appears to be growing closer to the US and, in the process, reducing its relationship with Russia. Those two countries have had a fairly close relationship since at least 1962, when India turned to the then Soviet Union for assistance in its war against China.
Since then, the Soviet Union (and now Russia) grew to become India’s largest arms and armaments supplier. That is, until fairly recently. The US has now supplanted Russia as India’s largest supplier of weaponry – at least by value – and is considering the transfer of some of that military technology to India.
 

Comment

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The calls for the US to terminate the military component of its financial aid to Pakistan have been growing increasingly louder and more frequent. Indeed, in a recent article, two eminent scholars have called for Pakistan to be “cut loose” altogether.
If that were to occur, it would be a complete reversal of the long-standing US policy of providing aid to Pakistan. It is estimated that the US has provided Pakistan with aid worth around US$30 billion in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The US has needed Pakistan as an ally in its prosecution of the “Global War on Terror” and to access Afghanistan by road. It based much of its military assets in Pakistan to achieve its first objective and paid Pakistan a fee to utilise its road network in order to move military and aid material to Afghanistan during its operations there.
The drawdown in Afghanistan and Washington’s recent negotiations with Iran over the latter’s nuclear programme have, however, reduced Pakistan’s importance to US strategists.
It could be cynically argued that the prospect of accessing some of the US$150 billion in frozen Iranian funds through the sale of civil aircraft to Tehran and other business opportunities has played a part in this reversal.
Washington’s distrust of Pakistan is not new, however. The fact that it conducted a raid to eliminate Osama bin Laden without informing the Pakistani authorities was an early indication of the dwindling trust that it placed on those officials.
It said, in its own defence, that the fact that Osama hid in Pakistan for years at a stone’s throw from a major military training facility was proof that Pakistan was playing a double game. The US had previously suspended its aid to Pakistan over the latter’s nuclear programme and its links to terrorist groups.

There has been a degree of conjecture, however, that Washington is growing concerned with China’s increasing belligerence and seeks New Delhi’s assistance to balance Beijing.
To bring the Indians onboard, however, they need to reduce their ties to Islamabad. This could explain the US decision to create a closer relation with India and reduce its ties to Pakistan.
India, for its part, welcomes the US moves towards a new relationship. India needs the technology the US can provide to upgrade its civilian and military infrastructure.
New Delhi has had a close relationship with Moscow since 1962, when the US failed, in its opinion, to provide it with the military aid it asked for during the conflict with China that year. The USSR, consequently, became India’s strategic partner, a role that Russia inherited when the Soviet Union collapsed.
The USSR and Russia provided India with nuclear technology for its civilian nuclear programme, military hardware and technology and provided diplomatic support in international venues like the UN on several occasions.
More recently, the two countries ventured into the joint development of missiles and fighter aircraft. Russia has leased nuclear submarines to India to enable the latter to develop its skills and strategies in operating these vessels.
 
India’s recent turn to the US has caused Russia to turn to Pakistan. It has recently announced sales of helicopters to Islamabad and plans to build a US$2 billion pipeline project in the country.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met President Vladimir Putin during his visit to Ufa in Russia for the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation meeting held there earlier this year and called for a “multi-dimensional relationship” with Russia that included commercial, defence and energy links.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, speaks to Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif

Despite these moves, it is too early to tell if they portend a radical shift in the relations between the various countries. India will undoubtedly be aware that, if the US policy on China shifts, Washington could lose interest in New Delhi just as it appears to have lost interest in Islamabad due to changes in its Afghan policy.
India will, at any rate, remain chary of appearing to be working with the US to counter China, preferring to maintain its own independent China (and, overall, foreign) policy.
Russia, for its part, needs more markets for its military sales and, perhaps, to influence India’s turn to the US.
It will be aware, however, that Pakistan’s economy does not match India’s and its ability to purchase arms on the scale that India has done until now is limited.
It would appear, then, that the relationships between these countries will continue much as they have, unless there is a major event that affects one or more of them sufficiently to enhance one or more relationship or cause it to deteriorate further.
 
Lindsay Hughes is a Research Analyst at the Indian Ocean Research Programme

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