After the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, some of the harshest criticism of America’s credibility has come — surprisingly — from India. One prominent commentator projects the end of “Pax Americana” and another argues that the Taliban’s victory constitutes the “first significant setback” of America’s “Indo-Pacific project.” These Indian strategists see the end of the U.S. effort in Afghanistan as a sign of unreliability. Without U.S. troops on the ground, New Delhi will be challenged to contend with a Taliban government that tilts toward Pakistan and China. Afghanistan historically provided safe haven to terrorist organizations that targeted India, and New Delhi considers the Taliban’s ascendance as a direct threat to its security interests. Other prominent Indian voices, however, take a different view on the meaning of the U.S. withdrawal. C. Raja Mohan, an influential Indian scholar, believes that the U.S. withdrawal can “accelerate current trends in India’s relations with the United States,” while even the Indian foreign minister insists that the United States is still “the premier power” that retains a “very unique sort of standing.
Debates over the reliability of the United States are commonplace in New Delhi. Earlier this year, for instance, Indian commentators argued over the significance of unilateral U.S. freedom of navigation operations in India’s exclusive economic zone and the slow pace of U.S. pandemic relief. Suspicion of U.S. intentions has a long history in India, dating back to the Cold War and America’s longstanding ties with Islamabad. In recent decades, however, New Delhi has been able to count on Washington when in crisis. Last year, the United States rapidly provided supplies, expedited equipment, and enhanced intelligence during India’s 2020 border crisis with China.
Where India remains uncertain is whether Washington will steadfastly support India’s long-term defense and deterrence needs. These lingering doubts have intensified with the looming threat of U.S. sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which India could be subject to when it takes delivery of the Russian S-400 air defense system at the end of 2021. These doubts could abate if the Biden administration is able to work with Congress to issue India a sanctions waiver, and allow strategic and market incentives, rather than punishments, to shape India’s defense partnership choices.
Read the full op-ed in War on the Rocks