THE United States and India have signed a Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement which is expected to boost their bilateral defence and military ties at a time when India is facing a tense stand-off with China in Ladakh.

American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Mark Esper flew into New Delhi to sign the pact with their Indian counterparts. BECA has finalised the completion of four pacts of a strategic nature between the two countries. BECA will give India access to classified geospatial data as well as critical information that has military application. The regional tour by these senior US officials, which has included visits to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, is aimed at countering growing Chinese influence.

In this respect, the US secretary of state raised the issue of India’s border tensions with China and expressed solidarity with New Delhi. In Sri Lanka, the US official called China a “predator”. The Chinese foreign ministry responded by saying Mr Pompeo’s accusations reflected his “Cold War mentality” and urged him to “stop sowing discord between China and regional countries as well as undermining the regional peace and stability”.

The US may have its strategic reasons to block Chinese influence in the region, but it should be well aware of the complexities that are weaved into interstate regional dynamics here. Cosying up to India is one way in which Washington wants to resist the domination of China but this has a direct impact on its relations with Islamabad.

Read: US move to share military data with India alarms FO

Within the larger domain of superpower rivalry, Pakistan has followed a well-calibrated policy to maintain constructive relations with both China and the US. This suits us and there is no reason why we would want to weaken our ties with one power in favour of the other. With China, we have maintained a strategically close and well-aligned relationship since the 1970s, and both states have come even closer with the rolling out of CPEC. With the US, we continue to have a strong relationship which is currently paying dividends in many areas including Afghanistan.

It is a delicate balance that we have maintained but it can be adversely impacted if the US starts to enhance India’s military capabilities that can constitute a clear and present danger to Pakistan. Washington knows well how India attempted a failed bombing inside Pakistan in early 2019 and nearly brought the two countries to war. It was Pakistan’s strategic restraint, despite thwarting Indian aggression, which avoided an armed conflict.

However, the Narendra Modi government’s threatening statements against Pakistan continue to keep the region under the threat of violence. The US should weigh these factors well and ensure its actions contribute to promoting peace instead of feeding into India’s belligerence. This is a complex region and Washington should deal with it as such.

Published in Dawn, October 30th, 2020

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