President Obama was in India last week for a short but eventful three-day visit as part of his trip through Asia. During the trip, Obama was engaged with India in various ways, from dancing during the Hindu festival Diwali celebration to backing India’s bid for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. Obama’s visit represents a renewed focus on foreign relations, particularly those with India. India’s population of over a billion is second only to China but is projected to surpass China in the next several decades. While China’s growing economy is the most significant economic development right now, it’s only a matter of time until India surpasses China in GDP as well. Also, 50 percent of India’s population is under 25, spelling economic fortune in their future.
India, along with China, is one of the most important countries with which we have to maintain good relations, particularly because of their future strength. However, they are also one of the trickiest countries with which to maintain those good relations. This is primarily because of their neighbor and closest rival: Pakistan. Pakistan and India have butted heads at nearly every opportunity for decades, mainly over Kashmir, a disputed land claimed by Pakistan, India and China. More tension has come along with the war on terror. Pakistan is a key ally in fighting al Qaeda and the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan. Though questions persist regarding Pakistan’s position against terrorism – some intelligence reports state that Pakistan is housing the same terrorists we are fighting against – America is not willing to jeopardize its relationship with Pakistan. In the recent months, America has dedicated $2 billion in military aid to Pakistan, understanding well that money often leads to allegiance.
This was not without reaction from India. They fear Pakistan’s use of that military aid against India, which is not unprecedented. While America urges Pakistan to use it against the al Qaeda terrorists crossing the border from Afghanistan, America cannot control the funds once they are given except through threats of discontinued aid.
Likewise, Obama’s trip and the backing of India on the Security Council (though he carefully and wisely did not provide a specific time for that to happen) bristled the Chinese and outraged Pakistan. It’s a very delicate and tough situation for the United States, as each country in contention is a key ally: China and India for their booming economies, and Pakistan for their ability to fight terrorists (while some sects do house terrorists, the state as a whole does not).
What should America do? As a country, we already have strong economic ties with China, ones that have been shown to transcend political troubles. Because of these strong ties that neither side wants broken soon, America’s relationship with China does not seem to be in any great risk. However, things are a little trickier when it comes to Pakistan and India. In the immediate short-term, Pakistan may be a more powerful ally against al Qaeda. In the long-term, conversely, India is most certainly the more important ally: a nation with nearly a fifth of the world’s population. America already has strong economic ties with India – they are a major destination for outsourced jobs – and these will only grow stronger as India’s young population continues to grow, learn and achieve. America, at this time, has to keep treading that line but has to be extremely careful not to jeopardize future allies for marginal current benefits.