WASHINGTON — On the Hill this week, the House considered the future of U.S.-India relations, while the Senate debated improvements to the United State’s strategic partnership with Pakistan.
On Wednesday, the House Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia discussed America’s evolving relationship with India. Rep. Gary L. Ackerman, who presided over the session, began the hearing with sweeping praise of the United States’ partnership with the South Asian nation:
“[I]f there is one area in the subcommittee’s jurisdiction where President Bush got the policy right, it is towards India. . . . In the area of trade and investment, the United States is India’s largest trading partner and accounts for about one-seventh of all foreign direct investment in India since 1991. In the area of defense cooperation, the India-U.S. Defense Policy Group meets annually, and since 2002 the United States and India have held an unprecedented number, and increasingly substantive, combined exercises involving all military services. In addition, the amount and sophistication of defense sales to India has increased exponentially and the Government of India has opened the door for U.S. firms to compete for the sale of multirole fighters to India.”
But Stephen Cohen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, rebuffed some of Rep. Ackerman’s claims. The nuclear deal, which received much support from President Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (as well as Rep. Ackerman), may soon fall victim to domestic political squabbling, he pointed out.
Moreover, while “Military-to-military ties have been among the more successful areas, with regular joint naval and air exercises between the U.S. and Indian militaries . . . both India and the U.S. conduct exercises with many, many other countries, so this is not something extraordinary except in the context of a total absence of such exercises after 1963,” Cohen said. Furthermore, Indo-U.S. counterinsurgency cooperation is “unsatisfactory” and military sales have not quite met analysts’ predictions. However, the U.S. and India have grown undoubtedly closer since the Cold War, he added.
Mostly, the U.S. still struggles to enlist India’s support on a number of initiatives — isolating Iran being the most important — because of India’s historic doctrine of “strategic autonomy,” said Walker K. Andersen of Johns Hopkins University. “[India] will not become an ally in the mold of the U.K. or Japan, nor will it be a France, seeking tactical independence within the framework of a formal alliance. It will cooperate only when treated as an equal and only where its own interests are directly involved,” he said.
Thus, according to Andersen, maritime cooperation is perhaps the one area that could draw both nations closer together:
“The most promising area for India-U.S. military cooperation is protection of Indian Ocean sea lanes and the vital choke points leading from that body of water (especially Hormuz and Malacca), which is of strategic importance not only to India and the U.S., but to the countries of Southeast and East Asia. . . . The advantages of maritime cooperation are that it is out of public view and managed by professionals, thus making it less susceptible to politically motivated nitpicking. Maritime cooperation enables India to play a more responsible role in world affairs without directly challenging its doctrine of strategic autonomy.”
Also on Wednesday, the full Senate Committee on Foreign Relations debated possible reforms to the U.S.’s strategic partnership with Pakistan. Sen. Joe Biden said in his opening statement, “We believe that we’re paying too much, and getting too little. Pakistanis believe exactly the opposite. Both sides feel that the costs of the relationship may soon outweigh the benefits. The status quo is unsustainable. We’ve got to move from a transactional relationship — the exchange of aid for services — to the type of normal, functional relationship we enjoy with all of our other military allies and friendly nations.”
Accordingly, Sen. Biden proposed four specific reforms to the U.S. relationship with Pakistan: Tripling non-security aid to $1.5 billion annually, tying security aid to Pakistan’s performance in the War on Terrorism, offering Pakistan a “democracy dividend” to rejuvenate the state’s ailing government system, and focusing more specifically on Pakistani citizens, not its politicians.
According to Wendy Chamberlain, president of the Middle East Institute, the new legislation is long overdue:
But increasing aid and creating security benchmarks don’t address the full problem, said Gen. Anthony Zinni, USMC (Ret.), the former commander at Central Command. For example, the Pakistani army still lacks “force multipliers,” like night vision goggles, that would certainly bolster its efforts on the Afghan border. “Restrictions in the Foreign Assistance Act make it virtually impossible for us to provide those capabilities,” he said.
In addition Congress must pursue other “‘Smart’ initiatives, such as the Reconstruction Opportunity Zones concept, agricultural initiatives, energy proposals and efforts to increase access to health care,” Zinni added. Only when the Pakistani people have access to basic resources will the United States be able to expel al-Qaida, and similar terrorist organizations, from the region, he said.