India has often proudly proclaimed the United States as a natural ally and strategic partner. However, recent events and statements by US officials have cast doubts over the depth of America's goodwill towards India. From comments expressing concerns about human rights in Kashmir, to selling advanced F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan, the US seems to be acting against Indian interests. As India pursues a more muscular foreign policy on the global stage, it may be time to re-evaluate our unquestioning faith in American friendship.
A Troubled History of Divergent Interests
India and the US have seen major ups and downs in their relationship over the decades marked by divergent interests. During India's conflicts with Pakistan in 1965 and 1971, the US provided generous military and intelligence support to Pakistan despite its horrific genocide in East Pakistan. The US also deployed the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise to the Bay of Bengal in 1971 in a show of support for Pakistan. Throughout the Cold War, the US allied with and liberally armed Pakistan as part of its containment strategy against the Soviet Union.
Even after the Cold War ended, the US imposed sanctions on India and opposed international financial assistance after India's 1998 nuclear tests. It took Narendra Modi becoming Prime Minister and energizing India's global ambitions for ties to finally blossom based on some shared values and interests. Still, the US has hesitated in providing critical technologies like cryogenic rocket engines, semiconductors, and jet engine technology to India even today due to commercial considerations and lobbying by arms manufacturers.
The Jaundiced US View of India's Strategic Autonomy
Despite growing bonhomie, India and the US continue to differ on several key strategic issues. The US looks askance at India's energy ties with Iran and enduring defense partnerships with Russia. However, India requires flexibility to secure its national interests on its own terms. India also has concerns about US trade protectionism and unequal restrictions on visas for Indian IT professionals.
On cross-border terrorism, while the US condemns Pulwama-style attacks, it also tries to coerce India into engaging with Pakistan. The US recently approved a $450 million sustenance package for Pakistan's F-16 fleet, callously ignoring India's grave misgivings about strengthening its adversarial neighbor. Meanwhile, CAATSA sanctions loom over India which could seriously inhibit India's defense trade with Russia.
There is a perception that the US uses selective outrage over human rights in Kashmir and religious freedom in India as convenient instruments to discipline India when required to show India its place. The fact that the US looks the other way when similar issues arise in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan shows its hypocrisy.
Past US Actions Against India's Interests
Beyond just differences over strategic policies, the US has actively undermined India's interests on numerous occasions:
In the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war, the US deployed Task Force 74 led by USS Enterprise to the Bay of Bengal in a futile attempt to intimidate India, which was supporting the Bengalis against Pakistani atrocities.
The US continued arming Pakistan including F-16 jets even in the 1990s and 2000s, which were used against India such as in the Kargil War.
The US long delayed designating Pakistan-based terrorists as global terrorists, relenting only after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.
Recent US military aid to Pakistan and announcements of F-16 upgrades worth $450 million came despite India's strong objections.
The US has imposed economic sanctions on India several times - after the 1974 nuclear test, after the 1998 nuclear tests, and threatened sanctions over the S-400 purchase.
On Kashmir, the US frequently interferes by bringing up human rights concerns while overlooking terrorism faced by India.
India Must Safeguard Its Own Interests
While India and the US share common democratic values, the US cannot yet be considered a reliable or sincere strategic partner for India. Too often, the US has actively worked against India's security interests. India's prudent strategy of developing wide-ranging relations with all major powers to maximize its strategic autonomy remains wise.
As India charts its own rise on the global stage, it must pursue foreign policies guided completely by its national interests - not misplaced faith in other countries' goodwill or charity. India's future global stature will come from resolutely safeguarding its own interests.