Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

On South Asia, US must reorient itself


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : GSOMIA

Mains level : Paper 2- Role of the US in South Asia


On the external front, Russia’s Ukraine war and the Sino-Russian alliance are setting the stage for a reordering of South Asia’s great power relations.

Opportunity for the US in South Asia

  • If it looks beyond the region’s immediate response to the war in Ukraine, Washington can seize the current opportunity to elevate the US’s salience for the Subcontinent in partnership with India.
  • The Indo-Pacific strategy offers new pathways for the US to limit the traditional economic and military weight of China and Russia in the Subcontinent.

Three regional trends in South Asia

1] Decline of Pakistan’s influence

  • In the wake of the missile accident, Islamabad moved to seek international intervention, including from the UN Secretary-General.
  • But there were few takers for this old South Asian formula, except in Beijing.
  • Underlining the peremptory dismissal of Islamabad’s concerns is a deeper trend — the relative decline of Pakistan’s international standing.
  • Since his election, US President Joe Biden has refused to call Imran Khan, who runs a “major non-NATO ally”; high-level visitors from Washington now skip Pakistan during South Asia visits.
  • Chinese and Russian official visitors are among the few to combine trips to Delhi and Islamabad.
  • Islamabad’s decline after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan is likely to accelerate amidst Pakistan’s deepening domestic political chaos.
  • With an economy that is smaller than that of Bangladesh and limited prospects for rapid growth in the coming years, Pakistan will find it hard to match its traditional claim for “strategic parity” with India.

2] Declining interest in China’s Belt and Road Initiative in South Asia

  •  Just a couple of years ago, China’s commercial march into South Asia seemed unstoppable. Not any longer.
  • Troubles in Pakistan and Sri Lanka: Pakistan and Sri Lanka, which embraced the BRI with great gusto, are South Asia’s two worst-performing economies.
  • The deepening economic crises are compelling the elites of Pakistan and Sri Lanka to focus on non-Chinese financial sources to stabilise their economies.
  • Sri Lanka, which ostentatiously refused to accept $480 million developmental assistance from the US in 2020, is now desperately looking for hard currency support for its sinking economic fortunes.
  •  In Nepal, the dominant communists had made political opposition to US infrastructure assistance of $500 million as a life and death issue for a decade.
  • At the end of last month, Nepal’s parliament ratified the US loan that will facilitate Nepal’s infrastructure development and its economic integration with the Subcontinent.

3] The growing possibilities for US security cooperation with the Subcontinent

  • During the Cold War, the US military engagement was limited to Pakistan.
  • In the 21st century, there has been a steady expansion of US defence cooperation with India.
  • The current focus on the Indo-Pacific is getting Washington to modernise the defence partnerships with the smaller countries of the region.
  • The Trump Administration discarded the traditional obsession with Pakistan and began to recognise the strategic significance of the smaller South Asian states for its Indo-Pacific strategy.
  • The visit of US Undersecretary of State to Bangladesh over the weekend saw progress towards signing the so-called GSOMIA (General Security of Military Information Agreement) that codifies the commitment to protect classified military information.


Reversing that must necessarily involve deeper security cooperation with the region and developing alternatives to military dependence on Beijing and Moscow. This is best done in partnership with Delhi.

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