After the last eight years of warmth and friendship, Indo-US relations are heading towards the thermidor, unless, of course, corrective action is taken soon. Given the current posture of the Barack Obama administration this appears unlikely, though it cannot be ruled out. As US secretary of state Hillary Clinton begins her India visit, she should bear this in mind in her engagement with Indian leaders.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
The why of the sudden decline in warmth is a complicated story, one that is linked to domestic US politics (such as the efforts to wipe clean the legacy of George Bush Jr) and the world view of the Democratic Party. This need not detain us: What is important are the visible, if not glaring, signs of trouble. Here is a sampler:
l US efforts to undo the gains made by India under the civilian nuclear cooperation agreement. A recent example is the G-8 resolution aimed at tightening the spread of nuclear enrichment and reprocessing technologies. This was moved at the behest of the US and was aimed at India. This has the potential to damage relations as nothing else can.
l US pressure, in concert with that from the European Union, to make India adhere to binding greenhouse gas emission targets. While such pressure is being exerted on India, there is silence on providing India with climate change effect mitigation technologies and financial help.
l Efforts at “rehyphenation” with Pakistan and goading India into meaningless talks with the latter. That is not all: Under Pakistani influence, the US nearly made Kashmir a part of special envoy Richard Holbrooke’s mandate. It was only Indian lobbying (of “Israeli proportions”, as one commentator put it) that made the US back off. It also is against India building a durable presence in Kabul though Indian efforts are aimed at helping Afghans rebuild their country.
The Obama administration has to realize that there is a crucial difference between the Cold War-type relations that the US is accustomed to making, and dealing with India: workable in good times and disposable in bad situations (two good examples being Pakistan and Indonesia). India is not in that class of nations, nor is it an age in which Washington can bend nations in that manner.
Here it is pertinent to add that India is not victim to blind anti-Americanism of the kind that afflicts Third World countries. If the relationship has to move ahead, it has to be on realistic lines. Friendship has little meaning when one partner is actively trying to subvert the interests of the other.
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