Pakistan Wary of U.S.-India Military Alliance Against China

Pakistan's envoy to the United Nations has expressed wariness about the United States' growing military ties with India, a burgeoning partnership aimed at building a regional alliance against China, which he said need not be a U.S. foe

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar "reiterated the strength of the United States-India relationship to advance peace, prosperity, and security in the Indo-Pacific and around the globe" in a call Thursday, according to a readout provided by the State Department. The following day, Pompeo and Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi "discussed a range of issues, including the importance of U.S.-Pakistan cooperation on the Afghan peace process and the importance of efforts to support regional stability."

Longtime rivals India and Pakistan have both fostered ties with the U.S., but Washington's relationship with New Delhi has grown considerably in recent years, and Islamabad has concerns.

The two have long accused one another of sponsoring terrorism against the other and when it comes to India's accusations that Islamabad gives free rein to militant groups, Pakistan's permanent representative to the U.N. Munir Akram told Newsweek he hoped the U.S. "will play an objective role, that its position will not continue to be tainted by its desire for a military alliance with India."

"Of course, we think this whole idea of seeking an alliance is wrong," Akram told Newsweek, calling it "a bad idea for the West."

"We have plenty of evidence indicated that India is sponsoring terrorism from Afghanistan into Pakistan," he said, arguing that Pakistan has managed to bring its internal militant threat under control. "We have evidence, we presented the evidence, we're prepared to present more evidence."

"We are changing the story," he added.

The U.S., however, has cast suspicion on this claim, still viewing Pakistan as a place where violent insurgents operate freely. "We continue to urge Pakistan to take sustained and irreversible action to dismantle militant groups based in Pakistan that are a threat to the region and the world," a State Department spokesperson told Newsweek.

"The United States stands ready to work together with Pakistan as it meets its stated commitment to combat militant and terrorist groups without distinction," the spokesperson added.

As U.S. foreign policy shifts further into Asia, Washington's relations with regional states are changing. President Donald Trump's visit to India in February signified not only a strategic, but personal relationship with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a time when his nation appears to be an increasingly important node in a U.S.-led partnership known as the "free and open Indo-Pacific," a grouping that also includes Australia, Japan and, to a lesser extent, some other regional nations.

This quasi-coalition, by nature, was not necessarily aimed at Pakistan, though, but its top partner, China.

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A member of the Gujarat Police Force looks at a billboard depicting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (C-L) and U..S President Donald Trump (C-R) in the Motera locality of Ahmedabad on February 23, in preparations ahead of Trump's first official visit to India. SAM PANTHAKY/AFP/Getty Images

Last month, Defense Secretary Mark Esper designated China as the United States' top strategic competitor and Pompeo officially challenged Beijing's claims to the South China Sea before delivering a rallying cry to drum up international support against the People's Republic. Also in July, the U.S. conducted naval exercises alongside partners Australia, India and Japan in the waters they defined as the Indo-Pacific.

Washington has pledged to defend Canberra through the 1951 ANZUS Treaty and Tokyo through the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security of 1960. India, a close partner of the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War and still a top Russian defense client, is not a U.S. ally but it was named a "major defense partner" in 2016 and these ties are expanding.

"U.S.-India defense and military cooperation has increased significantly over the past two decades as part of the overall strengthening of our bilateral relationship, which reflects a deepening strategic convergence on a range of issues," the State Department spokesperson told Newsweek.

"The U.S.-India partnership advances our shared commitment to advance democracy and the rule of law, freedom of navigation, counterterrorism, and private sector-led economic growth in the Indo-Pacific region and globally," the spokesperson said.

The Indo-Pacific has become the primary theater for what the U.S.-led fold sees as a geopolitical and ideological battle. South China Sea tensions have run exceptionally high in recent years, and the U.S. has also challenged China on issues of sovereignty over Hong Kong and Taiwan, though none of these conflicts have drawn blood between the powers.

In June, however, a spat among Chinese and Indian forces across their disputed border between China-administered Aksai Chin and India-administered Ladakh turned deadly, with reported casualties on both sides. U.S. officials such as Pompeo quickly weighed in on India's side, viewing it as part of China's aggressive actions across the region. New Delhi declined Trump's offer to mediate, however, and instead sought to solve the problem bilaterally with Beijing.

These consultations appear to have halted the fighting, but a subtle war of words remains, especially with Chinese Foreign Ministery spokesperson Wang Wenbin recently declaring "any unilateral change to the status quo in the Kashmir region is illegal and invalid." The statement came exactly one year after India revoked the special semi-autonomous status of the share of Kashmir it controls, including Ladakh.

"The Chinese side has no locus standi whatsoever on this matter and is advised not to comment on the internal affairs of other nations," the Indian Foreign Ministry responded in a statement attributed to a spokesperson.

China then pushed the matter by raising the sensitive topic for discussion at the U.N. Security Council, further angering India. "This was not the first time that China has sought to raise a subject that is solely an internal matter of India," the Indian Foreign Ministry said. "As on such previous occasions, this attempt too met with little support from the international community."

"We firmly reject China's interference in our internal affairs and urge it to draw proper conclusions from such infructuous attempts," it added.

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India's Kamorta corvette and other warships are seen from the deck of a U.S. Navy warship attached to the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group as they steam in formation during a cooperative deployment in the Indian Ocean, July 20. India was designated by the U.S. to be a "major defense partner" in 2016 and ties continue to expand as the U.S. seeks a broader Indo-Pacific coalition against China. Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Olivia Banmally Nichols/Carrier Strike Group 11/U.S. Navy

Akram told Newsweek that Pakistan recognized Aksai Chin's "strategic value" to China, saying that "for India to play the victim I think is rather hypocritical after bragging that it will take over the whole of Jammu and Kashmir including Aksai Chin." As Pakistan and India continue to battle over their own disputed Kashmir border, Islamabad and Beijing's ties have grown considerably over the past few years, especially so through a Chinese global economic investment plan that has frustrated the U.S.

The extensive China–Pakistan Economic Corridor is part of Chinese President Xi Jinping's intercontinental Belt and Road Initiative, which plans infrastructure projects and trade deals from East to West. Seen by some nations as a lifeline, Washington has set out to portray the endeavor as a debt-trap maneuver to give Beijing leverage over other governments.

Here too, Akram saw hypocrisy. "If you don't want the Chinese to do it, then you do it," he told Newsweek. "But don't tell us not to do it with the Chinese when you can't do it yourself, It is like a dog in the manger," he said. "The U.S. should, as you say, walk the talk."

"If the United States has real concerns that Chinese projects are unfair on terms that are not good enough, well, it should provide alternatives," he added.

Akram said he saw trade disputes between Washington and Beijing as "natural," but "the real problem arises when the United States seems to be encouraging separatism in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Xinjiang and such." He explained such issues "are vital for the Chinese, they understandably would resist, but these are not issues that are vital for the United States, neither is the South China Sea."

"We do not believe that there is, in objective terms, a rationale for a confrontation between China and the United States, so long as the two countries respect each other's systems, each other's vital national interests and each other's serenity and territorial integrity," he added.

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Border defense units of the Chinese People's Liberation Army Xinjiang Military Command and Pakistan Armed Forces Khunjerab Security Force salute before a joint patrol in northwest China's Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region on June 26, 2018. The U.S. and other countries have accused China of suppressing and incarcerating much of the Muslim Uighur minority in Xinjiang, where China and Pakistan share a narrow border. Chinese People's Liberation Army