In fact, Indian political and business elites mostly consider China publicly, as their friend. On Pakistan, sure, many Indian officials expect the US to convince it to stop anti-Indian activities from its soil. But still despite of public positions the fact remains that in private Indian officials feel uneasy with growing Chinese hegemony, particularly when India has chronic border dispute with China. By letting the US formally involved in Indo-China relations India can contain the parallelism of China and can also seek some much required parity with the Middle Kingdom.
Fine, India is a big nation-state and powerful too. It comes within top ten powerful nations of the globe. So how can the US help India in containing what many perceive as Pakistani and Chinese coarseness? The answer is simple: the US has huge diplomatic, economic and strategic interactions with all the three nations and it can use its good offices to bring peace and harmony in Asia and beyond. The US institutions possibly have capability to bring peace in the region; they just have to try doing so.
Please do not remind me that the US used to play in the subcontinent what in diplomacy is known as 'zero sum game'. Sure it used to; may be it still does so, but that was or is not mostly detrimental to broader Indian and Pakistani interests. In present contexts it should play what many strategists describe as 'additive sum game' in the subcontinent and it should let China participate too.
But the big question is whether India will ever publicly seek the help of the US good offices to bring normalcy in its relationship with Pakistan and China? In private it must be doing so, I am almost sure. But taking such a stand in public is completely different thing as it brings down the non-economic inflation to appropriate level and it also helps stop the spread of derivative illiteracies. There are many supporters of all kind of inflations and illiteracies. Seeking publicly explicit US assistance in its relationship with the two estranged neighbors is, however, very difficult for any Indian government, and this is particularly true of the incumbent one.
If one recalls the then PM hopeful Modi's election campaign, it was full of nationalistic rhetoric. He used to tell his supporters that once in power he would be able to contain the rise of jingoistic China along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). That pitch has been lowered down. Sure, for Pakistan PM Modi's policy of tit-for-tat is workable. But after having so much raised the sentiments of public it is very difficult to admit the constraints of Indian government and its various institutions in so near future.
Therefore, seeking the help of the good offices of the US President and the Secretary of State to improve bilateral ties with China and Pakistan would be otherwise utterly humiliating for any Indian government and this is particularly true of Modi-government. While both India and China have primary powers and primary wealth but the fact is that good part of both countries' powers and wealth is secondary; even though both claim them as theirs. Now this is only qualitative and a general statement.
In relative sense China is richer and more powerful though ascribing the derivative part quantitatively is very difficult in both countries. Pakistan comes at a distant third and India can easily show Pakistan its size but then China may try to do the same with it.
The fact is that Indian establishment may not even have propensity to contain China and in all likelihood it may not want to become the US ally if it means that it would have to ultimately challenge China as a US proxy. But then the apparent Indian neutrality does not help it resolve the constant disputes with China. India and China are natural competitors and the biggest competition between them is in attracting investment, capital and technology and in accessing natural resources. One day India and China may compete over quota for the US visa. May be they do it even now. Therefore, there is not only border dispute between the two giants and the other lingering issues complicate the resolution of it.
Now even if one ignores Kashmir issue, the fact is that the trust deficit between India and Pakistan is very high and they probably cannot agree on a host number of issues without the nudging and indirect participation by the US. The argument for US position on Indo-China relations is much more urgent and equally important. The fact is that stakes involved are so high that if institutional inertias and public opinion dictate the outcome then Indo-China disputes are irresolvable peacefully, almost permanently.
Therefore, if institutional arrogance is not taken into account then India should discuss, though a little, about Pakistan and China, when India and the US hold a strategic dialogue in New Delhi. Take for example, the case of speedy resumption of 26/11 trial. The fact is that on its own Pakistan is never going to surrender Hafiz Saeed to India. Therefore, if India wants delivery of justice to the victims of Mumbai attacks then it will have to seek US help.
Sure few American citizens were also killed in the attacks and therefore, the US is also a stakeholder, but the fact is that India on its own cannot convince Pakistani establishment to act against the accused of the 2008 Mumbai attacks. India also cannot press Pakistan to accept its position on terrorism. Without the US help rooting out terrorism in the subcontinent becomes impossible. Obviously, resolution of economic disputes between the two countries would require some positive US stand.
Now in case of China and amidst the clamour of G2 it becomes very difficult to see how the US can facilitate Indo-China friendship. It can, though the process could be significantly lengthier than that involved in Indo-Pak relationship. Since the US is a common investor in both India and China it can partly help regulate trade and commerce between the two countries. It can also develop a tripartite mechanism to deal with all human, social, and strategic issues.
The US can convince both India and China to keep the relationship between them friendly and also not to go the extremes: battle, war, sanctions and unrequired competition, for the sake of it, in and outside the region. The US can also convince China against encircling India and also not to form an anti-India alliance with Pakistan.
Therefore, I strongly believe that India should make the strategic dialogue with the US more comprehensive and slightly lengthier even if it is somewhat humiliating and proves it a slightly inconsistent society. India has its very own vital national interests to involve the US in resolving its various problems with Pakistan and China. How come the US influence Pakistan and China in favour of India without considering their viewpoints and without discussing the issues with all concerned sides?