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

On the issue of terrorism, despite the rhetoric that it is a collective threat that must be faced jointly by all countries, and that no distinction should be made between terrorism directed at one country or another, India and the US have not been able to reach a common understanding on how to deal with Pakistan’s use of terror as a political instrument against India. While exhorting Pakistan to do more against terrorism emanating from its soil, and acknowledging the dubious role of the ISI in maintaining terror links, the US still seeks to shield the Pakistan government from accusations of official complicity, preferring to shift the focus to terrorist groups supposedly outside the control of the government.

Pakistan is projected as a victim of terrorism itself, obfuscating the fact that while Pakistan is involved in terrorism against India, the opposite is not true, and so the problem of terrorism facing the two countries is radically different. The US push for greater intelligence-level cooperation between India and Pakistan disregards this basic fact. The US has been helpful up to a point in seeking action by Pakistan against those responsible for the Mumbai attack; counter-terrorism cooperation between Indian and US agencies has greatly improved.

Internationally, the US is not as yet ready to give substance to its professed interest in a strategic relationship with India. The rhetoric remains that the US sees India as a global player, etc,

India is still hoping that the US will exert pressure on Pakistan in the Mumbai case – as the Indian Home Minister’s just concluded visit to Washington indicates — but this hope will be belied as Pakistan has earned more room for itself politically to withstand any US pressure by acting against the Pakistani Taliban in Swat. Pakistan’s handling of Hafiz Saeed’s case demonstrates its intention to buy time, to resort to legal quibbles and stratagems, and not arraign him seriously.

Internationally, the US is not as yet ready to give substance to its professed interest in a strategic relationship with India. The rhetoric remains that the US sees India as a global player, etc, but India’s aspirations to play a greater international role are not yet supported. India aspires to be a permanent member of the Security Council, and although it has the declared support of France, the UK and Russia (China’s opposition is understandable given the adversial undercurrents in the relationship), US support is not forthcoming. Again, while US allies like France and the UK support India’s inclusion in the G-8, the US is silent. The Obama Administration is unlikely to move forward on these issues.

During Bush’s Presidency, US interest in building India as a potential counter to China – although not stated overtly – was more palpable than is the case now. US concerns about China’s rise may still exist, but the serious economic recession in the US, for overcoming which it requires China’s financial back-stopping, calls for greater engagement rather than friction with it.

President Obama is encouraging China to play a supportive role in stabilizing Afghanistan and Pakistan, and in promoting an India – Pakistan dialogue, unmindful of India’s view that China is the source of much of its strategic problems vis-a-vis Pakistan. All in all, in the current conjuncture, India’s strategic salience might diminish in the eyes of the Obama Administration.

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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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