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Hillary Clinton’s Visit to India

July 21, 2009

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has just concluded a five day visit to India. Her visit began when she first landed in a wet and windy Mumbai and stayed at the Heritage Wing of the Taj Hotel, which was the scene of attack on 26/11. It was a gesture by the people of America that they cared for what happened in India and that they were together with the Indian people in the fight against terrorism. Hillary Clinton also signed the Hotel book penning her message to those who had lost their lives and to the Indian people in general. She was then on a TV program that was about educating the masses, called the TEACH INDIA program, on the lines of TEACH AMERICA program in her country. She met women from SEWA, an NGO and talked to them. She then flew to Delhi where she had a program in the ITC Green Centre, Gurgaon (modern day monument, as she called it) about climate change and had discussions with Indian environment minister Jairam Ramesh.

Everywhere she went, she was greeted warmly and the charming Secretary of State impressed all and sundry with her knowledge, wit and humor. She then met the Prime Minister and the External Affairs Minister. Hillary Clinton had a punishing schedule and she addressed at least half a dozen press conferences. I do not know whether the Secretary of State was satisfied with her India visit but here in India, those who understood what was going on and the purpose of Mrs. Clinton’s visit, we believe that this was a landmark visit by the second highest official in the American setup.

Hillary Clinton’s visit was, as have been the recent visits by American diplomats, a rather informal yet meaningful interaction with India and Indian administration. Mrs. Clinton went to China a few months ago on a three day visit. Here she first came to Mumbai. Her effort was as much to reach out to the people of India as to engage with the Indian administration. It was amazing how seamlessly she went about her engagements. Her smiles and one liner’s were spontaneous and it was as if she was not too far away from home. She was amongst friends. There has been a paradigm shift in the Indo-American relations. Mrs. Clinton was quick to point out that the upswing in the relations started when her husband was the president and then George W.  Bush gave the Indo-US relations a fillip with the passage of the Indo-US Civilian Nuclear Deal and now she was here from the Obama administration to take things forward. She said that the US was looking for a broader and deeper relationship with India. Let us not forget that the Indo-US relations have seen an upswing because of the geo-strategic situation and were the geographical boundaries redefined anytime in the future there will be a shift again in the American position.

Be as it may, Hillary Clinton signed a defense and a scientific pact with her Indian counterpart S.M. Krishna. This was the end-use treaty that will facilitate sale of military equipment to India. Two sites have been identified for nuclear reactors and there has been a treaty signed on joint space research. It is clear that India is going to buy American fighter planes and the much talked about 126 fighter jets deal should go to the US. Nuclear reactors will be built by American companies. It is also clear that there will be no insistence from the US that India must sign the NPT before any transfer of reprocessing technology can take place. The Obama administration gives priority to relations with India is clear from the fact that prime minister Manmohan Singh will be the first foreign head of state to visit the USA since Barack Obama took over as president. His visit will be in November of this year.

It is true that the two sides could not agree on the cap on carbon emissions. But India has assured the US and the west that we will do all we can on this count short of accepting a cap on carbon emissions. Hillary Clinton talked about five pillars on which the Indo-US relations will rest. These include agriculture, education, science and technology, healthcare and environment. There is an effort on both sides to have a more wholisitc relationship encompassing all spheres of life.

Indians seem not to understand the import of Hillary Clinton’s visit. Thankfully, those in the administration appear to understand the growing Indo-US relations. The US sees India as its backyard in Asia. India is to the US in Asia what Britain is to the US in Europe and the rest of the world – a friend and an ally. This is a partnership between friends and equals. There are some Pakistanis who say that we should beware of Americans. They say that they know what Americans have done to their country. There is some truth in this, but to equate India with Pakistan will be stretching things a bit. The US never said that their relationship with Pakistan was between equals. They had a strategic alliance and the US used Pakistan as they pleased. The US knows that with India things are different. There will be a give and take and they cannot take the Indians for granted.

The problem in India is that it is still not fashionable to say that we are allies of the west. The west is still seen as a capitalist monster and the left of centre rhetoric prevails in the media and amongst intellectuals. But the fact is that Indo-US relations are at a stage where there is a lot of close cooperation in all spheres. I must say here that the Indian prime minister’s efforts to get a joint declaration at Sharm el-Sheikh with Prime Minister Gilani of Pakistan must be seen in this light. Hillary Clinton was right when she said that there was no pressure from the US that there should be peace talks between India and Paksiatn. The fact is that Manmohan Singh went out of his way for his American friends, and if I may say, rightly so. The Americans are engaged in Afghanistan – the so called Af-Pak policy of Obama administration. President Obama has certain ideas that he wants to implement in Afghanistan. While we have been helping in rebuilding Afghanistan we have not committed any troops in Afghanistan, obviously looking at our Muslim constituency within. The US wants Pakistan to commit more troops on the western border so that American efforts find some results. Pakistan was giving the excuse that because they needed troops on the eastern border with India therefore they cannot go ahead with cleansing the western region of the dreaded Taliban. Manmohan Singh did not want to let the Pakistanis have any excuses. He therefore went out of his way, to the extent that he said that he was ready to talk to Pakistanis about Balochistan if that is what will make them happy. This is the least we could have done for a friend. Okay, we have not sent troops to Afghanistan, but to start a dialogue so that the strategic aims of our allies are achieved and that Pakistan cannot find a way out was a smart thing to do. Besides, what are friends for? We Indians know how to stand by those who stand with us. Pakistan has now been cornered into starting legal cases against the accused of the 26/11 attacks. We have to work in concert with our western allies. The prime minister and his administration can say only so much and no more in public. Rest is for us to understand. Pakistan will now have no option but to start operations again in West Pakistan, whether it is in Waziristan (North and South) or in Swat or in other Taliban infested regions. That should reduce infiltration in Kashmir. The 26/11 perpetrators will be prosecuted. The Sharm el-Sheikh was a lose – lose situation for Pakistan. Now they will have to restart operations against their own people. We have lost nothing, and gained everything. Balochistan is a non-issue and can never become a problem for India. It would have been hara-kiri had we come back without a joint declaration. It would have not served our purpose or that of our partners from the west. Manmohan Singh going that extra mile to gain that declaration was a very important initiative that the Sardar did not hesitate to take. The saving grace is that our western allies understand what we Indians have done for the free world.

Lastly, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit has sent the signal not only to India but to the world that Obama administration is continuing where President George W. Bush left. And yes, Mrs. Clinton has left an indelible impression on the Indian people with her professionalism, charm and informal yet business like ways. Many women here in India see her as a role model. I guess her visit starts a new chapter in Indo-US relations – between two natural allies and two thriving democracies.

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