Category Archives: India-US Relations Blog

Musings on a Presidential Visit

As the President’s visit draws nearer, the delicate dance being played out by both sides is fascinating to watch. While the American side would prefer the Tango, the hosts have decided that a carefully choreographed (with emphasis on choreographed) ballet is the way to go.  The managers of the visit seemed to have decided to err on the side of caution when drawing up the Presidential itinerary, major considerations being his way with words, what he symbolizes in his persona, and the volatility of the inter-governmental relationships in the region. So, out went the President’s visit to Chabad House on security grounds. Out also went the President’s visit to Wagah border where he would presumably have made a speech on the lines of Ronald Reagan’s 1997 entreaty to President Gorbachov at the Brandenberg Gate which brought the Berlin Wall crashing down.  Whether a speech would have had any result other than further burnish his Nobel Peace prize can only now exist in the realms of speculation.

As is the norm during such State visits, both sides draw up wish lists and there then ensues some hard bargaining with lots of give and take.  This worked when such visits were few and far between.  Whilst summit level diplomacy worked well in case of the U.S.-India Civilian Nuclear Deal (that has proved to be a flash in the pan), Prime Minister Singh’s State visit to Washington  in November last yielded very little by way of substance.  The increased frequency of these visits has meant that the list of issues that are yet to find closure for various reasons, from a totalisation agreement, to defense agreements is growing, even as new issues such as the legislation on H1-B visa and outsourcing are bringing new irritants into the relationship. The parlous state of the U.S. economy plus the fact that a Democrat administration is in power would mean that these new issues will also go into the intractable issues column on that list.

Reading between the lines, the Americans seem to have made it clear that discussion on issues that would impact American jobs is a no-go area.  The American argument seems to be that when the going was good, we welcomed thousands of Indians to the United States and provided them with jobs; and now it’s your turn to help us out by buying our goods and services in a big way. This argument is of course somewhat fallacious since the United States was responding to the needs of its own economy, as it has always done, when it opened the gates for foreign workers.

If the United States is bent on improving trade relations, then on top of its agenda should be the removal of the constraints on trade and collaboration in high-technology items. That however, does not seem to be the case, with the U.S. still stopping short of completely removing these impediments. The nuclear deal notwithstanding, this is still a transactional relationship with strategic considerations very much playing second fiddle. As the Prime Minister’s successful visit to Japan amply testifies, a strategic relationship finds traction only when there is a clear and overwhelming desire on both sides to take that relationship forward. Of course, one advantage with the India-Japan Strategic Partnership is the absence of domestic spoilers. The Japanese Prime Minister has no need to turn Bangalore into a bogeyman for domestic audiences nor do sections of India polity look on Japan with suspicion.

Administration officials have been tom-tomming the fact that this is one of only two visits by an American President to India in the first two years of his first term in office. Well, the earlier one was by President Jimmy Carter, and we all know how that went. For those too young to recollect, it began with “the biggest crowds [Carter] had addressed as President” assembling at the Ram Lila grounds in Delhi on New Year’s Day of 1978 and ended with Carter (caught off mike) telling his Secretary of State Cyrus Vance that “after we return, we must write a letter, very cold and blunt” to Prime Minister Morarji Desai. (This was in the context of Desai refusing to Carter’s request to open Indian nuclear facilities to international inspection.) The Indian authorities are no doubt hoping that the similarities between the two visits are confined to the positive.

Did U.S. authorities know about Headley’s terrorist connections?

The U.S. federal authorities had been warned of David Coleman Headley’s links to Lashkar-e-Taiba by his wives on various occasions before the 26/11 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, according to media reports today. The New York Times reports that about a year before the attacks, Headley’s Moroccan wife warned U.S. authorities in Pakistan about her husband’s intentions to attack. In 2005, his American wife had complained to authorities about her husband’s potential links with Lashkar-e-Taiba. However, these warnings did not lead to any arrests and Headley continued to make training and reconnaissance trip to Pakistan and India in preparation of the attacks.

An important point to note in David Headley’s relationship with the U.S. authorities is that he was a longtime informer in Pakistan for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Questions are being raised if this connection made U.S. authorities neglect complaints against him. Authorities however, maintained that the complaints by Headley’s wives were followed upon but did not reveal enough for any arrests to take place. Questions are also been raised in India about why India was not sufficiently informed about the matter, if the U.S. had prior information in the case.

During his interrogation by Indian authorities in Washington D.C, Headley revealed plans to attack various other cities including Delhi and the Prime Minister’s residence. He is also said to have revealed links between the ISI and the 26/11 attacks.

David Coleman Headley was arrested last year in Chicago with another co-conspirator, Tahawwur Hussain Rana. He had pleaded guilty to planning the Mumbai attacks and entered into a plea bargain with U.S. authorities which prevent his extradition to any country.

Hanging around the Y-junction

It was interesting to see, towards the end of Bob Woodward’s Obama’s Wars, members of the Obama administration realise that the United States is in the same place today as it was in early 2009. Recent events validate that assessment. Frustrated with the Pakistani army’s refusal to shut down taliban safe havens, the US-led forces attacked across the border killing Pakistani soldiers. The Pakistani military retaliated by shutting down the supply route, letting taliban militants destroy some trucks and show that it has the ability to inflict some pain. This was roughly the state of affairs when Barack Obama took over as president.

This is exactly what we had argued, “Sooner or later, the Obama administration will come to realise that it has no way to make the Pakistani military establishment seriously fight and defeat the jihadi groups, which includes the Taliban, al-Qaeda and outfits like the Lashkar-e-Taiba. When that moment comes, Barack Obama will need to choose between direct confrontation with the Pakistani military-jihadi complex and colossal strategic defeat.” (Operation Markarap)

What now? It is unlikely that President Obama would choose “direct confrontation with the Pakistani military-jihadi complex” just yet. The race to find options short of that is almost certainly on, and a “throw them a bone” alternative will be sought. There are three possible bones. First, to accept a pro-Pakistani political dispensation in Afghanistan. Second, to accept the “legitimacy of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons”. Third, to press India to compromise on Kashmir.

The first option doesn’t appeal to General Ashfaq Kayani at this stage because he believes he can get there without the United States. The second option is a status symbol they can do without, not least because China continues to support the expansion of the Pakistani arsenal. The third option might just do the trick, because which Pakistani general is immune to the potential glory of being the one who won Kashmir?

So expect Washington to exert pressure on India over Kashmir. Expect pressure to restart the composite dialogue and suchlike. It’ll take the Obama administration a year or so to realise that this is a dead-end. General Kayani will probably realise it a little before Washington does. And then what?

Well, we told you already. Barack Obama will need to choose between direct confrontation with the Pakistani military-jihadi complex and colossal strategic defeat.

The US-India Relationship: Creating a new model of balanced partnership

Welcome to the USINPAC Blog on U.S.-India Relations. I welcome all constructive comments and dialog on this important topic for both the USA and India.
I believe that we as Indian-Americans have a unique perspective, with strong roots in India and equally strong commitment to our chosen homes in the USA. The 2.7 million Indian-Americans make substantial contributions to daily life in the USA as doctors, lawyers, IT professionals, hoteliers, corporate executives, small business owners, public servants, politicians, and in several other community enriching occupations. Most of us also have family and friends in India and cherish our deep and historic heritage. Therefore we experience at a deeply personal level the desire for close and mutually beneficial relations between these two great societies.

After decades of mistrust, both the U.S. and India have moved closer to each other over the last 10 to 15 years. Today, few persons are against closer ties, and one often hears calls for more effective cooperation between the “world’s oldest and largest democracies”. We must, however, go beyond the talk and rhetoric and develop mutual trust at the working levels on key issues of national priorities for each country, such as:

o Geopolitical Military Cooperation
o Countering Global Terrorism
o Curbing Nuclear Proliferation
o Economy and Trade
o Preserving the Global Environment

In the modern interconnected world, each of these areas is critical for the national security of both countries. Moreover they are central to preserving and furthering both countries’ ideals of a free and open society where the rights of individual citizens are fiercely protected.

We at USINPAC authored a Policy Paper on “US National Security and US-India Strategic Relations” which I encourage you to view on the USINPAC website.

From the U.S. perspective, it needs a stable partner in Asia who shares its values of democracy and freedom. The U.S. is embroiled in two wars in Asia; threatened daily by global terror from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and parts of the Middle East; must address nuclear proliferation from North Korea and its allies; must protect international shipping channels; must balance growth in Asia with its energy and environmental consequences; and the U.S. faces increasing nationalist aggression on multiple fronts from China. The USA cannot address all these vital issues on its own. It needs a strong stable Asian partner to work with. India is the obvious choice.

As India increasingly becomes a global power, it too benefits from a close relationship with the USA. India needs access to the latest technology, training, and markets for its National Security and to realize its dream of becoming a world power.

The logic for a strategic relationship between India and the USA is irrefutable. However, a lasting positive relationship can be built only through mutual trust, and it must be built before a crisis situation arises. Additionally, a lasting relationship should benefit both partners. Most relationships that the U.S. has today tend to be one sided. Every country wants something from the US, but few, if any, offer meaningful benefits in return. India has the potential to offer a new model of a truly balanced partnership with the USA.

There is a need for concrete achievements to steer the nascent US-India relationship in the right direction. The upcoming trip of President Obama to India could be a milestone if the two leaders are able to show results in specific areas for cooperation. This should, however, become a continuing process, and not a one time photo opportunity. It is worth the effort since the potential benefits to both India and the USA are enormous. We hope our respective leaders are up to the challenge.