India-US Relations: Future Trajectory
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Issue Vol 24.4 Oct-Dec2009 | Date : 16 Dec , 2011

Despite concerns about the unreliability of the US as defense supplier because of the ever present risk of sanctions if Indian and US policies clash over sensitive issues, India has placed orders on high value US military equipment such as transport aircraft and maritime reconnaissance aircraft, etc. The US has high hopes of winning the 126 multi-role combat aircraft tender, which if it did would transform the nature of India–US defense ties.

But the political furor over the End User Monitoring Agreement (EUMA) points to peculiar difficulties in doing defense business with the US. This will most likely stall progress in the other two agreements being processed – the Logistics Support Agreement and the Communications Inter-operability and Security Memorandum of Agreement, that for critics is intended to draw India into a soft alliance with the US.

At a pinch, it may be possible to conceive of Taliban like elements that may not be anti-West, but that they will not be anti-India, especially under the influence of Pakistan, is hard to imagine. The conduct of the Taliban in the case of the hijacking of the Indian Airlines plane to Kabul is a reminder.

At the regional level, India–US relations have not been able to overcome the problems of the past. The larger thrust of the Obama Administration’s policy towards Pakistan as well as Afghanistan risks damaging India’s vital interests. India is not responsible for the rise of Taliban activity in Afghanistan, and has no wish to be dragged into the Afghan imbroglio on Pakistan’s terms. Despite assurances to the contrary, the US’ underlying receptivity to Pakistan’s concerns about India’s rising profile in Afghanistan remain, and have resurfaced in General McChyrstal’s most recent assessment that “increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani countermeasures”.

India believes that it has the right to be present in Afghanistan to the extent the Afghan government desires, and cannot accept any curb on this right by Pakistan or any other country. It has more reason to want to protect its interests in Afghanistan than any other geographically distant country, as it is more vulnerable to religious terrorism than many others, with the added problem that Pakistan has used Afghan territory in the past to train terrorists for operations against India and this threat can revive with Afghanistan in the grip of the Taliban.

Pakistan’s strategic ambitions threaten Afghanistan’s independence. Its source of influence in Afghanistan is the very forces whose extremist ideology needs to be defeated. The success of the Taliban in Afghanistan will entrench this ideology even deeper in the region and its baleful influence will be felt in Central Asia, India and even Pakistan itself. The process of democratization in Afghanistan, of creating some semblance of a liberal society there, will be defeated.

In this context, India has very strong reservations about the US/UK strategy to incorporate the moderate Taliban into the governing structures of Afghanistan. In tactical terms, the attempt to divide the Taliban, of weaning away some of its supporters, of shrinking the base of insurgency in Afghanistan, are understandable. President Karzai has clear interests in broadening his Pushtun base even if it means making gestures to retrograde religious forces. If breakaway elements credibly end their links with extremist Islamic forces, these overtures would be less worrying. But India’s concern is the willingness of the US and others to live with Taliban like ideology so long as the forces espousing it are not anti-West.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Kanwal Sibal

is the former Indian Foreign Secretary. He was India’s Ambassador to Turkey, Egypt, France and Russia.

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