Saturday, July 25, 2009

Holding New Delhi's Hand

United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has finished a workmanlike visit to New Delhi. The purpose of the exercise was to show an always nervous New Delhi that Washington still cared. All the things she said and did here were aimed at soothing India which is incensed at the attention being showered on Pakistan and Afghanistan. India does not really need the kind of attention that AfPak is receiving. They are like patients in an ICU with doctors crowding around. New Delhi, on the other hand, is as normal as you can be. But the American relationship is an important component of New Delhi’s world view and, indeed, self-esteem, and therefore there is need for their frequent endorsement on the part of the US.


Three major issues formed the basic content of the visit. First, the need to get over Cold War mindset, second, the need to add economic content to the relationship and third, to move on the people-to-people content of the relationship. US-Indian relations have had their ups and downs for the past sixty years. But since the end of the Cold War, it has been mainly the ups. There are remnants of Cold Warriors in the US, who still feel that Pakistan should have the primacy in India-Pakistan relations. Getting beyond the Cold War rhetoric was the important element in proposing the Indo-US nuclear deal, which has, in turn, led to the new set of agreements on technology safeguards and an end user verification agreement on acquisition of high-tech military equipment. With the nuclear pill that poisoned relations between the two countries having been safely digested, the game has shifted to a higher level.
The agreements arrived at during the visit have the potential of adding that vital economic content which has been slipping. Unlike the case of China, the two countries cannot build up volume and value by trade in natural resources like iron ore or consumer products. America is about Information Technology and high tech and the Clinton visit has gone some way in clearing the decks for high-tech exports to India ranging from aerospace components and products, to nuclear reactors and their control systems. There is, in any case, a limit to how much content governments of two largely market economies can add to their relationship. A major factor now, in any case, is the US economic situation. It will take another year or so before we can get a better idea of the new, post-crisis contours of the Indo-US economic relationship.
What happens now is a bit like what happened in the 1950s. Besides opening up military sales, the US will engage us deeply in a range of non-military areas even while enhancing their military cooperation with Pakistan. In this case the military cooperation is not so much to fight any third-party, but to pull Pakistan of out of a quagmire. It is quite clear that Islamabad will no longer get a blank check in that relationship to build up its military forces to fight India, as it did in the past.
The new non-military elements of the Indo-US relationship are spelt out in four of the give pillars of the strategic dialogue outlined-- energy, climate change, education, agriculture, and health and science and technology. The first “pillar” speaks of addressing nonproliferation, counterterrorism and military cooperation, the emphasis will be mainly in relation to terrorism.
This is the kind of a relationship took place in the 1950s and 1960s as well, and it led to the creation of the Indian diaspora in the US which has played such an important role in providing the content to the people-to-people relationship at present. It also led to an important modernization of the Indian industry and academe through the IITs and educational system and above all, it led to the Green Revolution. Revisiting these areas seems to be the premise of the new relationship and they are likely to yield a bountiful harvest. This will also add the strategically important people-to-people content from the practical exchanges of Indian and American students and scholars, engineers and architects, businessmen and bankers.
This will lead to a kind of “normalization” of Indo-US ties which will ensure that a large regional power like India will be factored into the South-west Asian regional calculus of the US, but be excluded from the larger picture. Which is all for the good because it will enable New Delhi to find its feet after the heady ride of the Bush years.


During the eight years of the Bush Administration, India was made to bat well above its league. This resulted in bad blood with China and a shade of exasperation in Europe. Beijing was suspicious that India was becoming part of the quadrilateral with Australia, US and Japan to “check” the rise of China and one result of this has been its Tawang tract googly which has blocked the Sino-Indian normalization process. The Indo-US subsurface cooperation reached a point where India was almost persuaded to assist the United States military occupation of Iraq by sending its own forces. The Indo-US nuclear deal was the capstone which ensured that India did get the most-favoured nation treatment, literally, from the United States much to the chagrin of its allies and our adversaries like Pakistan and China.


Notwithstanding all this, India has to realise that there are finite limits to its ties with the US. Adding the tag “strategic” does little justice to the relationship between the world’s richest country and biggest military power and a third world country which is also the host of the largest number of poor and unhealthy.
Ties between the two can only work on an asymmetrical dynamic and it is useful for New Delhi to keep that in mind. In the coming months this will be important as we battle the United States effort to re-establish its hegemony through assuming the leadership of the climate change and non-proliferation agendas. In both these areas the two countries are likely to see themselves pitted against each other.
This said, it needs to be emphasized that the friendship of the United States is important for India and never more important than now. We are at the cusp of transformation and a good understanding with the US can be of great assistance in not only enhancing our security, but also improving the lives of the average Indian. If the retrospect tells us how important the Green Revolution has been, the prospect offers even more challenging opportunities in the development of energy technologies and biosciences. In that sense the more important aspect of the Clinton visit has been to broaden the agenda of our ties with the US from their usual obsession with terrorism and Pakistan.

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