Officials are extending arms support to Pakistan and delaying US visas to Indian citizens under the pretext of conveying anger over India’s decision to take a neutral stand in the Ukraine-Russia war.

NEW DELHI: India’s principled stand on the Russia-Ukraine war is being used by anti-India forces in the United States to stir up trouble on the India-US front. These forces have been active ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rise to power in 2014, given their antipathy towards him since the time he was Gujarat Chief Minister. Some of these US officials are not openly opposing New Delhi’s refusal to look askance towards the Russian invasion of Ukraine because of the challenges the US is facing in containing China and the acceptance in Capitol Hill that India is paramount in US policy to stop China from becoming a global hegemon.

However, these officials are executing other options available to them, including extending arms support to India’s traditional rival and China’s iron brother, Pakistan and delaying US visas to Indian citizens (as The Sunday Guardian reported on 2 October, Victoria Nuland’s Stealth Sanctions against India) under the pretext of conveying their anger over India’s decision to take a neutral stand in the Ukraine-Russia war which strategists in Delhi believe is necessary for greater global multipolarity.

The Congressional Research Service (CRS), which exclusively serves as nonpartisan staff to US Congressional committees and Members of Congress and provides “timely, objective, and authoritative research and analysis to committees and Members of both the House and Senate”, in a report, titled, “India-Russia Relations and Implications for US Interests”, submitted to the US Congress recently, brought out the underlying emotions among officials in Washington over India’s stand which is perceived by these officials as “pro-Russia”.

CRS reports are created “for the sole purpose of supporting Congress in its legislative, oversight, and representational duties’ and ‘new products are regularly produced to anticipate and respond to issues of interest to Congress on a timely basis”. Under the heading, “US Indo-Pacific Strategy and Options for Congress”, the report has stated that, “By most accounts, the importance of India in US national security planning has led American officials to accept (or at least tolerate) New Delhi’s neutral posture toward the Russian invasion of Ukraine. After initially admonishing India for its posture toward Russia, Administration officials moderated their rhetoric, and the readouts of the April 2+2 Dialogue in Washington, DC, and the May Quad summit in Tokyo indicated leaders sought to highlight convergent Indo-Pacific strategies and not allow the war in Ukraine to derail a focus on Asia.”

In the next part, it goes on to describe the options that US officials can use to force India to take a harder stand on Russia. It also states that the US has still not sent a full-time Ambassador to India since January 2021 when the tenure of Kenneth Ian Juster came to an end. Generally, a new Ambassador flies to Delhi within six months of the vacancy happening. It has been more than 20 months now.

The report also goes on to suggest that one of the options available to officials is sanctioning Indian officials found to be involved in “violence” against sections of the population. “Congress could consider whether or not to employ means of encouraging India (and other US partners) to scale back their links with Russia. These could take the form of incentives, such as amending U.S. law to further facilitate arms sales to India or reinstating India as eligible for the Generalized System of Preferences, a US trade and development program from which India was removed in 2019. New US financial commitments to India’s energy or other sectors through bodies such as the Export-Import Bank, Development Finance Corporation, or Trade and Development Agency are further potential incentives. In its engagement with the United States, India seeks closer trade ties, better market access, more cooperation in fields of health and emerging technologies, and more cooperation on clean energy, especially with investment and technology. In addition to potential secondary sanctions on Indian purchases of Russian arms, other disincentives are also possible.”

“For example, during a June 2022 Senate hearing discussion on Russian oil purchases, one Senator noted, ‘We are exploring the idea of secondary sanctions here’ (the Administration has not ruled out such sanctions).” Going further, one independent analyst has called for the United States to “abandon ‘strategic altruism’ and demand more of India”. Among the suggested policy shifts are imposing sanctions on India for its purchases of Russian arms, and ending the alleged “India exception” on human rights by designating it as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, and sanctioning Indian officials found to be involved in anti-Muslim violence. To date, the Senate has not confirmed a US Ambassador in New Delhi. (A hearing for President Biden’s nominee, Eric Garcetti, has met with multiple delays.) At 18 months and counting, this is the longest-ever gap in US-India diplomatic history and is identified by some as a hindrance to greater progress in the relationship.

According to the report, in coming times, India’s neutrality is likely to “irritate” the Western and Quad partners even more, leading to souring of relations. “Going forward, India’s continued neutrality may yet irritate its Western and Quad partners, and lead to a souring of those relations. An escalated or drawn-out war of attrition in Ukraine might eventually try the patience of officials in Washington and other Western capitals who could come to view India as an actor that refuses ‘to carry its weight as an emerging great power’. Given New Delhi’s unwillingness to add to Moscow’s diplomatic isolation and the steady increase in Indian commercial engagement with Russia since February, US and other officials might in coming months go even further to perceive India as an outright enabler and/or de facto supporter of Russian aggression.”

“India’s neutrality on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine makes it an outlier among Quad members, raising questions among some observers about New Delhi’s commitment to the values of territorial integrity and rules-based order that are fundamental to the Quad’s conception. By some accounts, this has exposed a fissure in Quad cohesion not only for Washington, but for observers in Tokyo and Canberra, as well,” the report stated. While standing alongside his Indian counterpart in April, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, “Russia’s aggression stands in stark contrast to the vision that the United States and India share for a free and open Indo-Pacific.” “Both the Indian government and the Quad could eventually be weakened by New Delhi’s failure to explicitly criticize Russia, the former by facing international skepticism if and when it wants other governments to take clear positions on matters of interest to India, the latter by potentially eliciting greater China-Russia convergence.”

Within days of the said report being submitted, the Biden administration on 7 September announced that it was resuming arms support to Pakistan, which was stopped by the previous Donald Trump administration, by announcing a $450 million F-16 package to India’s “traditional rival”. This was followed by reports of the resumption of ties between the US intelligence agency, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and its Pakistani counterpart, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) (as reported by The Sunday Guardian last week: CIA seeks to rekindle romance with GHQ-ISI) and the unprecedented one-week trip of Pakistani army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa to the US. As per US official documents, since the second tenure of George W. Bush and till the end of the tenure of Donald Trump, Pakistan was given $73 billion by the US. This includes $15 billion in Coalition Support Funds meant to reimburse support for US operations in Afghanistan, $4 billion in Foreign Military Financing funds for purchasing American equipment, a $1.4 billion in the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund to build Pakistan’s counterinsurgency capability and approximately $52 million in International Military Education and Training funds.

Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund was a May 2009 brainchild of former Secretary of Defence, Robert Gate in order to provide arms and ammunition and similar support to Pakistan army to counter domestic terrorism. The same reason was given by the Biden administration while justifying the $450 million F-16 deal earlier last month. Significantly, US Ambassador to Pakistan, Donald Blome visited, in what was incorrectly described in the embassy’s official press release and tweets as, “Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK)” on 2-4 October to “promote the US-Pakistan partnership and highlight the two countries’ deep economic, cultural, and people-to-people ties”. According to an official, the Narendra Modi government has officially raised an objection to this visit to the territory of India that ought to be referred to as “Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK)”.