The picture said it all. There was Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi clinging to US President Donald Trump in an embrace as a gesture of appreciation and eagerness for US strategic support to India. Meanwhile, President Trump appeared to relish the prospect of Indo-US strategic partnership serving US national interests. The roots of the Indo-US strategic embrace can be traced to the US decision to counter China’s rapidly growing power and influence in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region by building up India as a counterweight in the post-Cold War era. With this object in mind, the US under President Bush issued a declaration in 2005 of its intent to help build up India as a major power of the 21st century. The process of developing a strategic partnership, however, was not limited to Republican administrations. In fact, it started in earnest under President Clinton, a Democrat, soon after the end of the Cold War in recognition of the importance of the rapidly growing Indian economy, its position as the largest democracy in the world, and its expected role to check the expansion of China’s power and influence in Asia. The process has continued apace in the subsequent years so that now India is categorised by the US as “a Major Defence Partner” entitled to defence cooperation with the US at a level commensurate with that of its closest allies and partners.

The joint statement issued on June 26 after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with President Trump in the White House expressed the resolve of the leaders of the two countries to “expand and deepen” their strategic partnership and advance common objectives. It pointed out that these objectives included “combatting terrorist threats, promoting stability across the Indo-Pacific region (read countering China’s growing power and influence), increasing free and fair trade, and strengthening energy linkages.” The joint statement welcomed further Indian contributions to promote Afghanistan’s democracy, stability, prosperity, and security. President Trump and PM Modi also committed to continue close consultations and cooperation in support of Afghanistan’s future.

On the issue of terrorism, the joint statement expressed the determination of the two sides to combat this global scourge and root out terrorist safe havens in every part of the world. India appreciated the US designation of Syed Salahuddin, the Hizbbul Mujahideen leader, as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist. The joint statement further mentioned the commitment of the two leaders to strengthen cooperation against terrorist threats from groups including Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, D-Company, and their affiliates. In a pointed reference to Pakistan, the two leaders called on it “to ensure that its territory is not used to launch terrorist attacks on other countries. They further called on Pakistan to expeditiously bring to justice the perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai, Pathankot, and other cross-border terrorist attacks perpetrated by Pakistan-based groups.” This must have been music to the ears of the Indian side. There was no mention whatsoever of the direct involvement of the Indian government and RAW in terrorist activities in Pakistan as conclusively shown by the arrest of Kulbhushan Jadhav, a RAW agent and a serving officer of the Indian navy, in Pakistani Balochistan in April last year on charges of organising acts of terrorism. India has also been behind terrorism in Pakistan by supporting the TTP as a proxy.

As could be expected, the Pakistan Foreign Office expressed it disappointment over the Indo-US joint statement by terming it “unhelpful” in achieving the objective of strategic stability and durable peace in the South Asian region. It also alleged that the joint statement had failed to “address key sources of tension and instability in the region” and had aggravated an already tense situation. Apparently, the Foreign Office was particularly concerned over the Indo-US joint statement’s strong language on terrorist attacks that India alleges originated from Pakistan, the US not raising the issues of human rights violations in the Indian occupied Kashmir and the Indian sponsored terrorist activities in Pakistan, the US sale of high-tech military hardware to India which undermines strategic stability in South Asia, and the recognition of India’s role in Afghanistan.

The Pakistan Foreign Office’s concerns werewell-founded. While the joint statement accepted without any question the Indian allegations of terrorist activities by non-state actors from Pakistan, it totally ignored the incontrovertible evidence of the direct involvement of the Indian government in sponsoring and supporting terrorism in Pakistan. The US claims to be the champion of human rights but it conveniently ignored Indian brutalities perpetrated to suppress the legitimate freedom struggle of the people of Kashmir in IOK, especially since the martyrdom of Burhan Wani last year during Modi’s visit to Washington, DC. Considering that India’s continued military occupation of IOK is in violation of the UN Security Council resolutions, the people of Kashmir are morally and legally justified to wage their liberation struggle to persuade India to come to the negotiating table for a peaceful settlement of this issue. With reference to the designation of Salahuddin as a global terrorist, the Pakistan Foreign Office was right in stressing that “any attempt to equate the peaceful indigenous Kashmiri struggle with terrorism, and to designate individuals supporting the right to self-determination as terrorists is unacceptable.”

Washington has tried to explain its position on various issues related to India and Pakistan by stressing that it does not view its relations with these two countries as a zero-sum game. However, its explanations lack credibility as pointed out earlier. Further, it is quite clear from the statements originating from the US that it attaches much higher priority and importance to its relations with India than to those with Pakistan. According to a recent statement by a senior White House official, the US would like to “deepen” its strategic partnership with India while it was also interested in “continuing cooperation with Pakistan.” As if to remove any ambiguity, the official further stressed that the priorities and the nature of relationship with the two countries were different. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s political leadership, military establishment, and Foreign Office have so far failed to grasp this reality adequately.

There is a definite convergence of the strategic interests of the US and India in the post-Cold War era in a marked contrast with the situation during the Cold War when often their relationship suffered from the divergence of national interests. The past two decades, therefore, have witnessed an inexorable trend towards the growth and development of the Indo-US strategic partnership. This trend will be one of the distinguishing features of the global security environment in the 21st century. As pointed out by me in my book, “Pakistan and a World in Disorder—-A Grand Strategy for the Twenty-First Century”, published recently by Palgrave Macmillan from New York, power rather than principles increasingly would be the arbiter of strategic issues of war and peace in the current century.

In the face of these harsh realities, Pakistan needs to take steps to safeguard its own national interests in the anarchic world of the current century by building up its economic and military strength, strengthening political stability within the country, adopting policies of austerity and self-reliance, lessening its economic and military dependence on the US while maintaining friendly relations and cooperation with it, building up its strategic partnership with China as symbolised by CPEC, and following a low-risk and non-adventurist foreign policy especially in our dealings with India and Afghanistan. Friendship and mutually beneficial cooperation with Afghanistan and Iran are indispensable conditions for Pakistan’s security and economic well-being.