Unveiled the NDS’ objective of favourable regional balances of

Unveiled recently by Secretary of
Defense James Mattis, the 2018 National Defense
Strategy of the
United States builds up on President Donald Trump’s December 2017 National
Security Strategy and
also sets out guidelines for future defense spending.  That President Trump and Secretary Mattis
themselves rolled out the documents is evidence that they own
the strategies, “sending a crucial signal about their support for and
willingness to facilitate the implementation of” the strategies. Although many
aspects of Trump’s NSS are being likened to President Obama’s 2010 National
Security Strategy, on India and Pakistan, however, the 2017 NSS is a departure
from its predecessor.

 Not only does the NSS acknowledge India’s emergence
as a global power, it also envisages a greater Indian role in the Indian Ocean and the
broader region in
cooperation with Japan and Australia. This four nation collaboration, when viewed
in the context of the NDS’ objective of favourable regional balances of power
in the Indo-Pacific region, highlights India’s position as a counterweight to
Chinese influence. However it would have repercussions for Pakistan especially
in the Indian Ocean.

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The nuclearisation of the Indian
Ocean following the induction of India’s INS Arihant in 2016 altered the
strategic balance in South Asia, resulting in greater Pakistani efforts to
acquire a nuclear triad. An increased Chinese and US role in the Indian Ocean
Region will prompt littoral states including India to adjust their policies as
well. With India vying for greater influence in the Indian Ocean region and
being supported by the US, the strategic stability in the region would be influenced
negatively. It would also exacerbate problems for Pakistan and result in an
arms race that it can’t afford.

 

From a Pakistani perspective the Indian Ocean is not
the only region where the Trump Administration’s National Security Strategy
would create problems. By proposing to “encourage India to increase its
economic assistance in the region,” the Trump administration is throwing its
weight behind greater Indian involvement in Afghanistan, which would make
Pakistan uncomfortable. Elaborating on this further the NDS proposes the
development of  “enduring coalitions to
consolidate gains” made in Afghanistan.  Pakistan remains wary of an expanded Indian
role in Afghanistan and accuses India of using Afghan territory to destabilise
Pakistan. According to the country’s Foreign Office, “it has credible evidence of India’s involvement in
engaging and using terrorist outfits in Afghanistan against Pakistan”. In the words of Michael Kugelman, the deputy director of the Wilson
Center’s Asia Program,  “the
notion of India having a major footprint in Afghanistan is very alarming.”  It is also “one of the reasons Pakistan
insists on providing support to the Afghan Taliban and its affiliates in the
first place—fearing that India is using Afghanistan as a base from which to
meddle in Pakistan, including support for separatist rebels in Balochistan
Province, Pakistan supports other groups “that help promote Pakistan’s interest
of keeping India at bay in Afghanistan.”

The National Security Strategy document’s references
to Pakistan are also being interpreted as a prelude to extended US Drone strikes in the country in the future. The country has long argued that the drone campaign is counter-productive,
has radicalized a whole generation, and is also perpetuating the problem of
terrorism in the region.

Linked to both the Afghan issue and Drones is the
problem of terrorism and the NSS’ assertion that Pakistan provides support for militants
and terrorists. According to the NSS “The United States continues to face
threats from transnational terrorists and militants operating from within
Pakistan.”  Pakistan however maintains
that it does not provide safe havens to terrorists and is doing all it can to
end the problem of terrorism. It also blames the flawed US policies in Afghanistan for aggravating the
terrorism issue in the region. Responding to the US’ subsequent decision to
freeze aid to Pakistan, the government, opposition and the military in Pakistan
said the US action would only serve to undermine security cooperation and hinder regional peace efforts.

Another concern that the NSS highlights i.e. the
possibility of an “Indo-Pakistani military conflict that could lead to a
nuclear exchange,” declaring that the US would “press” Pakistan to continue
demonstrating that it is a responsible steward of its nuclear assets. Not only
does the NSS remain mum about India’s nuclear assets, it also emphasizes
growing US support for Indian endeavours to expand its defense and security
related programmes. According to the NSS, 
“We will expand our defense and security cooperation with India, a Major
Defense Partner of the United States, and support India’s growing relationships
throughout the region. India is presently enjoying the fruits of the 2015
US-India nuclear deal that paved the way for its subsequent membership of
various non proliferation and export control regimes including the Australia
Group and the MTCR. It also helped India sign nuclear agreements with various
countries including Japan and Australia.

Considered together, both the
National Security Strategy and the National Defense Strategy of the United
States  are a clear indication of things
to come. Firstly, they would further strengthen India’s position vis-a-vis
Pakistan and help India pursue its agenda in Afghanistan. The effect of these
developments for the already deteriorating Pakistan-US relations would be
catastrophic. Secondly they clearly indicate that under the current
administration, there are no longer any supporters in the White House, State
Department or the Defense Department of the Pakistan-US relationship as it
exists today. The Pakistani government’s response to the US hostility however
remains unclear. While some circles claim that the US is no longer an ally, others
insist otherwise. The government’s US policy remains ambivalent thus far with
contradictory statements that confuse the issue further.  Notwithstanding claims that the relationship
can be salvaged, it would be beneficial for Pakistan to take some concrete
steps against US policies if it does not want to be humiliated again in the future.