After the break-up of former USSR, India has been trying to serve US national interests in South Asia and Indian Ocean region in order to sideline Pakistan and be counted as a counterweight to China. The best way to achieve this end has so far been to paint Pakistan as a rogue state infested with terrorists even within Pakistan’s security establishment. This has, however, led to the least desired outcome. Instead of becoming internationally isolated, Pakistan has been pushed further into China’s tight embrace, a development which has caused panic for both the US and India. India-sponsored TTP terrorism targeting Pakistan’s security interests inside Pakistan and its attempts at creation of a wedge between Pakistani people and the armed forces through a supportive media is not a secret anymore. But in the ultimate analysis, Pakistanis are not going to stop supporting their armed forces. There is another attempt, again through unsuspecting politicians and media anchors to pitch Pakistan against the US by downplaying terrorist acts and playing up the issue of drone strikes. To re-enforce this onslaught, TTP has been made to make two strange statements; TTP will not attack Pakistan’s nuclear assets, rather it will try to take them over to use against the enemies and terrorist acts in Pakistan will continue even after the end-game in Afghanistan till the terrorists establish a Taliban government in Pakistan.
The terrorists are trying to give very dangerous message to the world; come and take Pakistan’s nuclear assets and bomb Pakistan a la Afghanistan before it becomes Islamic Emirate.
While Pakistan is expected to come out clear after the current crisis of national security is over, India has started snubbing the US. A staunch opponent of the US in the days of cold war, India had established an unprecedented partnership with Americans, including a historic nuclear cooperation deal in 2008. This positive trend culminated in President Obama’s visit last year to Mumbai and New Delhi, during which he announced American support for India’s ambition to a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council.
It was good while it lasted. According to an article titled, US-India Relations on the Rocks? published by The National Interest and co-authored by Stephen Cohen, the United States needs to move on and recognize that India’s commitment to strategic autonomy is a fundamental constraint to further improvement in bilateral relations. New Delhi wants to take it slowly because it is wary of becoming another Japan, a client state. It is this grand concern with self-reliance—and not technical or other factors—that led to India’s surprising decision last month to exclude two American contenders, Lockheed and Boeing, from an $11 billion contract for one hundred and twenty-six fourth-generation fighter jets—India’s biggest defense purchase ever.
New Delhi’s preference for two European jets (France’s Rafale and the Eurofighter Typhoon), while excluding Swedish and Russian contenders along with the American F-16 and F/A-18, came as a rude shock to those who had banked on surging U.S.-India defense and security relations. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, India purchased $223 million worth in military equipments from the United States in the last five years—twice as much as in the preceding twenty years. Both countries also held over sixty joint exercises and military exchanges since 2000 and set up a new counterterrorism dialogue that included unprecedented levels of intelligence sharing after the 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai.
Defense analysts jumped in immediately to offer possible explanations for the American defeat. Some underlined the fighters’ different performance during high-altitude tests in the Himalayas, along with other technical factors, including speed and radar systems, which may have given the European fighters an advantage. Others privilege political reasons—including pockets of anti-Americanism in the Indian air force—as well as a government plagued by corruption scandals, which may have limited its capacity to make a decision on more than purely objective criteria. Another explanation highlights the controversies involving the quality of previous purchases from the United States, especially that of the USS Trenton, a 1971 amphibious transport dock on which an explosion killed five Indian navy personnel in 2008.
While each of these factors may have played a role, they ignore the most fundamental reason: India’s concern for strategic autonomy in the event of another war with Pakistan and its attempt to maintain a balance in its lineup of military suppliers. Washington may well have promised New Delhi the world, but in the end India will always fear that its actual combat capacity in such critical moments could be severely affected by relying exclusively on American technology, supplies and support. This sensitivity and mistrust is aggravated by the fact that the United States is also the major supplier to the Pakistani air force, having in recent years transferred thirty-two F-16 variants and several air-to-air missiles and P3C Orion surveillance aircrafts to Islamabad.
New Delhi also justifiably sees Washington as overly stringent on end-use monitoring; Washington would never have allowed these planes to be fitted with nuclear warheads and play a role in India’s nuclear deterrent. In contrast, reports indicate that the Eurofighter offered access to significantly more advanced technology as well as the possibility of assembly in India. This indicates to what extent India remains committed to self-reliance, not only in terms of production, but also operability—the nightmare of 1965, when the United Stated cut off Indian access to crucial military supplies at the height of another Indo-Pakistani crisis, is still fresh in the minds of many Indian strategists.
The decision should therefore be seen as one privileging diversification, diffusing the risk of excessive reliance and dependence on a single partner. American experts implicitly acknowledged this Indian concern by speculating in recent months that India might split the order among two or three different suppliers, perhaps an American, a European and a Russian one. But they ignored the specific cyclical way India diversifies, rotating among different suppliers. In recent years, Russia, the United States, Israel and even Brazil were able to secure important contracts from the Indian air force, but (excepting Britain) European countries have remained largely absent from its acquisitions basket. From this perspective, the Eurofighter Typhoon is particularly attractive as it is developed by a consortium including not only habitués Britain and Germany but also newcomers Spain and Italy.