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Scholars often query why the United States and India, the world’s greatest and largest democracies, are not more closely allied. Though news headlines recite continued attempts to improve ties, the Cold War-era record is telling.

As the last British ships left India, their stewards left behind a legacy in the Subcontinent. They had stirred religion as a divisive issue in South Asian politics in order to advance their own interests. By contrast, Mahatma Gandhi propounded secular, unifying ideals that gained widespread acceptance in India.

It is this dichotomy, based in South Asian history, that forced Pakistan’s acceptance of a Realism worldview and India’s policy of nonalignment. While Pakistan was founded on Islamic ideals, Nehru carved India’s policy of dealing with its affairs independently, without Superpower domination (from which it had only recently freed itself). Militarily, he argued that a “no-war” zone should be extended from India’s borders to include the entire Subcontinent.

Realism was the ideology that Pakistan found appealing. It favored the struggle for power internationally. This was the only policy that Pakistan could logically accept because it needed to deny India’s secular ideology from dominating the Subcontinent. With America as its ally, Pakistan could justify its existence as an Islamic nation in South Asia, with its military to back up its words.

Meanwhile, the United States was in the midst of the Cold War and was disenchanted with India’s unswerving determination to build a “third power”— non-aligned one—to shadow the power struggle of the superpowers. Moreover, Indian traditions espousing a class-free society too closely resembled socialism to American eyes, and fueled a belief that India favored Communism.

These are the conditions that made it ripe for a Pakistani request for military aid and an American approval. While Pakistan argued that it would not use its weapons shipment in its struggle against India in Kashmir, Nehru blasted this aid. He claimed that Pakistan’s Prime Minister intended such aid for more than defensive purposes. The nature of this aid—reportedly a military alliance rather than an isolated weapons shipment—fueled this belief.

Although the United States and India both fought the same colonial power for justice and independence, this fact alone failed to bind them due to prevailing ideologies and the impressions they engendered. Politicians from India and the United States each indicated why the other could not be relied upon, as America was preoccupied with containing Communism and India was preoccupied with non-alignment. Pakistan’s acceptance of Realism was inevitable due to the geographic and historical experience of the Subcontinent. Significantly, these stances played themselves out in the nature and fact of a US-Pakistan alliance.


American military aid to Pakistan in 1954 appears to be the battleground of opposing ideologies. In understanding this battle, the dispute over Kashmir shortly following Independence in the Subcontinent is instrumental. Since the end of the Second World War, the Subcontinent’s two major powers—India and Pakistan—have adopted differing ideologies in dealing with their external relations. India’s involvement in regional power struggles indicates a Realist interpretation, which holds that individual states prioritize national interest and security over ideology and moral concerns.[1] However, such policies as non-alignment and secularism in its dealings with nations outside of South Asia and with its domestic policy indicate idealism. At the same time, Pakistani policy seems to approve the extension of a Realist explanation of power alignments to South Asia, while Pakistan has continued to emphasize Islamic ideals domestically. Meanwhile, United States foreign policy has been preoccupied with combating Communism in furtherance of its own brand of idealism—democracy—and it has attempted to extend this struggle to South Asia. The conflicting stances of these powers on the issue of American military aid reflect their differing ideologies.

A. Relevance of Ideology To American Military Aid To Pakistan

To begin, we must understand South Asia’s position in the hierarchy of American priorities. According to Manoj Joshi, American strategic policy in South Asia has historically been limited because it is close to the bottom of such a list of priorities. Joshi places the defense of the American mainland at the top; the betterment of the American economic system, second; the containment through military alliances of America’s main adversary, the Soviet Union, third; and finally the encouragement of underdeveloped countries to grow in the image of the United States by transplanting American values abroad.[2]

According to this model, American policy toward particular South Asian nations, would be determined by the extent to which these nations can appear attractive to America with regards especially to the latter two categories. These are important given both Pakistan’s appeal to the United States for military aid on the basis of similar domestic ideologies opposed to Communism, and also Nehru’s blanket refusal of any foreign military alliances with South Asia to prevent an extension of the Cold War. American suspicions of the similarities between Communism and India’s traditional acceptance of socialism are also telling of the relevance of American priorities to its policies in South Asia.

Recalling the above determination that one of America’s priorities in South Asia was an attempt to further contain Communism, let us consider particularly the need and implications of American military aid to Pakistan in 1954. Charles Heimsath and Surjit Mansingh seem to believe that Pakistan chose to receive US military aid out of necessity: it “badly needed external support to balance the tangible power of India and if possible exert pressure on its larger neighbor (sic) to make concessions on Kashmir.”[3] Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, on the other hand, blasted this aid “because it would create a breach in the nonaligned area … and would introduce into southern Asia the military presence of a great power.”[4]

R.V.R. Chandrasekhar Rao appears to believe that America at some point wanted to befriend India on the basis of a shared commitment to democratic principles, perhaps in order to encourage India to grow in its own image (the fourth priority in the above list). However, the squeeze of the Cold War led America to redefine its national interest. With the compulsion of the containment doctrine, the United States would search for military allies in the region to check Communism’s spread to China. As such, “[t]o India it appeared that the US in befriending Pakistan ha[d] projected the primacy of its strategic interests over those of promoting democratic values.”[5] By contrast, the United States believed that it was defending the world against Communism precisely because it was continuing to promote its own system of democratic values.

As leader of the “free world” and promulgator of a universalist ideological position the U.S. expected non-communist states to follow the lead offered, and if they did not there was a suspicion in Washington that those states overtly or covertly sought to reinforce the objectives of the communist bloc. The simplistic Marxist-Leninist notion that the governments could be classified as either one of two main types had gained acceptance in the U.S.[6]

The disparity in views lies in the fact that America was promoting its own leadership of democratic principles in pursuing its policy of containing Communism, while India’s non-alignment and co-existence policies were inconsistent with the expectation that America would ally militarily with India to check Communism’s spread into China.[7]

B.M. Jain describes Pakistan as the only viable substitute for India as an American ally, once the latter had refused to be an anti-Communist satellite. Regarding Pakistan, he writes, “[s]he was the only soft country in South Asia which was prepared to be a substitute for the fulfillment of US designs in the Subcontinent.”[8] As Jain points out, though, India perceived that Pakistan was not genuinely “soft”: “Pakistan never felt any danger from Communism and tricked a gullible America into giving her weapons which she wished to use against India only.”[9]

For India, ideology was the pivotal means by which to argue its policy of non-alignment. “American military aid to Pakistan in the 1950’s constituted the most serious US infringement of India’s tangible, in this case security, interests. The New Delhi government, however, concentrated its protest against that move at the level of principle, rather than expediency—the ‘no-war area’ had been breached, rather than Indian security threatened.”[10]

Indeed, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was ostensibly concerned with warning Pakistani Prime Minister Mohammad Ali of “the classical dangers of the loss of independence which followed any military alliance with a more powerful state.”[11] This is clearly a Realist argument. As Stephen Walt argues in “Alliance Formation and the Balance of World Power,” “[t]o ally with the dominant power means placing one’s trust in its continued benevolence. The safer strategy is to join with those who cannot readily dominate their allies, in order to avoid being dominated by those who can.”[12] While Nehru’s view might appear to resemble that of a Realist, this does not mean that he was not committed to non-alignment. This is because Realism and non-alignment are not opposites; there are obviously overlaps between these two schools of thought as there are overlaps, similarities, and differences among nearly all ideologies.

Another reason that Nehru opposed American military aid is that he viewed it as another form of imperialism. This notion, too, finds support in Realist theory. As Hans Morgenthau writes, “[i]t follows from the nature of international politics that imperialistic policies resort practically always to ideological disguises, whereas status quo policies more frequently can be presented as what they actually are.”[13] With the United States ending its support of India in favor of strategic considerations that facilitated a turn to Pakistan, based on the surface on ideological similarities, it appeared that America was looking for mere “puppets” that would allow it to further its own agenda in the region.

America could find such a “puppet” in Pakistan, or at least a power that was submissive enough to allow itself to be exposed to American values. Pakistani Realism, which approved of balance of power struggles rather than non-alignment, was able to accept American democratic principles on the surface. As pointed out above, America was looking to transplant democratic values abroad. India had already demonstrated that its own brand of secularism was a challenge to that of the United States; the logical alternative was Pakistan.

B. Relevance of Ideology to Kashmir

“Kashmir crystallizes the fear, the mistrust and the bigotry that darken the subcontinent and provides a vehicle for enlarging them with modern political implications.” — Russell Brines, The Indo-Pakistani Conflict

As Sumit Ganguly argues in The Origins of War in South Asia, wars in this region occur when either nation feels its fundamental ideology threatened. As Pakistan was founded on the basis of its religious dissimilarity to India’s Hinduism, its religion is the fundamental ideology to which it can cling in standing up for its territorial integrity. India continued to emphasize the interpretation that South Asia has had a history of acceptance, while Pakistan continued to emphasize religious dichotomy. When one side threatens the fundamental ideologies of the other, problems ensue. Further, Pakistani policy since Independence was guided by the belief that India would forever try to realize the dream of a united Subcontinent, “as it had never accepted the ‘two nations’ concept.”[14] Just as the United States and the USSR fought the Cold War internationally for survival, India and Pakistan both accepted a Realist struggle for power in the region.

In discussing the future of the Subcontinent in international affairs, Peter Lyon argues for the primacy of regional relations. With this in mind, he pinpoints the Kashmir issue as pivotal because it “continues to be regarded as unrequited irredenta by many Pakistanis”[15] and because “past Indian governments dealing with Pakistan have been worried most of all when they see her made unnaturally strong by armaments supplied to her by other Powers.”[16]

In explaining the struggle for Kashmir, while Pakistan emphasizes India’s military and strategic advantage in justifying its dependence on the United States to “balance” powers in the Subcontinent, India claims that it is on the defensive. The reason for this is that India was ceded the Kashmir region by a ruler who was choosing between India and Pakistan.[17] As such, Pakistani involvement in Kashmir would be understood in India as an invasion. The Indian argument, then, would oppose the involvement of outside powers that had nothing to do with Kashmiri sovereignty at the start, but which were now getting involved as they attempted to secure their own interests without care for the welfare of the Kashmiri people. Indeed, as India and Pakistan appeared close to war, Nehru believed that the US was siding with Pakistan and “blamed the war scare on American policies, claiming that US support for Pakistan encouraged its leaders’ bellicosity.”[18]

The end result was an introduction into South Asia of the Cold War, in direct violation of Nehru’s exhortations against the military involvement of foreign forces in the Subcontinent. As India claimed non-alignment, Pakistan gradually allied itself militarily with the world’s greatest superpower, the United States, in the hope that the world would support any power that is an obvious opponent to India’s seemingly intransigent policy.