A bipolar order in South Asia, with the United States and India on one side and China and Pakistan on the other, is not in American or Pakistani interests.
In the coming years, Washington will come to see the limits of its hardening alignment with New Delhi as India struggles to develop the industrial base necessary to compete with China economically and militarily.
Greater social unrest is also on the horizon in India. As Pakistan turns away from jihadist extremism, India is embracing Hindu majoritarianism. The election of Narendra Modi as prime minister in 2014 unleashed a campaign of anti-Muslim violence that continues today, perpetrated by networks connected to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Modi has endorsed the culture of violence. He selected as the chief minister of India’s largest state a Hindu extremist priest who heads an anti-Muslim vigilante group. In the lead-up to this year’s elections, the Modi government released most of the Hindutva extremists part of the Abhinav Bharat terror network, which has killed over one hundred Muslims and was responsible for the 2007 bombing of a Pakistan-bound train. And Modi’s BJP selected as a parliamentary candidate Pragya Thakur, a Hindutva extremist out on bail in one of those terror cases.
China’s own state-sanctioned Islamophobia could also impact the relationship with Pakistan. Cash-strapped Pakistan many other Muslim countries have endorsed China’s “counterterrorism” and “counterextremism” policies in Xinjiang—which has involved the internment of over a million Uighur Muslims and other Turkic Muslims. But once China releases these Muslims from the camps, it’s hard to see stability emerging in this region bordering Pakistan.
So the Khan-Trump meeting provides an opportunity for American and Pakistani officials to begin a conversation about potential areas of convergence on the road ahead. A broad-based political settlement in Afghanistan, a sustained Pakistani crackdown on globally-designated terror groups, and recognition by Washington that it should contribute to strategic stability in South Asia, could serve as a foundation for a modest, but meaningful U.S.-Pakistan partnership.