Amb Kanwal Sibal

Given the economic mutuality of the two countries, India may elicit a recognition of its territorial integrity from the US

The tensile strength of the India-US strategic partnership will be tested during President Obama’s forthcoming visit to India. Because of its huge bilateral promise, the troubled regional situation as well as global trends of a power shift from the Euro-Atlantic area to the East, this important visit should be successful. The Indian government has invested huge political capital in the US relationship. Those who argue that India is making demands on the US and offers little in return are ignoring the unquantifiable but enormous diplomatic gains for the US in the huge change in the Indian mindset towards it. From suspicion, and even paranoia, the Indian ruling class now accepts the value of a genuine partnership with the US.

President Obama discordant notes on outsourcing have caused discomfort. His repeated evocation of the threat that “Bangalore” poses to the US economy undermines the central role of Information Technology in building an advanced technology based and knowledge driven relationship between the two countries in diverse domains. The egregious step by the US Senate to increase in costs of HIB and LIA visas to finance heightened security surveillance of the US-Mexican border will gratuitously hit the Indian IT industry. “Bangalore”, which symbolizes aspirational India and constitutes the most pro-US lobby in the country, should be a uniting not a dividing factor in India- US ties.

It is anamolous that the two countries have a “strategic relationship”, yet some Indian government organizations involved in “strategic” activity such as ISRO, BARC and DRDO remain under US sanctions. India would hope that the Presidential visit would provide the impetus to remove these organizations from the US Entities List. India remains under a more encompassing restrictive regime than other US partners for transfers of high technology or dual use technology items. Here too, the signals that the US is now working hard to ease its export control regime are encouraging, but whether timely progress can be made is uncertain because Congressional approval would be required to amend US laws. In space, despite Indian capabilities, cooperation is remains limited.

India has begun to acquire US equipment despite intrusive conditionalities and the possibility of embargoes in case a regional conflict erupts. For transfer of the most advanced technologies India needs to sign pending security and inter-operability agreements that are either too intrusive or would draw India into operational military cooperation with a country whose regional policies remain at variance with India’s core interests. In the non-proliferation area, while the Indo-US nuclear deal has transformed bilateral ties, India nuclear status remains grey as it has not been offered Nuclear Suppliers Group membership, besides being prodded periodically on CTBT and FMCT and goaded on the NPT. The Civil Nuclear Liability legislation has caused great concern to US companies as their bottom line that they would not be liable for any accident and access to US courts would be self-denied by recipients of US nuclear technology has not been provided for in the legislation. The attempt now would to frame the rules under the Act in such a manner that the right to recourse to make the suppliers liable for any patent or latent defect or sub-standard services would be circumscribed.

At the regional level, arming Pakistan, tolerating its duplicitous conduct on terrorism, countenancing its disruptive ambitions in Afghanistan, seeking a modus vivendi with the unspeakable Taliban as an exit strategy unmindful of the fillip this will give to Islamic radicalism in the region at large with increased pressures on India’s secular polity, damage India’s legitimate interests. US reluctance to take a frontal position against China’s decision conveyed to the IAEA to enlarge terror-infested Pakistan’s nuclear capacity with supply of two additional nuclear reactors against the NSG guidelines is baffling.

With the current turmoil in Kashmir, pressures may be building up on the US to become active on the issue. The visit should be used to make our bottom lines on J&K clear, especially our opposition to any third party intervention. The fiction of China’s “peaceful rise” was exposed for India by its aggressive posturing earlier on Arunachal Pradesh and now on J&K. China’s expanding military infrastructure in Tibet signals future dangers to India. The US has largely ignored these developments until China’s muscle-flexing in the South China Sea and Japan’s latest humiliation at its hands over the Senkaku Islands affair has aggravated concerns. President Obama’s should use his visit to efface the misunderstanding caused by his two earlier statements that the US and China should work together in promoting peace and stability in South Asia. He should find a language to support India’s territorial integrity threatened by the tandem China-Pakistan.

The US side realizes the difficulty of addressing India’s regional concerns and therefore wants to enlarge the canvas by shifting the focus to “global commons”. India should have no problem in engaging the US on this subject, given the rising graph of understanding between the two countries. Already India and the US are conducting a variety of exercises in the Indian Ocean to ensure the security of the sea-lanes of communication.

Ultimately, it is the economic relationship that will give the real muscle to the India-US relationship. The opportunities in the sectors already identified- energy, IT, science and technology, health, agriculture, education etc are immense. Such cooperation to be “strategic” in nature has to, in feasible ways, transcend purely commercial considerations. Hence the importance of preferential transfers of hi-technology, including dual-use technologies with normal safeguards.

President Obama will be arriving in India just after the November Congressional elections in which the Democrats are expected to suffer reverses. All the more reason therefore for his visit to India to be a success to offset in part the political set-back at home. For India it would be a pivotal occasion to demonstrate the health of India’s growing strategic understanding with the US as part of India’s dynamic engagement with other centres of global power.

The writer was India’s Foreign Secretary
Published in Bengal Post, Published Date : October 19, 2010

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
12 + 0 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.
Contact Us