New Delhi: This writer has a sneaking suspicion that the United States and Pakistan will return to their previous backslapping ways. In the same discourse in the capital where the new US ambassador to India, Kenneth Juster, envisaged “reciprocal military liaison officers at each other’s combatant commands”, he also referred to the indispensability of Pakistan in relation to the unrest in Afghanistan. “[I don’t] think we will get stability in Afghanistan if Pakistan does not positively contribute,” Kenneth Juster archly observed.

There are those in Delhi who say the United States is playing the India card with Pakistan and that its proposals for strengthened ties between the two states should be discounted for the most part. Even if cynicism of this sort is unwarranted, the fact of the matter is this. There is little strategic congruence between India and the United States. The world has ceased being unipolar and is taking increased characteristics of a multipolar entity. Under Donald Trump, the United States is racing to the bottom. The fact that the United States is powerless to deal with Pakistan and North Korea is sufficient reason to deny US omnipotence. Unable to deal with China and Pakistan either together or singly, the United States is using India as a cat’s paw. With all its problems and uncertainties, India is better off on its own. Non-Alignment and strategic autonomy are time tested formulae. India should adhere to them.

The United States is a transactional power. Since its emergence as a Great Power in the 19th century, its geopolitics has centred on domination of the western hemisphere interwoven with phases of isolationism and foreign intervention in the rest of the world. As Great Powers go it has not been very successful although it has enjoyed a greater longevity than its peers and predecessors. Since World War II, it has not been able to make peace with war. From Korea in the 1950s to Afghanistan and Iraq in this century, it has left behind political and strategic stalemates and battle casualties exceeding a million.

In India’s neighbourhood, it used and abandoned vassal Pakistan in the Cold War against the Soviet Union. By encouraging Pakistan’s military dictatorship, the United States destroyed Pakistan’s fledgling democracy. When its use for Pakistan in Afghanistan was over, it dumped it. The cynical US/ Saudi Arabia/ Pakistan mujahideen campaign in Afghanistan fomented present day’s Islamism and jihadi terror, of which India is a major victim. No good ever comes from an alliance with the United States. If the United States and Western Europe are pulling in opposite directions despite decades of NATO ties, how could India pin enduring hopes on new relations with the US?

Kenneth Juster’s proposal for the reciprocal placement of American and Indian military liaison officers at one another’s combatant commands is something, for example, which India must politely but firmly reject. This represents the first step of American overlordship of India’s geopolitics. The United States is keen to confront China in a reaffirmation of the Thucydides’ Trap. India should have no role in this. Great Powers rise and fall. This cycle could be delayed but not forever deferred to the advantage of a power. It is impossible to contain China and India should not walk into the trap laid by the United States. China and Pakistan are India’s immediate neighbours. All three states share borders. All of them are nuclear powers. They have to settle disputes amongst themselves. An extraterritorial foreign power which gains from discord in South Asia should be shunned.

This is not to suggest a bar on close ties with the United States. As two large democracies, there is much in common between the United States and India. Deeper economic and trade relations are advantageous to both nations. Defence ties not directed against a third country and that do not constitute an alliance merit consideration and approval. At the same time, however, it must be accepted that if India and the United States could not establish strategic congruence in all the decades since India’s independence, it is unreasonable and even perilous to compel conformity of interests today. Interventionism is central to US foreign policy. India is a status quo power. Surely Kenneth Juster means well being an old India hand; but India has got so far without US help. This writer cannot speak for the Narendra Modi government, but his successors would be wary of the United States, and rightly so.