American Senators Push for Engagement with India

Opposition lawmakers suggested that India “fill the vacuum in Kabul once we leave,” a Pakistani horror scenario.

Republican senators on Tuesday were critical of sustained American aid to Pakistan and called for a deeper engagement with India instead. Mark Kirk suggested “making India a military ally of the United States” and said he encouraged it “to fill the vacuum in Kabul once we leave.”

Lawmakers suspended $700 billion worth of financial support until Pakistan convinces them that it is providing all the help it can in battling the production and spread of improvised explosive devices in the region which target American troops operating in neighboring Afghanistan.

The opposition legislators responded to mounting public pressure to penalize Islamabad for its perceived lackluster effort in combatting militant Islamists in the region and sheltering terrorist leader Osama bin Laden who was found to be hiding in a Pakistani garrison town in May where he was killed by American special forces.

The United States have spent $20 billion in security and economic aid to Pakistan since 2001, much of it in the form of reimbursements for assistance in fighting militants.

Although Pakistan has lost more soldiers in the War on Terror than any other country, its intelligence services still maintain ties with mujahideen because it seeks “strategic debt” for Pakistan in Afghanistan in the event of an armed conflict with India.

The former chairman of the American Joint Chiefs of Staff told Congress in September that the terrorist Haqqani network in particular, which is allied to the Taliban, “has long enjoyed the support and protection of the Pakistani government and is, in many ways, a strategic arm” of Pakistan’s spy agency.

Illinois senator Mark Kirk cited Haqqani when he argued that military aid to Pakistan is unsustainable. If the country choses “to embrace terror and back the Haqqani network,” he said, it should do so “without subsidies from the American taxpayer.”

Senator John McCain of Arizona, who is leading proponent of intensifying the Afghan campaign in Congress, scolded Pakistan last month when he claimed that “the vast majority of the material used to make improvised explosive devices originates from two fertilizer factories in Pakistan.” Hence his insistence on Tuesday that Pakistan dismantle these plants if it is to continue to receive financial support from the United States.

McCain, who has favored strong American ties with India at least since his failed 2008 presidential campaign, reiterated his position on Tuesday that an Indo-American relationship could also check Chinese ambitions in the Indian Ocean region.

The administration has so far hesitated to deepen ties with India because it needs Pakistani support in the War on Terror. Many of the insurgents operating in Afghanistan maintain shelters in western Pakistan.

American drone attacks against suspected insurgent and terrorist targets in Pakistan’s frontier area are deeply unpopular there however because they sometimes incur civilian losses. What is more, years of anti-terrorist operations by a majority Punjabi army in the predominantly Pashtun territory has pushed the Muslim nation onto the brink of civil war. The army’s offensives in the northern and western tribal areas displaced nearly half a million people. Whereas the conflict used to be confined to the border, bombings and assassinations now regularly take place in Pakistan proper.

With the international coalition prepared to pull out of Afghanistan militarily in 2014, it makes little sense for the Pakistanis to continue to hunt down extremists who might prove an asset in the future. Indeed, the surest way for Pakistan to fill the power vacuum that is likely to result from an American withdrawal is to cultivate ties with the Taliban and its allies. If it doesn’t, there may be a place for India in whatever power constellation emerges across Pakistan’s porous western border three years from now.