Home Pakistan China The US hasn’t woken up to India’s nightmare of a two-front war with China and Pakistan – ThePrint

The US hasn’t woken up to India’s nightmare of a two-front war with China and Pakistan – ThePrint

19 min read

A file image of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan with Chinese President Xi Jinping | Photo: @ForeignOfficePk | Twitter

Text Size:

India and China may have managed their recent clash through diplomacy, but the stalemate along the 3,488 km long Himalayan ‘border’ is, at best, an uneasy one. China has demonstrated its willingness to use force to change the status quo on the Line of Actual Control and that must remain a source of concern for everyone around the world.

For Delhi, however, the nightmare scenario is not simply a border conflict with China, but the spectre of a two-front war with China and its all-weather friend, Pakistan. While New Delhi has always been wary of the China-Pakistan relationship, the deepening military dimension has led Indian defence strategists to think of newer ways to combat such an occurrence.

A key factor in New Delhi’s calculation has always been how the United States would react to any conflict in the subcontinent, whether between India and Pakistan or between India and China. During the Cold War, Delhi sought to gauge the reactions of both Moscow and Washington. Today, however, the American reaction is critical.

Also read: Galwan lesson for Indian soldiers: Don’t wait for orders, just assume them

Why US is critical to India

At a time when Russia and China are closer together than they were in earlier decades, and the China-Pakistan relationship is getting stronger, it is natural that New Delhi wonders about the depth of its partnership with Washington. For all of the Trump administration’s eager support to India, this is a time when America is more or less retracting from its previous role as the global policeman.

 The policy community has closely followed the latest India-China border standoff, with numerous events and opinion pieces. The Pakistan factor, however, has not played out as strongly as Delhi would have liked. Most in the city have viewed the crisis from the lens of China’s aggression against democracies, something that Assistant Secretary of State, David Stilwell, said at a recent event. A strong India-US relationship notwithstanding, American interest in South Asia has historically been framed around its global concerns, Soviet Union during Cold War, terrorism immediately after, and now China.

There are some, however, making the argument that India could avoid this two-front war by restarting talks with Pakistan, something Delhi would not agree to. The notion that Pakistan works independent of China and that it can be convinced through the right incentive to change its strategic calculus about India or return to the American fold is a fallacy. Ignoring the prospect of Pakistan working in collusion with China by many in Washington DC, and other global capitals, might be a mistake.

We are deeply grateful to our readers & viewers for their time, trust and subscriptions.

Quality journalism is expensive and needs readers to pay for it. Your support will define our work and ThePrint’s future.


During the 1962 India-China war, Washington supported New Delhi, while Moscow was on Beijing’s side. Despite the China-Soviet split of 1956, that occurred due to ideological differences, Moscow chose to side with Beijing, not Delhi. American President John F Kennedy, had long admired India and had argued, “We want India to win that race with Red China.”

Also read: National security won’t wait for economic development — Modi should learn from Nehru’s mistakes

US’ Pakistan prism

Washington did provide New Delhi with military aid during the war with China but also ensured that the equipment supplied was for mountain warfare and not for use in the plains against Pakistan. To assuage India’s concerns, Washington did apply pressure on Pakistan to avoid creating any problem on the India-Pakistan border.

While disappointed with American assistance to a non-ally (India) at the cost of an ally (Pakistan), Pakistan’s then military dictator General Ayub Khan was assuaged to some extent when both London and Washington pushed for an India-Pakistan dialogue— the famous Swaran Singh-Zulfikar Ali Bhutto talks of 1962.

During the 1965 India-Pakistan war, US President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration attempted even handedness, by stopping supplies of military equipment and economic aid to both countries and leaving the mediation role to the Soviet Union. American frustration over “trying to sort out things between India and Pakistan” was reflected in a personal message sent by Johnson’s Secretary of State, Dean Rusk to the Ambassadors in Islamabad and New Delhi. Rusk remarked, “we are being asked to come in on the crash landing where we had no chance to be in on the take-off.”

Coming just three years after the India-China conflict, China’s response comprised  allegations that Indian troops had stolen sheep and yaks from Tibetan herdsmen. China’s foreign ministry also issued periodic statements saying India must return these animals to avoid a repeat of 1962.

In 1971, US President Richard Nixon supported West Pakistan during the civil war that had engulfed East Pakistan, and led to the India-Pakistan war, ultimately resulting in the creation of Bangladesh. The Nixon tilt towards Pakistan was aimed at, supporting an American ally at a time when the US President was wooing China as well. According to his National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger, Washington had to support Islamabad because “If the US stands by and sees an ally dismembered what will the Chinese think about our reliability?”

Both, then military dictator General Yahya Khan and the Nixon-Kissinger duo expected that China would help Pakistan in the war against India. Unlike 1965, however, China’s actions were minimal with limited military activity along the LAC, no open rhetoric and no uptick in public military aid to Pakistan. India also benefitted from the changed global dynamics; Moscow openly supported Delhi, unlike in 1962.

Also read: Chinese threat is unlikely to go away. India needs big plans for LAC to save its land

And its tilt towards India

India’s last major border conflict was with Pakistan in 1999. The Kargil conflict was unique in that both the US and China supported India, not Pakistan. Not only did President Bill Clinton come out openly in support of India and the ‘sanctity of the Line of Control’ but Washington applied pressure on Pakistan to withdraw its troops. When Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made a quick trip to Beijing, hoping for support from China, he was asked to withdraw troops and resume talks with India.

In the last two decades, while there have been skirmishes between India and China along the LAC, there has not been any major conflict. There have, however, been crises on the India-Pakistan front: Parliament attack (2001), 26/11 (2008), Pathankot and Uri attacks (2016), and Pulwama-Balakot (2019). In each of these instances the US has supported India, applied pressure on Pakistan, sought to lower the tensions and prevented war.

China’s reactions, however, have been nuanced. While Beijing has gently nudged Islamabad to take action against some jihadi entities, China has also supported Pakistan on all international fora, and used its veto in the United Nations Security Council to stop listing certain Pakistan-based jihadi groups or individuals.

India has viewed favorably the recent statements of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo referring to China’s actions against India as “incredibly aggressive” and that Washington will stand by its allies in the South China Sea against “China’s maritime empire.” The Trump administration has also repeatedly stated that while it is withdrawing troops from the Middle East, Afghanistan, and Europe, it will be bolstering its presence in the Indo-Pacific region.

However, New Delhi would not be wrong in wondering the extent of support it can expect from a semi-isolationist America that is withdrawing from various parts of the world and demanding erstwhile allies take care of their own problems.

The author is Research Fellow and Director, India Initiative at the Washington-DC based Hudson Institute. Her books include ‘Escaping India: Explaining Pakistan’s Foreign Policy’ (Routledge, 2011), ‘From Chanakya to Modi: The Evolution of India’s Foreign Policy’ (Harper Collins, 2017) and ‘Making India Great: The Promise of a Reluctant Global Power’ (Harper Collins, 2020). Views are personal.

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

News media is in a crisis & only you can fix it

You are reading this because you value good, intelligent and objective journalism. We thank you for your time and your trust.

You also know that the news media is facing an unprecedented crisis. It is likely that you are also hearing of the brutal layoffs and pay-cuts hitting the industry. There are many reasons why the media’s economics is broken. But a big one is that good people are not yet paying enough for good journalism.

We have a newsroom filled with talented young reporters. We also have the country’s most robust editing and fact-checking team, finest news photographers and video professionals. We are building India’s most ambitious and energetic news platform. And we aren’t even three yet.

At ThePrint, we invest in quality journalists. We pay them fairly and on time even in this difficult period. As you may have noticed, we do not flinch from spending whatever it takes to make sure our reporters reach where the story is. Our stellar coronavirus coverage is a good example. You can check some of it here.

This comes with a sizable cost. For us to continue bringing quality journalism, we need readers like you to pay for it. Because the advertising market is broken too.

If you think we deserve your support, do join us in this endeavour to strengthen fair, free, courageous, and questioning journalism, please click on the link below. Your support will define our journalism, and ThePrint’s future. It will take just a few seconds of your time.

Support Our Journalism

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Check Also

With Less Money In Its Red Kettles, The Salvation Army Rallies To Save The Holidays – Capital Public Radio News

The Salvation Army’s bell ringers, a longtime fixture outside malls and stores aroun…