US-India cooperation in Indo-Pacific win-win for both
by Ashok B Sharma on 15 Mar 2020 0 Comment

The US attempt to hammer a peace deal with the Taliban has proved to be a non-starter in bringing peace and stability to war-ravaged Afghanistan. The deal with Taliban has no meaning unless a similar bipartite agreement is signed between the militant organization and the Afghan government. The drama in Doha followed US President Donald Trump’s visit to India, and in an election year he wants to show the American electorate that he can broker peace in Afghanistan and contain Beijing’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific.


The American electorate is concerned over the 18-year involvement in Afghanistan. Trump had promised to reduce US troops in Afghanistan from 13,000 to 8,000 in 14 months if Taliban ensured peace, but it was not to be. Just days after the deal was signed, Taliban mounted attacks on Afghan forces, killing 20 of them. In retaliation, the US conducted an airstrike on March 4 against Taliban fighters who were attacking an ANDSF checkpoint in Nahr-e Saraj, Helmand. The dream of a peace process was shattered.


The US plan was to reduce its presence in Afghanistan to concentrate on containing China and Russia elsewhere. This is clear from the statement of US Defence Secretary Mark Esper. At the signing ceremony in Doha, diplomats from India (Ambassador to Qatar P. Kumaran), Pakistan, US and other UN member countries were present. New Delhi gave a guarded statement, “India’s consistent policy is to support all opportunities that can bring peace, security and stability in Afghanistan; end violence; cut ties with international terrorism; and lead to a lasting political settlement through an Afghan led, Afghan owned and Afghan controlled process.


“India will continue to extend all support to the Government and people of Afghanistan in realising their aspirations for a peaceful, democratic and prosperous future where the interests of all sections of Afghan society are protected. We note that the entire political spectrum in Afghanistan, including the government, the democratic polity and civil society, has welcomed the opportunity and hope for peace and stability generated by these agreements”.


Pakistani Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, said, “Pakistan had fulfilled its part of the responsibility in terms of facilitating this peace agreement. Pakistan will continue to support a peaceful, stable, united, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan, at peace with itself and with its neighbours”. Qureshi warned the US about “spoilers” who may derail the deal. One of the conditions is the release of more than 5,000 Afghan Taliban prisoners in government custody that has already created a potential obstacle to peace, with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani ruling out the move. 


President Ashraf Ghani announced at a press conference in Kabul, “All the materials of the ... deal are based on conditions; it depends on the Taliban’s commitment to the peace deal. There are several points in the deal [that] need consideration which can be discussed in the talks with the Taliban. Our negotiating team, under the framework of the Afghan government, will be inclusive”.


New Delhi’s concern over peace and stability in Afghanistan is evident from the export of terrorism from neighbouring Pakistan. It is wary that US is seeking Pakistan’s help to bring peace in Afghanistan. Pakistan is a known abettor of terrorism and continues to remain in the grey list of FATF.


Donald Trump during his visit to India pledged to cooperate in counter-terrorism and jointly fight against violent extremism, drug trafficking, crimes in cyberspace and human trafficking. The US has come closer to India by black listing some terror groups operating from the soil of Pakistan and by raising its voice in the UN to impose sanctions against them. But for how long can US afford to do this? It has to depend upon Pakistan in resolving issues with Taliban. Hence it is unable to fully assert upon Pakistan to stop export of terror to India. This remains an unresolved issue.


Knowing that a strong and capable Indian military can support peace, stability, and a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific, Donald Trump reaffirmed his pledge to support the transfer of advanced US military technology to India. New Delhi has decided to procure MH-60R naval and AH-64E Apache helicopters. President Trump also reaffirmed India’s status as a Major Defence Partner affording it the highest consideration for procurement and technology transfer purposes. An early conclusion of defence cooperation enabling agreements including Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement is expected.


US needs India’s help in containing growing Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific; this is one of the main reasons for elevating the relationship between the two countries to the level of Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership.


Another aspect is that Trump is concerned over the USD 24 billion trade deficit that US has with India. US exports to India have recently gone up by 60 per cent. A new India-US trade agreement is yet to be finalised. But the USD 3 billion defence deal will lessen the trade deficit to an extent. Also, trade and investment in hydrocarbons will help to meet India’s consumption needs and bridge the trade deficit gap.


India can be a more reliable partner to US in containing Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific – a win-win situation for both. Trump’s attempt to broker peace in Afghanistan has hit a road block. India may get US support in global forums in matters of countering terrorism, but Washington may not be able to prevail upon Pakistan to stop export of terrorism as long as it depends upon Islamabad to resolve the Taliban issue in Afghanistan.


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