Originally Published 2010-11-18 00:00:00 Published on Nov 18, 2010
The India-US joint statement speaks of the convergence of interests of the two countries, with President Obama welcoming India's emergence as a major regional and global power and affirming his country's interest in India's rise.
US Talk of Convergence with India is Contradictory
The India-US joint statement speaks of the convergence of interests of the two countries, with President Obama welcoming India’s emergence as a major regional and global power and affirming his country’s interest in India’s rise. This encapsulates the vast agenda of the relationship and the grand motivating ambition. The protagonists of a strong India-US relationship tend to take as accomplished what is intended; the sceptics see rhetoric where there could be substance. What is needed is a dispassionate view, without baseless enthusiasm or wry cynicism.

The convergence of interests should first manifest itself in our region. The threats to India’s security arise within it, whether territorial claims, terrorism, Islamic radicalism, nuclear and missile proliferation or economic blockages. Central to this is Pakistan and its axis with China. If the US has a long term strategic partnership with a Pakistan that remains unremttingly hostile to India, how does it reconcile with that reality its strategic partnership with India? Does massive military aid to Pakistan correspond with India’s strategic interests? Is there any common understanding on the impact on India of the deepening political, economic and military ties between Pakistan and China, nuclear mates and united in their antagonism toward us?

Stating that none other than India has more interest in Pakistan’s stability and prosperity is wriggling out of the contradictions of US policy in South Asia. Does the US expect us to work with it to bolster the stability of a country that persists with its agenda to destabilize us, and continue exporting terror? General Musharraf’s recent warning against proceeding against Lashkar-e-Toiba, hugely popular in Pakistan because of its actions in Kashmir, is instructive. Persisting with offers of intervention in Kashmir and referring to it as a “dispute” is a bow in Pakistan’s direction. Some deference to Indian concerns has been shown, at the instance of our negotiators, in the call for “all terror networks, including LeT” to be defeated.

On Afghanistan, lauding India’s contribution to the country’s development to the point of proposing joint India-US projects with the Afghan government in capacity building, agriculture and women’s empowerment, vindicates India’s role that General McChrystal and the Pakistanis found provocative. Whether India should associate the US with its successful projects in Afghanistan and risk a backlash, or profit from US funds to expand its development programmes should be decided with great prudence.The issue in Afghanistan, of course, transcends Indian projects; our concerns about the US end game there remain unassuaged.
On Iran, US is not ready to accommodate India’s energy security interests, which are far more real than politically hollow references to our “civilisational relations” that Iran ignores. As in the case of Myanmar, pressuring countries like India to distance themselves from Iran has only helped China to fill the vacated space to India’s long term strategic detriment.  Indian companies and banks are not in a position to defy US and even EU sanctions. Obama was muted in his reference to Iran in his parliament speech, and the joint statement is cautiously worded, at India’s insistence no doubt, as the diplomatic route to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue is underlined, besides noting that the two sides  only “discussed” the need for Iran to meet its obligations to the IAEA and the Security Council, a formulation that should not displease the Iranians. Citing Myanmar, Obama chided us gratuitously on shying away from taking positions on human rights issues in international fora. He did not see the absurdity of his rebuke to India when US’s own ties with Paksitan follow a different logic, with General Musharraf’s Pakistan given the status of a non-NATO ally.

The US is watching China’s increasingly assertive behaviour; India considers China a strategic adversary, notwithstanding the official discourse and willingness to engage with it positively. Closer India- US ties are viewed by many as a hedging strategy against China’s rise. Significantly, Obama mentioned US’s renewed leadership role in Asia with strengthening of old alliances, and in this context encouraged India to not only “look” but “engage East”. The joint statement refers to an open, balanced and inclusive architecture in Asia- a formulation that denies China a security leadership role and politically supports that of the US. The agreement to deepen strategic consultations on developments in East Asia can be read in the China context, though India, while seeing the utility of forging  better understandings with the US over China, would avoid entangling itself with US-China differences to the degree it constrains its independent policy choices.

The positives emerging from the visit should be recognized: support for our UN Security Council permanent membership, removal of Indian space and defence organizations from the US Entity List, the realignment of India in US export control regulations, and US’s intention to support India’s membership of the four multilateral export control regimes(NSG, MTCR, Australia Group, and Wassenaar Arrangement) in a phased manner. At India’s asking, the US has moved forward on these complex issues, and to that extent, our diplomacy has achieved results. That does not, however, prevent a critical evaluation of the progress made.

US support gives wind to India’s UNSC candidature, but there is no sign that it will activate the process of UNSC expansion. The joint statement mentions India and the US partnering for global security- and no doubt on human rights issues- in that body during India’s two year tenure as non-permanent member. US “security” priorities being rather different from India’s, with divergent views on sanctions, easy understandings might be dificult to forge.

High technology trade, easing of export controls, membership of multilateral nonproliferation regimes, have been tightly linked in the joint statement in several places to India joining with the US to promote global nonproliferation objectives, commiting itself to abide by multilateral export control standards, adopting fully the export control requirements of the regimes in question to reflect its prospective membership, and agreeing to a “strengthened and expanded dialogue on export control issues, through fora such as the US-India High technolgy Cooperation Group”. India had already satisfied the US on export controls of international standards to obtain the nuclear deal. What exactly is the nature of additional export controls and how intrusive they would be?

India-US civil nuclear cooperation issue has been handled ably by our side, with the joint statement stipulating that it has to be on the “basis of mutually acceptable technical and commercial terms and conditions that enable a viable tariff regime for electricity generated”. While the Convention on Supplementary Compensation will be ratified by India in the coming year and the US companies will have a level playing field, India has also underlined that it will be consisitent with India’s “national” and international legal obligations. india has also stood firm on not signing the three foundational defence agreements with the US.

While key policy makers in India have a clear understanding of the nuances of India-US ties and the opportunities and traps that lie ahead, the wall to wall coverage given to Obama’s visit even in national newspapers shows lack of maturity and sophistication of the larger establishment in treating relations with the US. The society of a would-be global power should not have the temperament of a banana republic.

The writer is a former Foreign Secretary([email protected])

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