The Problem of India

Following partition in 1947 and even more so after the advent of the Eisenhower administration in 1952 India and Pakistan increasingly became polar opposites in world politics. Having rejected US Secretary of State Foster Dulles in search of allies in Asia against Moscow and Beijing, the Nehru dynasty, both anglophile and socialist, turned its back on the United States. Whereas the military rulers of Pakistan gratefully took the American shilling.

India was nominally non-aligned but in reality consistently pro-Soviet: a stance reinforced during India’s border war with China in 1962. And this was the year when Moscow finally broke with Beijing. As Sino-Soviet differences worsened, New Delhi and Moscow fell into a deeper embrace reinforced by a belief in the value of socialist industrialisation. And when the Americans tricked the Russians into invading Afghanistan in 1979 to prop up an unpopular Soviet-style dictatorship, the Pakistanis received massive American aid to sustain fierce resistance to the Russian occupation. That aid never stopped rolling in after the Russians left Afghanistan in 1988-89. It was bolstered from 2001 when the United States launched its war in Afghanistan against the Taliban, the protectors Al-Qaeda – America’s enemy number one after it struck New York’s twin towers on 9/11. The subsequent war in Afghanistan has been a complete failure, resting as it has on a flimsy framework of aid propping up corrupt Afghan leaders, the security of opium growers and an armed population that is about as xenophobic as it is possible to be.

Washington’s capacity for putting up with unreliable and, indeed, treacherous allies with an insatiable thirst for aid bears all the hallmarks of sainthood or gullible stupidity, depending upon one’s prejudice. It looks finally to be coming to an end with respect to Pakistan (though not Afghanistan) under President Trump as Secretary of State Tillerson visits New Delhi. The relationship between Washington and New Delhi had many false starts but was relentlessly pressed by the US Chamber of Commerce back under the Bush administration and fitted in well with India’s decisive moves towards a more open market. Finally all this effort has produced a political outcome of unknown consequence.

The Russians now look on dubiously at a prospect that few in India ever envisaged: the formation of a new triangle – Washington, Kabul and New Delhi counterpoised against Beijing-Islamabad- Moscow. The aim is apparently to settle the war and get the Americans out with or, in this case, without Pakistan’s support, but on terms that leave American pride intact. Thus far it amounts to little more than diplomatic chess and nothing of any substance has been placed on the board, let alone risked by potentially sacrificial moves. But there appears to be more to come. Tillerson has no interest in headlines; he wants to see results, as does Trump, and the Pakistanis have had enough warnings.