Indo-Us Love And Hate Affair
By the time this column appears, External Affairs Minister SM Krishna would have concluded the much-talked about Indo-US strategic dialogue in Washington. One is sure that the joint declaration or something of that sort would have been issued to underscore the point that India and the Unites States are natural allies and that their multifaceted ties are bound to deepen to provide one of the most enduring relationships of the 21st century. As a long time admirer of the United States and better Indo-US relations, I have no problem with all this. But since I am not a blind supporter of the United States, I must point out that under the presidency of Barack Obama, the noise over good Indo-US relations might have assumed higher decibels, but in substance, the ties are in a tough terrain.
Despite much gains in Indo-American relations during the tenure of the Bush administration, India was not one of the Asian countries US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited in February 2009. The Foreign Policy magazine reported that even though Foreign Policy Staff of the previous administration had recommended India as a “key stop” during any such official tour of Asia, Hillary Clinton had struck New Delhi from her itinerary. India was not even mentioned once in the Obama administration’s official foreign policy agenda. Former US Ambassador to India Robert D Blackwill warned that Indo-US relations faced a “downgrade” in the short term, as the Obama administration places China “on a substantially higher plane in US diplomacy than India”. In fact, on a subsequent tour to China (November 2009), President Obama went up to the extent of requesting China to help in resolving the discords in South Asia! What he meant was that China should have a role to play in the ongoing Indo-Pakistan tensions.
Whereas in 2008 the United States exported $17.6 billion worth of goods to India, by 2009, the year Obama assumed office, that figure had dropped by more than $1 billion. Some of this is due to the recession, but it may be noted that from 2001 through 2008, imports from India to the United States had gone up by $2 or $3 billion annually, culminating in $24 and $25.7 billion worth of goods imported in 2007 and 2008. That figure plummeted by $4.6 billion in 2009. During President Bush’s tenure, protectionist economic policies were done away with. Outsourcing, that dirty word, was embraced. The United States became India’s largest investment foreign direct investment in petroleum exploration, infrastructure, mining, telecommunications, and other good things accounted for much of all investment into India. But with the coming of Obama, the United States turned protectionist with Indian goods.
One is also reminded of the satirical May 2009 comment of Obama: “You should pay lower taxes if you create a job in Bangalore, India, than if you create one in Buffalo, New York.” As it is, India has strongly criticised Obama administration’s decision to limit H-1B visas and protested over the last two years against US “protectionism” at various international forums.
There is no denying the fact that compared to India, China and Pakistan, India’s two arch rivals, have so far carried more weightage with the Obama regime. There are various reasons behind this apparent shift in US policy. The ever-increasing importance of the Chinese bonds for the American treasury and the sheer desperation to pull out of Afghanistan through the help of Pakistan are too familiar facts to be commented on. As a result, the Obama administration has taken note of Pakistani concerns over the growing Indian presence in Afghanistan and of Chinese concerns that the growing Indo-US ties under Bush were motivated by a common desire to balance China’s rising stature.
It is equally noteworthy that the Obama regime jettisoned unannounced various strategic initiatives undertaken by the Bush administration to balance China through enhancing India’s power and status in the Asian region. As regards Pakistan, the Obama regime tried to intensify diplomacy aimed at easing tensions between New Delhi and Islamabad, asserting that without detente between them the administration’s efforts to win Pakistani cooperation in Afghanistan would suffer. Reportedly it issued a directive last December to this effect and concluded: “India must make resolving its tensions with Pakistan a priority for progress to be made on the US goals in the region.”
Accordingly, the Pentagon has put more pressure on New Delhi. Despite Pakistan being the most hated country in Afghanistan, the Obama regime has legitimised what could be a Pakistani veto on affairs concerning Afghanistan. Pakistan wants Afghanistan to provide so-called “strategic depth” against India and therefore insists that India, the most popular country in Afghanistan, stop all its activities, primarily aimed at socio-economic development in that country.
In multilateral fora also, India and the Unites States have had a love and hate relationship in the last two years. The United States has supported India’s bigger role in the World Bank and IMF, but at the same time the United States has not made an emphatic announcement supporting India’s contention for the permanent membership of the UN Security Council. Similarly, the Indo-US nuclear deal, a Bush legacy, may have been a great thing, but the fact remains that under Obama India’s integration into the global non-proliferation regime remains incomplete. The Obama regime’s overemphasis on terribly flawed CTBT and confused FMCT, not to speak of the discriminatory NPT, are matters of great discomforts for India.
Moreover, as Ashley J Tellis, an authority on Indo-US relations, has pointed out, the Obama regime has not appreciated that until India is ready to move toward legal commitments on controlling emissions, the United States can still work with India bilaterally, particularly through the inauguration of a “green development” initiative that expands cooperation in agriculture, energy, industry, transportation, infrastructure, and regulation, which would help reduce rising Indian emissions. Obama is not promoting practical initiatives to mitigate climate change; he is overemphasising the adherence to a multilateral treaty.
All this is not to suggest that things are really bad between India and the United States. The beauty of this relationship is that it cannot worsen beyond a point, thanks to the enormous factors of the Indian-Americans, who like the Jews, have become one of the most influential and prosperous communities in the United States. In fact, no American administration, least of all the one led by Obamaz, can afford to brand and project India in “Cold War” framework. The Indo-US relationship rests on a solid bedrock of shared values. And there are few relationships in the world that have so much potential as India-US relations. Viewed thus, the very fact that the strategic dialogue was held is a welcome development, the results notwithstanding.
By Prakash Nanda