“America has no permanent friends or foes, only interests.”
– Henry A. Kissinger.
(Former US Secretary of State)
This quote by the former secretary of state sums up the core of American foreign policy. Over time, America has transformed its foes into allies and its allies into sworn adversaries. India, too, was a foe but has now turned into a strategic ally. Today, India-USA diplomatic relations are at their zenith. Both counties are collaborating in various fields like intelligence, defence manufacturing, and global issues. The USA is one of the very few countries with whom India conducts an annual 2-plus-2 dialogue regarding defence and foreign policy. India and the USA also cooperate by forming exclusive blocs like I2U2 (India, Israel, the UAE, and the USA) and QUAD. India-USA relations can be judged by the fact that India is among the few non-NATO countries that have signed LEMOA (Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement), COMCASA (Communication Compatibility and Security Agreement), and BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement).
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But things were not always rainbows and sunshine. The major reason behind booming US-India relations is the rise of India’s economic and diplomatic heft. India, de facto, acts as the only credible counterweight to China in the region. China’s imminent threat to American hegemony and superpower status makes India a cornerstone in the USA’s Indo-Pacific policy. Had India not prospered economically and China not posed a threat to the US-led world order, the Indo-US relationship would have been different. So, it’s fair to say that the India-US relationship is a marriage of convenience. Such relationships always have their fair share of trust issues. Several times since the Cold War, India has expressed distrust in the United States. The following are some examples :
THE USA’S CONSISTENT SUPPORT TO PAKISTAN
Since the Cold War era, Pakistan has been under a constant American umbrella. In fact, Pakistan enjoys the status of the United States’ major non-NATO ally. During the 1965 Indo-Pak War, America supplied Pakistan with military hardware. It was the USA that supplied Pakistan with top-notch M-60 Patton tanks that were far superior to their Indian counterparts. Even during the 1971 war, self-proclaimed human rights champion America ignored and even aided the Bangladeshi genocide by the Pakistan army. The Pakistani army slaughtered 3 million Bengalis and raped around 400,000. In fact, Pakistani President Gen. Yahya Khan gave clear instructions to his troops to conduct genocide. He said, “Kill 3 million of them, and the rest will eat out of our hands.” Such atrocities lead to a widespread refugee crisis in India.
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To put a halt to human rights violations and the refugee crisis, the Indian Army entered Bangladesh. To stop India and aid Pakistan in committing more atrocities, America dispatched its 7th fleet to attack India. But the 7th fleet never reached its destination. They were stopped by Soviet nuclear submarines from entering the Bay of Bengal, and the rest is history. The world saw how America abandoned its ally Pakistan in the middle of the war, and the Soviet Union stood as a bulwark for India. The war ended in 13 days, when 93,000 Pakistani soldiers surrendered and Bangladesh was liberated.
The USA did everything to bolster Pakistan’s military capabilities despite knowing it would be detrimental to India’s security. The United States provided Pakistan with cutting-edge F-16 fighter jets, which serve as the backbone of the Pakistani air force. In fact, America provided regular training and equipment upgrades to Pakistani pilots. Even recently, despite repeated objections from India, the USA approved the F-16 upgrade program for Pakistan. This comes as America refers to India as a long-term strategic partner. Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar raised this issue and reminded America of its hypocrisy during his US visit. Dr. Jaishankar categorically stated that the USA isn’t fooling anyone but itself with these tactics.
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THE USA – PAKISTAN – CHINA ALLIANCE AGAINST INDIA’S NUCLEAR PROGRAM
In 1974, when India carried out the first nuclear tests at Pokhran, America refused to give India the technology for defense-related fields such as space research, communications, and missile development. On May 11, 1998, India carried out its second nuclear test, and America immediately imposed economic sanctions on India. But that wasn’t the case when Pakistan did its nuclear test. It was well known to the world that India didn’t have a choice but to go nuclear. After China conducted nuclear tests and surreptitiously transferred its technology to Pakistan, it became a do-or-die situation for India. India’s nuclear test was purely a defensive, not an offensive, move. To survive between two hostile neighbors with whom it had already fought the war, going nuclear was the only last resort. Furthermore, India categorically reiterated its “non-first use” nuclear policy, unlike Pakistan, which doesn’t follow suit.
At that point, India was up against an apparent US-Pakistan-China axis. All three countries were in direct consultation against India’s nuclear program. This axis became more evident when the White House violated the diplomatic code of conduct. After conducting nuclear tests, the then-Indian PM, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, sent a letter to then-US President Bill Clinton. In this letter, he explained the rationale for India’s nuclear test. He confidently articulated Indian concerns about China, including its past aggression against India, its nuclear threat, and its covert weapons assistance to Pakistan. To India’s embarrassment, the US leaked the letter that explained the China factor behind the Indian tests to China. Such disclosure of privileged conversations to a third party was a gross violation of diplomatic norms and a backstab to India.
Recently, a declassified White House document came to light that further accentuated the US-China-Pakistan axis. These documents are from the late 1970s and 1980s. They reveal that Washington, in agreement with Beijing, turned a blind eye to Pakistan’s nuclear program. It was done in lieu of Islamabad’s support to push the Soviet Union out of Kabul. This report dated August 20, 1984, now declassified, revealed that by 1984, Washington knew that Pakistan had acquired the capability to build nuclear weapons. Another document revealed that then-Chinese President Deng Xiaoping not only convinced Washington to tolerate Pakistan’s nuclear program but also persuaded it to start giving more military and financial aid to Islamabad. And now, even the president, Joe Biden, claims Pakistan is a dangerous country due to its unreliability regarding nukes. It was America’s self-serving, shortsighted objectives that created this Frankenstein monster that is today endangering global peace.
THE USA’S MEDDLING IN INDIA’S INTERNAL AFFAIRS
“TO BE AN ENEMY OF AMERICA CAN BE DANGEROUS, BUT TO BE A FRIEND IS FATAL”
– Henry A. Kissinger.
(Former US Secretary of State)
The United States has time and again tried to preach things to India that it does not practice itself. It is the megalomaniac mindset of being a global policeman that makes the US meddle in other countries internal affairs. It is obvious that America hasn’t really grown out of its “White Man’s Burden” attitude. America itself has a lot of work to do on its internal issues like racism, gun violence, and hate crimes. From the murder of George Floyd to rising gun violence to racial attacks on Asian people, America never blamed itself. Instead, it diverts attention from its own human rights violations by pointing fingers at others. Despite claiming India as an ally, the US often interferes in its internal affairs. Recently, the US ambassador to Pakistan visited POK and referred to it as “Azad Kashmir,” a term used by Pakistan for propaganda.
From the so-called “rising intolerance” to India’s stance on the Kashmir issue, the USA left no stone unturned to censure India. Recently, Indian Foreign Minister Dr. Jaishankar raised this issue of unwarranted statements by the White House on India’s internal affairs. In his tit-for-tat response, Dr. Jaishankar raised India’s concerns against rising hate crimes and intolerance in America. Even during the initial phase of the Russia-Ukraine war, the US lectured India on its oil imports from Russia. Giving a blind eye to European energy imports from Russia, the US singled out India as the only country funding Russia. It was a way to punish India for buying oil from Russia. This was done to shift the blame for its own incompetence in uniting its own NATO allies against Russian energy exports. But India stood its ground, affirmed its stance, and even made the US smell its own hypocrisy.
The USA has a long history of ditching its allies in times of need. This was also reiterated by India’s former army chief, Gen. Bikram Singh. He stated that India must remain cautious while dealing with America. It’s true, to a certain extent, that India needs the US’s support while dealing with China and Pakistan. But it is also a fact that over-dependence on the US is something India should be wary of. Currently, it’s best for India’s interest to reap benefits from America’s technology and resources to build its own capabilities. Ultimately, India has to stand on its own two feet, but until then, it has to bide its time. India shouldn’t forget that China became the United States’ adversary only because it challenged its superpower status.
Today, America needs India to curb China’s growing influence in the region and maintain its hegemony. But when India rises to the level where it threatens US dominance, it will turn against India. By all estimates, India’s rise as a global power is inevitable. The USA is aware of the fact that it’s just a matter of time before India overtakes the US economy. That’s the reason why America keeps on nurturing Pakistan so that it can use it to counterbalance India. So, India should learn from history and exploit this limited window to prepare for that day. Moreover, India should avoid keeping all its eggs in one basket and should improve ties with different global powers. Instead of a unipolar or bipolar world, India should strive for a multipolar world. A global order where no one can exercise sole supremacy over another and all nations are kept in check.