Hedging Bets: Washington’s Pivot to India
In November 2010, President Obama visited India for three days. In addition to meeting with top Indian business leaders and announcing deals between the two countries worth more than $10 billion, the president declared on several occasions that the US and India’s would be the “defining partnership of the twenty-first century.” Afterward, Obama flew straight to Jakarta without any plans to visit Pakistan, officially the US’s major non-NATO ally in the region.
No president, except Jimmy Carter, had done such a thing before. The US has traditionally seen its India and Pakistan policies as being deeply linked, and except for Richard Nixon’s brief “tilt” in 1971, the US has been cautious of elevating one neighbor over the other. Despite India’s non-aligned status and pro-Soviet posture during the Cold War, Washington has tried to ensure that its relationship with Pakistan would not disadvantage India.
Obama’s visit, however, illustrated that this era of even-handedness was now over. With India’s economic rise, fears of Chinese hegemony, and the unraveling relationship with Pakistan, the US is now pursuing what previously would have been regarded as an asymmetrical foreign policy agenda in South Asia. As part of its new Asia-Pacific strategy, the US is committed to strengthening India in all major sectors of national development, with the hope of making it a global power and a bulwark against Chinese influence in Asia. Meanwhile, Washington is looking for a minimalist relationship with Pakistan, focused almost exclusively on security concerns.