Daily Poineer Thursday, June 3, 2010 by Shobori Ganguli
Once feted as a “natural” and “strategic” partner of the United States, India must prepare to reconcile itself to the changed terms of relevance that the Americans have now laid out for this partnership. Even as External Affairs Minister SM Krishna and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meet in Washington for the inaugural session of their Strategic Dialogue through this week, media reports and opinion-makers in the US point to an element of mistrust and pessimism that has crept into Indo-US relations of late. This, largely owing to the Obama Administration’s disposition towards China and Pakistan — the former, India’s biggest challenge to the number one position in Asia; the latter, an imploding neighbourhood with a committed anti-India policy.
Indeed, India’s relevance to the US must be re-measured according to President Barack Obama’s priorities which, as things stand today, are somewhat different from those of his predecessor, Mr George W Bush. The first, of course, is Mr Obama’s AfPak policy. Having committed a complete withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan by 2011, Mr Obama envisions a Pakistani role in that country to be played purely to American direction. In this scenario, India seems a stumbling block to Mr Obama as it seeks a legitimate and rightful role in Afghanistan’s reconstruction, as much for strategic depth in the region as to contain Pakistan’s influence in that country. This is clearly not to Mr Obama’s liking as he would ideally wish Pakistan, after all a proxy state, to wield greater influence in Afghanistan once the Americans have technically vacated that theatre. Therefore, any attempt by India to enhance its relevance in Afghanistan would not be a truly welcome step for the US.
Another source of discomfort to Mr Obama, of course, is India’s attempt to paint Pakistan into a corner on the issue of terrorism. While New Delhi has done its share of protesting against Islamabad’s sponsorship of terror in India, Washington has remained largely unimpressed. The official US position is that terrorism is a “shared challenge that the United States, India, Pakistan, other countries have”. Such is Mr Obama’s compulsion to keep Pakistan in good humour on this so-called war against terror that he actually put pressure on India to cede ground after the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack and invite Pakistan for resumed negotiations on all issues, including Kashmir, as Islamabad so pointedly boasted about. Clearly, India is expected to de-prioritise its concerns about Pakistan and maintain peace on its western border only so that the latter is not distracted from its job — that of securing American interests in the AfPak arena.
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This is the way the US Presidents operate. For Obama and the Democratic Party, the most important thing is his re election.
Also USA is so concerned about the economic, financial and military potential of China. India has made itself not so relevant in the critical schemes of things for the US President. The Americans also know that India is a paper elephant!!!
Pakistan is playing to the US tune and is critical for any stability in Afghanistan. Even though the US Authorities know the double game always played and being played by Pakistan, they need Pakistan.
Good Indo-US relations can help in keeping Pakistan under control. During the cold war US did not trust Indian leadership. Hence agreeing to US requests like starting dialogue with Pakistan is not too big a price to pay. Of course the Indian leadership has to always weigh, how much to go along!!
So India should take care of its own interests. We need tough leadership.
Lt Gen Harbhajan Singh (Retd)
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