Tag Archives: Indo-US strategic partnership

Emerging Contours of the Indo-US Strategic Partnership

At a symposium on the emerging contours of the Indo-US strategic partnership, organised by the Woodrow Wilson Centre at Princeton University on November 11-12, 2011, most participants agreed that the partnership was indispensable and that it would shape the geo-political contours of the 21st century. The present state of drift in the relationship does not portend a break down in the long term. The symposium was attended by leading members of the strategic community, including policy analysts, military experts, academics and journalists, from India and the United States.

An Indian analyst was of the view that the balance of power is shifting gradually from Europe and America to the Asia-Pacific region. He ascribed this to the ongoing rise of China and India as emerging economic and military powers. China is investing rapidly in enhancing its military capabilities as it wishes to safeguard its sea lanes of communications (SLOCs) in the Indian Ocean by deploying the PLA Navy.

A U.S. analyst identified three main trends in China’s rise: China is governed by ‘arbitrary despotism’; the main engine of economic growth, i.e. the large-scale move of rural population to urban centres is declining; and, nationalism is on the rise in China. China is likely to engage in a new Cold War with its regional neighbours and the U.S. can and must play a role in acting as a balancer.

Another U.S. analyst spelt out three core pillars of the U.S. strategy in Asia: U.S. engagement anchored by treaty obligations; developing a strong relationship with emerging Asian powers like India, Indonesia and Malaysia; and, building multilateral institutions like ASEAN for stability.

Speakers from both the countries were critical of the sense of gridlock that has gripped domestic politics, particularly when there has been an economic downturn. Both the governments appeared to have ceded space on driving the respective national agendum. There is a need to enhance diplomatic engagement and reduce the newfound proclivity for military interventionism.

An Indian analyst expressed the view that the growing Indo-US relationship merits an ‘A plus’ report card, but there are bound to be some differences in the approach of the two countries to emerging issues like the conflict in the Middle East/ West Asia and Iran’s purported quest for nuclear weapons. Indian participants conceded that India’s nuclear liability Act was problematic and that India needed to suitably address the apprehensions of international nuclear energy suppliers. However, they were of the view that the Indo-US partnership was strategic in conception and should not be reduced to a transactional relationship.

A U.S. analyst stated that international politics is about the distribution of power and the emerging relationship with India was central to the U.S. approach as a strong partnership with India would ensure a favorable distribution of power. An India that was capable and powerful was desirable from the U.S. point of view even if it did not always support U.S. initiatives. There is a perception in India that U.S. power is flagging and if this gains currency, India will have fewer incentives to go with the US.

An Indian participant stated that India is likely to join a future coalition of the willing for joint operations if the desired goal directly affects India’s vital interests. Recent joint military exercises have gone a long way towards resolving interoperability issues and have led to mutual trust and confidence. Major irritants from the Indian perspective include the continuing sale of conventional arms to Pakistan, the lack of U.S. concern about Indian interests in Afghanistan and the enduring reservations on the part of the U.S. about transferring cutting edge defence technology to India.

There was a broad consensus during the symposium that the U.S. and India must work together for peace and stability in Asia. While the Indo-US strategic partnership is not intended to form a joint front against China, should China behave irresponsibly in Asia, or should it implode due to internal instability, both India and the U.S. will need a strong partner to successfully manage the fallout.

Is America Achieving The Improbable in Afghanistan, India & Pakistan?

Recently I returned from a trip to India. The biggest story during my visit was the spectacular raid inside Pakistan to get Osama Bin Laden. It was pure shock and awe. There was an instantaneous burst of applause for America’s brilliant action.

Unfortunately, within a day or two, the sentiment changed. India, like Afghanistan, had always maintained that Pakistan provides sanctuary to terrorists and in many cases actively encourages, aids and provides material support to terrorists. This reality, Indians thought, was ignored by America either because of America’s self-interest or gullibility.

The discovery that Bin Laden was hiding in the open in a Pakistani military town confirmed to Indians that they were right and America was wrong for all these years. Indian society then compared the execution of Osama Bin Laden to the complete freedom provided within Pakistan to the terror-masters of the horrific 2008 Mumbai attack.

Indians have always accused America of a double standard for terrorists. This feeling morphed into certainty after the Bin Laden raid. Then came statements by American officials exonerating Pakistan’s Top Leadership and proclamations about how Pakistan was still America’s ally.

The insult and the injury cut very deep. The people I spoke to were quietly livid. I was stunned by the intensity of their feelings against what they see as America’s duplicitous dealings with Pakistan.

These were Lawyers, Doctors, Teachers and others in India’s middle class, the heart of India’s educated society. They understand the good about America. They understand the need for Indo-American partnership. But gone is their euphoria about the heady Bush days of Indo-US Strategic Partnership. Today, their anger and contempt towards America seemed unanimous. As one said simply, “this country (America) cannot be our friend”.

The India-Pakistan relationship has been a zero-sum game. So this sentiment within India should translate into a vote of confidence for America inside Pakistan. Right?

But the anger against America seems to be even more intense within Pakistan. From reports in the New York Times and the Washington Post, the rank and file of the Pakistani Army is “seething with anger” against America. Most Pakistanis seem convinced that America is trying to bring mayhem and terror to Pakistan to meet its own objectives in Afghanistan.

What about Afghanistan? America is pouring billions into Afghanistan every year to protect Afghans from the Taliban. This seems more and more like a waste of money and more importantly lives of young American soldiers.

credit: static.guim.co.ukThis week, the Taleban launched attacks in the northern cities of Herat and Taloqan. Also this week, about 200 Afghan militants crossed into northwestern Pakistan and engaged in a gun battle with Pakistani security forces. Rather than work even more closely with American forces, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan issued an ultimatum this week to American Forces and NATO to cease all strikes against Afghan homes. Why?

As Stratfor, the widely respected geo-strategy firm wrote this week “Opposition to the ISAF and the counterinsurgency-focused campaign across the country is on the rise among even anti-Taliban elements of the government and general population…… the trajectory of declining patience and tolerance of and increasingly virulent opposition to ISAF military operations across broader and broader swaths of Afghan society continue to worsen,…..”.

America is deeply involved in these three countries in different ways. American leadership would like to be a mediator between these countries and facilitate accommodation between them, if not peace. Unfortunately, America seems to be achieving just the opposite.

These are three societies at conflict with one another. When you are a friend or enemy of one society, you automatically are not an enemy or a friend of the other society. But today these vastly different societies have developed the same image of America.

If this isn’t an improbable achievement, I don’t know what is!