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Indo-US Relations – A deficit of trust

May 22, 2010

Timothy J. Roemer, the American ambassador to India gave an interview to NDTV. Pronnoy Roy interviewed Mr. Roemer and while we saw a lot of good vibes coming from the Ambassador, it was clear that there was something lacking. There can be no denying that Indo-US relations have grown leaps and bounds over the past decade and a half. The Ambassador was at his diplomatic best when he talked about the chemistry and goodwill between President Obama and Prime Minister Singh. He also did not fail to point out that the Indian Prime Minister was the first head of state to have been officially invited for a state dinner to the While House.

What Timothy J. Roemer was saying was all true. He was not saying these things for the sound bites. The government to government relations between India and the US have never been better. It is also true that the test of these ties was the Civilian Nuclear Deal that was signed between the two nations and has become a benchmark of sorts for other aspiring nations to emulate. The fact that while the Bush administration had worked for a reprocessing plant for the spent fuel, the Obama administration is looking at another one being allowed with a further couple of nuclear plants meant for the purpose in future – goes to show that Obama is as keen on Indo-US relations as his predecessor, if not more. This assumption that President Obama is not as keen on India as President Bush is erroneous. The Ambassador also pointed out the important developmental work being done by India in Afghanistan and how India had extended aid worth more than a billion dollars to Kabul and how this will be critical for the success of west’s plans in Afghanistan. The issue of David Headely was also touched upon by Mr. Roemer and he said that India will be given access to the man ‘very soon’. Terrorism from Pakistan was also discussed and while the Ambassador did not commit anything, it was clear that the west is concerned about not only al-Qaeda in Pakistan but also other outfits like LeT etc.

Timothy J. Roemer

One can be excused to assume that the Indo-US ties are at their very best. Timothy Roemer went to the extent of saying that when history will look back at the world in 2048, it will be said that the Indo-US partnership was the defining friendship that ensured peace and development in the world during the critical 2010 period. Can one say anything more than that? The Indo-US friendship is indeed blooming and is only getting stronger.

The fact that there are Indians doing so well in the US goes without saying. Bobby Jindal is the Governor of the state of Louisiana. The USAID is headed by a man of Indian origins. Harvard Business School is again headed by an American of Indian origin. The Silicon Valley is full of Indians. One reason why Bill Gates focuses on India for his philanthropic foundation was the immense contribution of Indians in the success of Microsoft. That the US has been good to the Indian Diaspora goes without saying. In that most Indians have a lot of affection for Americans. The people to people equation between the two nations is exemplary.

One might then ask as to what is lacking in this friendship between the two largest and most vibrant democracies of the world. While the two governments and the two peoples are coming closer, there is a lingering feeling in India, and this is something that is not going away too soon, that we Indians cannot trust the American administration totally. While in the present geo-political situation it is convenient for the US to forge ties with India, we cannot rely on Washington the way we could the Soviet Union during the seventies and the eighties. For the US, their ‘strategic interests’ are paramount and ‘friendship’ and relations are only as good as they serve their purpose. Indian people have a feeling that Americans will be hardnosed about their interests and for us Indians it may get difficult to look after our interests in the face of a hyper-power such as the USA. Examples abound – Saddam was a friend of the west, worked for the CIA and then he was overthrown and hunted down like an animal and finally handed over to a bunch of hoodlums who jeered and bayed at him when they executed him. General Noriega was a friend of the US and then he was vilified. The famous quote from the old fox Henry Kissinger, that there are no permanent friends or enemies only permanent interests is taken seriously in the Capitol. That is the Mantra that is followed and they are unabashed in pursuit of their strategic interests. Remember how Foreign Minister of Pakistan Qureshi and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and their delegations bantered together in Washington and after the Faisal TS failed bombing a few weeks later the same Hillary Clinton did not mince words and gave Pakistan a chilling warning. I agree that at that time this was required, but still.

Indians feel that the US may be a good ally and friend as of now, but we would be foolish to put all our eggs in one basket. In that the present government has done well to have extended cooperation with Moscow and other BRIC nations. That the two democracies are ‘natural allies’ under the present geo-strategic situation goes without saying. It is also true that both the nations have a lot to gain by coming closer. It is a fact that when New Delhi has close cooperation with Washington, the other western nations like Britain, France, Germany, Australia and others automatically start looking at India differently and we have an obvious advantage. Indo-US relations are vital for Indian access to the west in all spheres of diplomacy and not just strategically.

The test of time will be the real test between the two nations. There will be political upheavals and there will be times when this friendship will be tested. There may even be redrawing of boundaries in future in our vicinity. If the Indo-US relations stand the test of time and the two nations continue the remarkable work they are doing together now in bringing about world peace and global economic stability then perhaps one will be able to say that this is a meeting of hearts and minds. Till then the two nations need to work together. The road ahead is long, hard and arduous. It will take a lot of statesmanship from successive leaderships of the two nations to make sure this good thing does not come to pass.

Addendum: As I wrote this the news is that there is an Indo-US strategic dialogue to be held in Washington from June 1, 2010. Bill Burns will be travelling to India to work on the agenda for the Summit. The Summit was reported in the press as follows:

In a first, the US and India will hold a four-day strategic dialogue here from June 1, which would include an in-depth discussion between leaders of the two countries on critical global and regional issues like energy and terrorism.

“The Secretary (of State Hillary Clinton) looks forward to hosting Minister of External Affairs (S M) Krishna,” State Department spokesman P J Crowley told reporters at his daily news conference here last evening.

Leading the delegations of their respective countries, Clinton and Krishna would co-chair the high-level inter-agency discussions on a range of critical issues, including agriculture, education, energy, trade and counter-terrorism, Crowley said.

Update 30.05.2010: That the US administration gives Indo-US relations importance will be mirrored in the fact that during a state dinner that Hillary Clinton will host in honour of S.M. Krishna on the sidelines of the strategic dialogue, President Barack Obama will drop in and make a small speech. This is the American way of showing the kind of importance the US gives to India.

Access  to David Coleman Headely has been granted and three sleuths and a lawyer from the NIA are on their way to the US to question Headley. It appears that the access to the man is unconditional and unrestricted.

There are reports of the US sizing up possible military response to any terrorist attack on the US emanating from Pakistan. The US administration is mulling the use of missiles and drones to retaliate if attacked by any terrorist outfit. Rana and Shahzad Faisal cases have made the US edgy and they are looking at possible scenarios.

One Comment leave one →
  1. June 25, 2010 6:12 pm

    Yeah, it’s good, very useful, thanks 🙂

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