It is not unusual for India-US relations to be described in effusive terms. Expressions such as “big part” (Barack Obama) and “full embrace” (US national security adviser Tom Donilon) are now commonly used. At one point they had a novelty value and signified change. Today, they connote something else—words used to hide stagnant, or if you prefer, maturing ties.
The cold fact is that since the 2005 India-US civilian nuclear deal, there have been more disappointments than happy occasions. The deal is now stuck in the red tape that most US officials believe Indian officialdom to be. India’s dithering on opening its markets (especially retail) and friction on trade issues are other disappointing features.
So, will the second Obama term see some progress in deepening ties or will it continue to move at its current pace? Things may change for better due to very different reasons. Geopolitically, there are three areas that are worth watching. One, how the US handles its ties with Iran; two, what framework will Washington establish to secure Afghanistan after 2014 and, finally, the US “pivot” in East Asia.
US-Iran relations are notoriously hard to divine. Even with positive intentions, they remain cold. If Obama does try the diplomatic route to resolve the nuclear tangle in Tehran, perhaps, India could play a useful role. This could involve India helping bridge the gap between the two countries. If that happens, not only will India’s stature as a peacemaker rise but it may even end up deepening India-US ties.
In the case of Afghanistan, close cooperation—eschewed for long to keep a treacherous Pakistan on the right side of the Afghan equation—precluded a deeper Indian involvement in security affairs west of the Durand Line. That has changed now, even if New Delhi’s appetite for involvement in Afghanistan remains weak. This drift should be ended, if only to ensure that an adverse (pro-Pakistan) regime does not establish itself in Kabul.
Finally, perhaps the greatest uncertainty lies in India’s role in East Asia. The India-US nuclear deal had deep strategic meaning on this count. This aspect of the relation has been, quietly, toned down. It will be interesting to see matters change on this front.
It is, of course, too much to expect congruence on all three fronts. But a sense of appreciation and, perhaps, coordination on ground, will bode well for the relationship.
How can Indo-US ties be deepened?