An American Balancing Act

by Luke Hawbaker:

After suffering a disastrous midterm outcome, President Obama has embarked upon a tour of Asia. In light of the seeming referendum on the economy, he billed the trip as a job-creating endeavor. There is, however, far more to this trip than simply economic engagement. India is not simply the centerpiece of this trip because of its burgeoning economy. Few nations are of greater strategic importance for American foreign policy. A strong relationship between both India and America is vital for both countries, despite its contentiousness, especially given American support for Pakistan. It is these two relationships that America must seek to balance, as it works to strengthen its position in Asia and resolve the conflict in Afghanistan.

President Obama speaks in New Delhi (Flickr, creative commons)

The two countries’ historically adversarial relationship has grown even more strained after the Mumbai attacks of 2008. India wants greater Pakistani punishment of the perpetrators of the attacks. Pakistan says it has done enough. More importantly, India wants the close relationship between Pakistani intelligence services and anti-Indian terrorist groups to cease. Pakistan, on the other hand, has grave worries about the rumored Indian military program known as Cold Start. Cold Start would allow Indian forces to strike quickly in the heart of Pakistan if another terrorist attack originated from the nation. With this rivalry in mind, America works to support both of its allies, to the disapproval of each.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently announced a $2 billion military aid package for Pakistan, which includes some traditional weaponry that would only be useful against India. On the other hand, America and India have a close strategic relationship which is growing closer. The American military conducts more military exercises with India than any other nation and gives them substantially military aid as well. During his trip in India, President Obama endorsed India’s desire for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council and lifted a ban on trading militarily-useful high-technology with the nation. Both announcements were met with Pakistani outrage.

How does American foreign policy move forward in such a complex web of interests? Inaction is impossible. Both nations are vital to a successful outcome for the war in Afghanistan and greater regional and international security. A pacified Afghanistan is in both nations’ best interests. India worries of greater Taliban control because of their relationship with anti-Indian terrorist groups. Neither wants to see a power vacuum in Afghanistan that the other nation could exploit. But to achieve this, Pakistan must get its act together and act more forcefully against the militants within its own borders. Yet it says it cannot send more of their forces into militant strongholds because those troops are needed near the Indian border. Greater dialogue with India would allow those troops to be used elsewhere, simplify the Pakistani relationship with terrorist groups, and ensure that two American allies both work towards a more stable future.