June 08, 2012

Wary of China but leery of alliance, US and India go into third strategic dialogue

Chidanand Rajghatta
Chidanand Rajghatta, TNN | Jun 8, 2012, 09.31PM IST
WASHINGTON: The audience at the Carnegie Endowment event on US-India relations ahead of the strategic dialogue spilled out into an overflow room on Thursday evening. A key state department official working on the nuts and bolts of the relationship outlined the energy and intensity of the engagement between the two sides. ''We are not even into June and already five US cabinet officials have visit India this year,'' gushed deputy assistant secretary of state Alyssa Ayres, reeling off the names of secretary of state Hillary Clinton, defense secretary Leon Panetta, commerce secretary John Bryson, health secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and treasury secretary Tim Geithner (upcoming) who have been New Delhi-bound in recent weeks. 

India is set to reciprocate those visits over the next week during and around the third US-India Strategic Dialogue (SD) centered on external affairs minister SM Krishna's engagement with his counterpart Hillary Clinton, for whom it will be a finale of sorts before she demits office later this year. Human resources minister Kapil Sibal, science and technology minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, and man-for-all-seasons Sam Pitroda will back him in an endeavour that has resulted in incremental increase in the strength and potency of US-India ties after a giant leap during the Bush presidency. 

But policy wonks, regional analysts, and assorted enthusiasts for a greater US-India engagement are searching for the next big idea to express President Obama's vision of a ''defining partnership'' with India in the 21st century, something on the scale of the civilian nuclear deal. It's missing. Mandarins on both sides struggle to come up with an overarching theme, other than to echo the President's words. Asked to identify the focus of the 3rd SD, Indian officials said it's aimed a reaffirming faith and confidence in the relationship. ''Human development,'' one official proffered feebly. 

Minutes before Ayres launched into a rapid-fire checklist of the numerous items on the agenda for the dialogue her boss Robert Blake had left the room after yet another expansive speech on US-India ties in which he refuted recent narratives suggesting the relationship had been oversold, and maintained that the partnership is much more than a quest for the next big thing. But the growing sense in Washington is that New Delhi is leery of the biggest thing that the United States is seeking -- an alliance of the kind it has with other Asian powers such as Japan and South Korea. 

Hillary Clinton and Leon Panetta, Obama's senior cabinet principles, were both voluble about a more assertive Indian role in the region, both in East Asia and in Afghanistan. But whether it is an outcome of strategic timidity or diplomatic prudence, New Delhi is seen as being very circumspect in its response. American analysts and the media have recorded it. The headline in the Los Angeles Times following the Panetta visit said it all: ''India not sold on closer military ties with U.S,'' it noted, reporting that New Delhi ''appeared more interested in buying U.S. weapons than in aligning strategically with Washington.'' 

If US officials are miffed about Indian reticence, they are not showing it. They also insist that their courtship of India, expressions of greater presence in Pacific, and efforts to involve India in East Asia are not aimed at containing China. In fact, Washington is pressing for a trilateral dialogue process with India and China. ''India is going to maintain strategic autonomy, as we will as well,'' Assistant secretary of state Robert Blake said at Carnegie. ''But we do see opportunity to work ever more closely with India across a wide range of ideas.'' 

One such area is Afghanistan where Washington is now literally outsourcing -- to use that shopworn term -- the pacification of the country to India as it draws down from the region. It is a role New Delhi is starting to embrace with the usual circumspection. The loss is Pakistan's, a country that has now become marginal in the US-India scheme of things that factors in a broader global architecture. 

Whether or not New Delhi plays ball with Washington in the immediate present, interest in the region and the bilateral relationship is at an all-time high in the US Capital. The Carnegie event overflowed with attendees from think-tanks, academia, business, and Industry. On Friday, an event at another think-tank featuring Nancy Powell and Nirupama Rao, the U.S and Indian ambassadors in New Delhi and Washington respectively, was sold out. 


VSK said...
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VSK said...

US has recently piled up "more animosity " of Muslims worldwide than ever after Laden's death. The NATO supplies to Afghanistan being stopped by pakistan, demands to stop drone strikes taking centre-stage, nuclear standoff with Iran, US got themselves into a very bad situation. The problem in Afghanistan is, 'power equation' in the country relies on the establishment of a theocratic state.The tribal leaders and mullahs need someone who could put theocracy forthright before NATO agenda.They , by default , believe Pakistan in the long term rather than NATO . Panetta came to India and made OPEN statements in the media against China and Pakistan from Indian soil.Moreover , Panetta is neutralising the hard diplomatic efforts of Indian government with China 'or' Pakistan to maintain peace in our borders.He maybe trying to please India , but should the Indian government take his "BLUFF" for help. The help he is asking for is Indian Army fighting in Afghanistan. India is already operating covertly in Afghanistan. On record, covert operations seem to work more efficiently in Afghanistan rather than direct presence . I hope that India will maintain this 'status quo'. We don't want to shed our soldiers lives to save NATO lives. One thing we have to notice is the 'unlikely' change that has come up in Leon Panetta's statements during the latter part of his visit. He started talking about "technology transfer " of sophisticated weapons, calling the under-secretary to Defense for holding talks with big corporations to sell weapons to India along with the technology. This is important because India didn't approve Typhoon from Britain as its medium combat aircraft because they would not agree to a 'technology sharing agreement'.US and UK must understand that India buys sophisticated weaponry not to put them in the 'showcase of a museum' but to be OPERATIONAL in all circumstances.We are afterall not a Saudi Royal Family trying to show off our wealth!! Our requests are based on Strategic importance , otherwise Leon Panetta would not have come to India in first place to appease us. He is requesting for DIRECT PRESENCE in Afghanistan, which means INDIAN ARMY in those god-forsaken mountains. Let's hope that India's requests for "technology transfer" and collaborative development for future weaponry become the crux of Leon Panetta's report so that India can, in future, share some liability for 'animosity'