Pakistan, India and the United States

November 9, 2009


While attention has almost entirely been focused on America’s difficult relationship with Pakistan – a writer in Foreign Policy magazine called it the world’s most dysfunctional relationship – India and the United States have quietly gone ahead and completed the largest military exercise ever undertaken by New Delhi with a foreign army.

The exercise named Yudh Abyhas 2009 (or practice for war)  and conducted in northern India involved tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and helicopter-borne infantry. The U.S. army deployed 17 Strykers,  its eight-wheeled armoured vehicle, in the largest deployment of the newest vehicle outside of Iraq and Afghanistan for Pacific Rim forces, the military said.

“This exercise indeed is a landmark. For the Indian Army, this is the biggest we have done with any foreign army,” Indian army director general of military operations, Lt. Gen. A.S. Sekhon said.

Since they began exercising together over the past decade after being on opposite sides of the Cold War, India and the United States have steadily advanced their military relationship. As the two big powers in the Indian Ocean, they  have had steadily complex naval exercises and this year, for added measure, brought in the Japanese navy too in a three-way exercise, a move which must not have been lost on the Chinese.

Indeed, as Robert Haddick, who edits the Small Wars Journal, writes in his column at Foreign Policy that the one defence relationship  in Asia that is progressing well for the United States is that involving India. It’s not trouble-free especially with a prickly power such as India, but it stands out compared with the troubled security relationships the United States has with Pakistan and China, the author notes.

U.S. military engagement with China remains a work in progress. As Admiral Timothy Keating, the former military commander for the U.S. Pacific Command told the Financial Times in an interview last month he didn’t have direct phone contacts for his counterparts in the People’s Liberation Army, increasing the potential for misunderstanding.

“I don’t have their [senior Chinese military officials'] phone number. I can’t pick up the phone and wish them happy birthday. I don’t mean to be glib about it . . . [But] we don’t enjoy the sort of communication that I have with almost every other military leader in Asia,” he said.

And what of Pakistan ? As noted in this blog, before only 16 percent of Pakistanis surveyed have a favorable view of the United States and 13 percent have confidence in President Barack Obama, according to the Pew Research Center.

Such a deep distrust and rage  severely complicates the relationship,  and often blinds Pakistan at its own loss, a Toronto-based analyst Sadiq Saleem writes. He says the visceral opposition to the U.S. aid bill was a case in point.

“Pakistanis as a nation are riled up en masse over the supposed ‘loss of sovereignty’ over the fact that our ally of 55 years decided to give us unconditional economic aid – in addition to conditional military aid.  At $1.5 billion per year the Enhanced Partnership for Pakistan Act 2009 would make Pakistan the single largest recipient of US government development aid in the world – greater than the Israel economic aid package.”

But a combination of politicians and journalists have called the aid as anti-Pakistan because of the conditions attached to it. The big worry, according to Saleem, is that at some point Washington may get tired of dealing with a difficult partner.

“If our anti-Americanism continues the day might come when the Americans do not see the value of their Pakistani relationship. I, and anyone else who points this out, is not an American agent but a voice of sanity in an environment of anger and hate,” he says.

Will America turn to India, where it still enjoys support and admiration among ordinary people even more than government leaders ? 

[Reuters picture of the exercise, and below a U.S. military release of the exercise]


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