The US president’s visit to India has been hailed as a landmark moment, coming amidst much pomp and ceremony.
It could be a defining moment for Barack Obama’s future, following the Democrat’s humbling experience in midterm elections last week. But one thing is more certain: American foreign policy has the consensus of both the Democrats and the Republicans, no matter who is in power.
India mostly relied on Russian and British military equipment for its forces during the cold war era, something the US was always suspicious of despite its good relations with New Delhi over the years.
But with a new US-Indian strategic partnership, the stage is set for India to make a transition to American military hardware.
Obama may be trying to take credit for the new partnership, but actually it started during the tenure of George W Bush. After 9/11 American and Indian forces held military manoeuvres from Alaska to the mountains of Kashmir.
Bush offered India everything from civilian nuclear technology to state-of-the-art combat aircraft.
In March 2009, the Americans finalised one of the single-largest deals to date with India, giving Boeing $2.1bn to supply eight P-8i long-range maritime surveillance aircraft.
The Americans are also supplying the Indians with fire detection radars and Obama announced that India was also to have at least 10 C 17 transport aircraft that would enhance the Indian heavy lift capability.
Even though the country already has a significant array of large Russian transport aircraft.
For some it was reminiscent of a time when the Americans favoured a policy of keeping a regional policeman in the area. Once upon a time that role was fulfilled by the Shah of Iran, then America’s number one ally and to whom they gave an endless supply of F 14 Tomcat fighter jets, the then state-of-the-art war planes.
Anything that was on order for the US military would also be readily available to the Shah’s military forces. It now seemed almost certain that India would be the next policeman for the region and perhaps a counterweight to China. A prospect that may not be acceptable to neighbours like Pakistan and even Sri Lanka.
India threatening attacks
India plans to spend over $50bn on her defence and the Americans would be eager to get a big chunk of that by supplying everything from the Patriot missiles to the F18 Hornet jets.
Despite Obama’s advice that India should engage with Pakistan, 70 per cent of India’s military forces have been on standby for military action against Pakistan ever since the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
India has been threatening to launch attacks on alleged terror camps run by Pakistan in Azad Kashmir and recently in a show of firepower held exercises close to the Pakistani border with mock attacks against the camps.
Pakistan therefore has legitimate concerns. It has always opposed any Indian role in Afghanistan, where India has invested over $1bn.
Pakistan says India is using Afghan territory to help the Baluch insurgents and anti-Pakistan elements to destabilise it, a charge India denies.
Against this background, Pakistan has reasons to worry about the fresh incentives offered to India which could upset the conventional balance of power between the two countries.
India already had superiority in the number of frontline combat aircraft and a much bigger navy. Pakistan also had doubts about the real motives of America’s interest in India and its military chief made no secret that he was concerned about the Indian motives.
Even though Obama was careful not to name Pakistan directly, the people in this country were already seeing a major strategic shift in the region.
They believe Pakistan is no longer the number one US ally in the region and the headline news in Pakistan was as simple as “Carrots for India, sticks for Pakistan”.