Why aren't we closer to India?
June 28, 2010 10:06 AM   Subscribe

Why are we not more closely allied with India instead of Pakistan?

It seems like given events in the region we'd be better off allying ourselves with the largest democracy and functioning economy in the region.
Is there a reason we're not closer to India?
posted by atchafalaya to Law & Government (28 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
We're very much allies with India, especially as fellow members of the Commonwealth.
posted by GuyZero at 10:12 AM on June 28, 2010 [26 favorites]

There's a lot of good information here.
posted by dfriedman at 10:14 AM on June 28, 2010

I think it's just that you hear a lot more about your relations with Pakistan because it borders Afghanistan.
posted by muteh at 10:15 AM on June 28, 2010

India used to cozy up o the Soviets, so we wouldn't let them play with our ball.
posted by NortonDC at 10:18 AM on June 28, 2010

My recollection is that after the 9/11 attacks Pakistan was pretty much strongarmed into an alliance with the U.S. It was very much a "You are on our side, and you really don't have much of a choice" type of situation. I'm sure it was a strategic decision made more out of necessity than the U.S. choosing Pakistan over India. I'm not sure how that may have affected India's relationship with the U.S.
posted by Balonious Assault at 10:20 AM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Indo-American relations are pretty close, especially over the last twenty years or so. Pakistan is getting more attention in the news due to its geography, i.e. it's next to Afghanistan and India isn't, but we've been close to India for quite some time. While current military cooperation with Pakistan complicates things, the US' relationship with India remains pretty good. The US is India's largest trading partner, though India doesn't even crack the top ten US trading partners.*

Still, India is one of the founding and most powerful nations of the Non-Aligned Movement, and they actually leaned slightly towards the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Which is understandable given their proximity to Russia.

*The US' largest trading partner is Canada, with whom there was over $200 billion of annual commerce in 2006. India's entire economy was only about $600 billion at that point.
posted by valkyryn at 10:20 AM on June 28, 2010

I should clarify my comment in case the OP somehow misses it - in the future, please explicitly specify who "we" is as people from around the world read MetaFilter, including a non-zero number of Indians who will be surprised that they're not closely allied with themselves.
posted by GuyZero at 10:27 AM on June 28, 2010 [20 favorites]

We're very much allies with India, especially as fellow members of the Commonwealth.

I think the OP lives in the US, so I'm assuming that's who he is referring to with "we." In which case, this isn't true. The US is not part of the Commonwealth.
posted by bluefly at 10:27 AM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

The very simple answer is that, when the Soviet Union was at war in Afghanistan, the USA wanted to keep a strong ally on that boarder. Also, once the Soviet and China became less cozy, India saw an advantage to having an ally against China in the region. I don't think one could ever have categorized India/USA relations as antagonistic or even strained for very long though.

BTW, guyzero, Pakistan is also a member of the Commonwealth; doesn't make them all chummy with India, does it.
posted by Some1 at 10:29 AM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

It is a product of the Cold War.

India was officially nuetral during the Cold War. Pakistan is a close ally in combating Soviet expansian, especially in Afghanistan.
posted by Flood at 10:33 AM on June 28, 2010

Who's "we"? The whole world reads this website.

Assuming we = the US, what's your basis for thinking our relations with India aren't very good? The US has good relations with lots of countries, and this fact generally isn't reported since it's a relatively unchanging, constant, positive or at least neutral thing that doesn't hold much potential for conflict. US/Pakistani relations get discussed a lot because they're more tense and volatile, and because there's so much at stake.
posted by Jaltcoh at 10:49 AM on June 28, 2010

Best answer: Who's "we"? The whole world reads this website.

A single click to the poster's profile would have answered this for you.

To the OP, if you want some details, this is a Congressional Research Service report, this is a U.S. State Dept summary, and this is the relevant Wikipedia page.
posted by aught at 11:20 AM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A few extremely simplified points:

1) As mentioned above, India was and has been allied with Russia/USSR in the past. This was a bone of contention, particularly during the Soviet war in Afghanistan, which had ramification beyond Pakistan, obvs.

2) The US has been seen by many Indians as having kowtowed to Pakistan, which many Indians see as ridiculous considering the social makeup of Pakistan as well as irritation over Kashmir.

3) India was for a long time a socialized economy. This meant that foreign businesses, including US businesses, had great difficulty in conducting operations in India. In 1977, for example, Coke left India rather than turn over it's secret formula which the Indian government wanted as part of a new regulation.
posted by AmitinLA at 11:32 AM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Are you kidding? We have extremely close ties to India. Look at how many Indians work as our doctors! ...not to mention, uh, small business owners.

We have a very liberal immigration policy for educated Indians and signed a 10-year mutual defense pact a few years ago with India as well.

We also have a civil nuclear agreement and strong trade relations.
posted by GnomeChompsky at 11:46 AM on June 28, 2010

Best answer: Also, from what I understand: Pakistan has always been considered by the US as an important Muslim ally (see Afghanistan war) and the US gives them a lot of money to stay afloat, etc.

And in general, India is not very aligned to anyone (maybe the Soviet experience burned us?) or ready to call anyone our ally. It's surrounded on all sides by nations it doesn't / can't really get along with, so it's important for it to stay as autonomous as possible and to not be weak or vulnerable or perceived as kowtowing to any other country's tune. Another way to look at this is: we have trust issues. :)

That said, yeah - the economic ties between US and India are not at all bad.
posted by mondaygreens at 12:22 PM on June 28, 2010

Mod note: few comments removed - folks read the profile page if you're confused about the "we" the OP is referring to or go to MetaTalk, thanks
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:00 PM on June 28, 2010

We are very close to India. And if you want to know who "we" are, just check our profile pages.
posted by timeistight at 1:27 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Pakistan wants to control Afghanistan, so its military can use Afghanistan as a buffer zone in case of a war with India.

We also want to control Afghanistan for our own reasons. So we give Pakistan billions of dollars in aid while making them promise not to interfere in Afghanistan.

It seems pretty clear to me that this isn't working, and various parts of the Pakistani government are supporting the same people we're fighting against in Afghanistan.

So I would say that even though we're nominally friendly with Pakistan, we're also involved in an indirect war against them. Not a very close friendship at all.
posted by miyabo at 1:47 PM on June 28, 2010

India, immediately post-independence (1947), was not very keen on the UK for obvious reasons. The UK was, in the post-war period, very closely allied with the US. So India, under the socialist Nehru, allied itself with the Soviets. Pakistan naturally(?) allied itself to the opponents of India's allies.
posted by goethean at 2:04 PM on June 28, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers, everybody. Here's why I ask: I recently met a Pakistani Army officer who was incensed that India was building consulates in Afghanistan. I also read that India is doing some road building and other projects there.

That got me wondering, why is that bad? I mean, I can see why Pakistan wouldn't like it, but the Afghans don't seem to mind.

Comments on a website article I read suggested Pakistan could offer to "pull back" the Taliban in exchange for us (That is, ISAF) ensuring India leaves Afghanistan.

Again I wonder, why? Why would we (ISAF again) exchange a reasonable contribution (whatever the underlying motivation may be) from the largest democracy and regional superpower for a dubious contribution from a country that appears to not really want us (ISAF one last time) there?
posted by atchafalaya at 2:46 PM on June 28, 2010

Why would we (ISAF again) exchange a reasonable contribution (whatever the underlying motivation may be) from the largest democracy and regional superpower for a dubious contribution from a country that appears to not really want us (ISAF one last time) there?

I'm no expert and I'm sure this is oversimplification, but I suspect it has a lot to do with the fact that Pakistan has nuclear weapons. Pakistan's government is in a very tenuous position trying to balance its strategic alliances with the will of its people. I'm sure lots of uncomfortable concessions have to be made to ensure that the government can stay "on our side" so the entire country, nukes and all, doesn't tip in favor of the Taliban.
posted by Balonious Assault at 5:01 PM on June 28, 2010

Comments on a website article I read suggested Pakistan could offer to "pull back" the Taliban

Pakistan could offer to build a rocket ship made of candy and fly to the moon, it's just as likely as them "pulling back" the taliban, etc - whom are a) a huge source of funding for Pakistan via the US et al, and b) effectively controlling 1/4 of Pakistan if not more at the moment.

Your friend is incensed because if India formed tight ties with Afghanistan, Pakistan would effectively be sandwiched between two hostile powers: India and India-allied Afghanisation + Pakistan govt-hating Afghans, of which there are many.

To answer your last question, "we" wouldn't do such a thing. In addition to pissing off our valuable ally India over a trivial issue (and it is trivial), you could argue that maintaining an uneasy equilibrium between Pakistan and India is in our (arguably everyone's interests): if Pakistan gets too comfortable, they may tell the west to piss off.
posted by smoke at 5:22 PM on June 28, 2010

Response by poster: I guess I'm not being clear on that last question. What I mean is, why shouldn't ISAF let India in?
posted by atchafalaya at 5:48 PM on June 28, 2010

Best answer: It's unlikely that India would its relationship with the USA deteriorate; it's not in its interest to sacrifice its ties to what is still the world's largest economy and a country with an increasingly-large Indian diaspora. In contrast, if Pakistan were not an ally of the USA it would probably be hostile, and it would certainly refuse to cooperate in your country's effort to pacify Afghanistan. The two countries have a very porous border, so the USA might have to invade Pakistan while chasing Afghani militia. So it's a choice between disrespecting a friend who will smile and take the abuse, or giving a volatile pseudo-friend an excuse to make the USA's efforts much harder. The pragmatic choice is to preserve the Pakistani relationship.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:35 PM on June 28, 2010

Best answer: There is a key piece that you need to understand to understand the regional politics. Pakistan, of course, fears war with India to varying degrees depending on which day of the week it is. This is a constant that has little to do with whether Pakistan is run by civilians or the military. Pakistan, despite its millions of people, is strategically weaker than India and in a face-off would likely face nuclear annihilation of its cities (whether it would achieve the same against India is a bit of a crapshoot) and a massive ground invasion by a larger and superior army. No arguments about the factuality of this view, this is what Pakistan thinks of when the words "worst case scenario" are uttered.

Pakistan, then, needs what the generals call "strategic depth" -- the ability to fall back from its cities and wage war despite whatever initial assault India would achieve. The way in which they do this is by falling back into Afghanistan. From a map standpoint, Pakistan is longer than it is wide. To the Pakistani military, Afghanistan is the back 40 where they will restage their air and ground forces and counterattack.

In other words, India is the last country they want to be anywhere in Afghanistan, and they have little long-term interest in Afghan democracy or economic stability. They need it to be a puppet state. They also have patience, because they know that sooner or later whichever great power they're dealing with right now will lose interest and go gallivanting off to some other corner of its empire. This has happened countless times in history.

Now, all that said, the US clearly cannot achieve whatever aims it has in Afghanistan (depending on which day of the week it is ....) without Pakistan. Thus even though we have divergent, even contradictory aims in this war, we need to do everything possible to make it work, at least as long as we're interested. Thus just as in the Cold War we shower Pakistan with expensive shiny toys and slips of green paper, and because we're so nice, almost as an afterthought, we loosen the graft audits so that as much of the green paper can go astray as possible.

Meanwhile, post-Soviet geopolitics has changed the game for India, and we are now closer than we've ever been to this burgeoning democracy and trading partner. In many ways, for many reasons, they seem to make the more natural ally. But geopolitics is not a game played by people who get together because they like each other. Mostly, it's about making friends with someone who can get you what you want, like listening devices on the border with your worst enemy. For all practical purposes, no matter the kum ba ya view, India can be a friend, but never more than that -- almost never an ally. They haven't got what we need.

Managing the two poles of this triad is basically a daily headache for the President and a small cadre of experts in State, Pentagon, and Commerce.
posted by dhartung at 10:19 PM on June 28, 2010 [7 favorites]

Excellent comment, dhartung, I would add one small caveat to your India ally comment, however, and that's China and whatever China does in the future will impact India's strategic significance. [I'm not one of those nutbags that thinks China and the US will go to war]
posted by smoke at 11:18 PM on June 28, 2010

We actually have really close relations with India, it's just not in the news much. The Pakistani people hate our guts, because we keep bombing them, whereas the U.S Pakistan "relationship" is mostly with the military and political elites.
posted by delmoi at 12:31 AM on June 29, 2010

Best answer: Keep your friends close but your enemies closer?
posted by timeistight at 9:34 AM on June 29, 2010

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