The U.S. military might rely on India as a way of getting equipment in and out of Afghanistan if Pakistan doesn't cooperate, a senior military official has said. The official, Marine Lt. Gen. Frank Panter, deputy commandant for installations and logistics, testified at a Congressional hearing on Thursday and was asked about the U.S.'s plans if Pakistan doesn't soon start to allow U.S. and NATO supplies to again transit that country. He said India would be part of the solution, according to a report from the Press Trust of India:
"If we can't negotiate or successfully negotiate the reopening of the PAK GLOC (Ground Lines of Communication) we have to default and rely on India and the Northern Distribution Network, our increased strat airlift."
India has already been taking up some of Pakistan's slack. ABC News reported in January that as a result of Pakistan's blockade, the Pentagon had started "diverting some cargo from Pakistani ports to Indian ports where the supplies are either flown into Afghanistan or transported northward by train for delivery through one of the NDN routes."
(It's not clear how you would go by train to an NDN route: the only ways northward through India to Afghanistan have to pass through either Pakistan or China, and that is probably not happening.)
Indian analyst M K Bhadrakumar, writing on his blog, suggests that the U.S. is using India either as leverage against Pakistan, or perhaps to transport sensitive equipment with which it doesn't trust Pakistan:
Hm. We’re back to square one. When the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001, Delhi offered itself on a platter as a partner country. According to Pervez Musharraf, that fateful Indian offer only prompted him to collaborate with the US invasion and do one better than what Delhi could ever do for Uncle Sam. (In the process, of course, he screwed up his country.)
Curiously, in 2001, Washington politely spurned the Indian offer since Pakistan’s partnership was infinitely more valuable. Today, for cajoling Pakistan to resume its stellar role as partner, US seems to have knocked on the Indian door — and lo and behold, Delhi opened the door, no matter the 2001 snub.
Conceivably, US could be using the Indian route to transfer sensitive military equipments. Whatever be the case, if India is indeed figuring as a trans-shipment point for NATO’s military materials, this will be the first time ever that Delhi is doing big business with the trans-Atlantic alliance. And it will be a historic departure in the Indian policies. Which probably explains Delhi’s decision to keep matters under wraps in the South Block’s basement away from public view.
It seems likely that now that a U.S. official has publicly mentioned the India route, Delhi will no longer be able to keep this under wraps, so it'll be interesting to see what more they have to say about it.
Anyway, there is a third possibility for why the U.S. wants this Indian option, too. India could be playing the same role as Russia, with the proposed transit hub in Ulyanovsk: being the backup to the backup to the backup. It seems the U.S. is probably betting that in such a volatile region, it needs all the options it can get.