April 13, 2010

Disputes over Afghanistan, anti-terror policies and diplomacy have soured the relationship.

Very little was said publicly about U.S. President Barack Obama's meeting Sunday with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at Blair House in Washington. That's probably because neither side wants to draw attention to just how strained this important bilateral relationship has become over the past year.

One of the biggest sticking points is how to deal with Afghanistan. The Obama administration has promised to "reconcile" with the Taliban and talks openly about U.S. troop withdrawals, commencing in 2011. Both points deeply disturb New Delhi, whose long history of dealing with terrorism suggests the U.S. approach won't work. The U.S. has also shunned advance consultations on Afghanistan with its Indian partners.

As a result, India is rethinking its approach, which it has long coordinated with Washington, and a review of Afghan policy is now underway. There are indications that New Delhi is going to hedge its bets and enhance contacts and cooperation with Russia and Afghanistan's neighbors of Iran, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, which share India's aversion for any return of the Taliban.

Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Not as friendly as it seems.


Another issue is how the U.S. and India will prosecute terrorists involved in the November 2008 attack on Mumbai—something that was raised by Mr. Singh in Sunday's meeting. There is incontrovertible evidence that the planning and advance reconnaissance for the massacre were carried out by a Chicago-based American, David Coleman Headley, who has entered into a plea bargain with federal prosecutors that precludes the death sentence or any possibility of his being extradited to India. There is now an almost universal belief in India that Mr. Headley was a double agent for the U.S. who turned rogue.

The Obama administration's flip-flops on giving Indian investigators access to interrogate Mr. Headley has infuriated New Delhi. The suspicion is that the administration wants to prevent Indian access to information about the involvement of Pakistan's security services in the Mumbai attack.

Then there are the strains on the ground in India—literally. After the terrorist attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul in February, the Afghan government alluded to the attackers having come from Pakistan, with the specific aim of attacking a rest house almost exclusively occupied by Indians. Yet the Obama administration's Special Representative for "Afpak," Richard Holbrooke, said: "I don't accept the fact that this was an attack on an Indian facility. Let us not jump to conclusions." He added: "I understand why everyone in Pakistan and everyone in India always focus on each other."

Mr. Holbrooke later tendered a qualified apology, but the damage had been done. When he announced on March 20 that he would "definitely be going to India soon" and scheduled an early visit, New Delhi conveyed that Mr. Holbrooke was not welcome in India.

These developments, together with emerging differences on issues like the lack of any meaningful consultations on the emerging architecture of cooperation in the Asia-Pacific or in the Persian Gulf, do not bode well for the Indian-American partnership. With the political climate vitiated, it appears unlikely that parliament will pass anytime soon the proposed Nuclear Liabilities Bill considered essential to implement the U.S-India civil nuclear deal—a blow to companies like General Electric and Westinghouse.

Moreover, there is irritation in New Delhi over the encomiums showered on Pakistan Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who is no friend of India. Indian officials were astonished at the unprecedented presence of three Cabinet-level officials—Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and National Security Adviser General James Jones—at a recent dinner hosted by Admiral Mike Mullen for the Pakistan general. There is a distinct possibility that Lockheed Corporation will be ruled out as a contender for an $8 billion contract for the supply of 126 fighter aircraft for India because of its readiness to provide advanced F-16 jets to Pakistan.

The fact that President Obama didn't take questions from reporters after he left Sunday's meeting with Mr. Singh speaks volumes. What a change from the heady days of the Bush administration, when there was growing recognition in India about the potential for a "new era" of bilateral ties with the U.S.

Mr. Parthasarathy, a visiting professor at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi, was India's ambassador to Pakistan from 1998 to 2000.

1 comment:

Alex P. said...

The United States needs to pull out of Afghanistan. Afghanistan was one of the reasons why the USSR collapsed; now Afghanistan is one of the reasons why the United States has such a huge deficit. We need to find a more effective way of combating terrorism (although the war in Afghanistan is also due to the interest of the United States to build a pipeline through the country) besides invading a country.