Contours of a new relationship


The implications of India-US getting close


Hugging President Barack Obama upon his arrival to India and pouring tea for him over chats, Prime Minister Narendra Modi conveyed the message strong and clear: India wants to redefine its relationship with America. What is very clear is a clear-cut decision by India, its long term close relationship with Russia notwithstanding, to move close to USA as a proactive partner in the former’s ‘pivot to Asia’.

An excerpt from the joint statement expounding the vision of both nations is very revealing: “Regional prosperity depends on security. We affirm the importance of safeguarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight throughout the region, especially in the South China Sea. We call on all parties to avoid the threat or use of force and pursue resolution of territorial and maritime disputes through all peaceful means, in accordance with universally recognised principles of international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.”

Especially in the South China Sea (term) caught my eye. Let’s examine this a little further. The NYT reports, “For years, American presidents have tried to enlist India, the world’s largest democracy, in a more robust partnership, partly to offset China’s rising power. India has had a long history of suspicion and rivalry with China, which allied with New Delhi’s archenemy Pakistan during the Cold War. But it has long insisted on being an independent actor in world affairs and resisted aligning itself with the United States against its giant neighbour. Mr Modi, by contrast, seems not only willing but eager to redefine India’s relationship with the United States at a time China is on the rise economically, militarily and politically.”

India’s bold stance on this issue, in a joint statement with USA, is an alarming bell for China, with it being involved in disputes over this area with Vietnam, Philippines and Japan could mean triggering off escalation of these disputes with greater interest from Washington. This dispute has roots in history and can be traced back to 1894 Sino-Japanese war. Japan was defeated and this in turn led to claims over the islands. Its New Delhi’s coming out of shadows to take a clear stance with Washington on the issue is what is worrisome for China; their concern itself is not new. In this backdrop the use of the word ‘especially’ in the joint statement has great significance.

Interestingly, Russia’s agreement “to speed up work on a fifth-generation military aircraft,” (Reuters Jan 22, 2015) days before Obama’s visit is telling as it shows cracks in the armour. New Delhi will need to perfect its balance between Moscow and Beijing at one end and Washington on the other. Senior Programme Associate for South and Southeast Asia at Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars Michael Kugelman is quoted bySputnik as stating, “It is “unclear” how India will react in terms of how it “leads its relations with Russia”. (27/1/2015)

What did happen was that Modi stood by silently with Obama criticising Russia and Putin’s actions in Ukraine. If one recalls, India had backed Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Zachary Keck, writing for The Diplomat, stated, “Local Indian media noted that Menon’s statement about Russia’s legitimate interests in Ukraine made it the first major nation to publicly lean toward Russia. Ukraine certainly appeared to interpret India’s endorsement of Russia’s legitimate interests as far more hostile than Beijing’s position on Russia’s actions.” (March 08, 2014) Modi’s bear hugs and tea pouring notwithstanding, this is a direct put-down by Washington delivered to convey its disapproval of Russia and thereby India’s support on the stance.

India has made an effort to resolve glitches to the India-US nuclear deal of 2008. It was first introduced in a joint statement between President Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on July 18, 2005. In return, per terms agreed by India, USA will allow India access to its dual-use nuclear technology. It can either reprocess potassium or enrich uranium. This potentially creates material for nuclear bombs. The Council for Foreign Relations India writes, “Proponents of the agreement argue it will bring India closer to the United States at a time when the two countries are forging a strategic relationship to pursue common interests in fighting terrorism, spreading democracy, and preventing the domination of Asia by a single power.

Ashley Tellis of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who was intimately involved in negotiating the civil nuclear agreement with India as senior adviser to the US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, said in Congressional testimony in 2005 that the deal recognises this growing relationship by engaging India, which has proven that it is not a nuclear proliferation risk. Other experts say the deal lays out the requirements for India to be recognised as a responsible steward of nuclear power. “This is part of a process of making India a more durable and reliable nuclear partner,” Schaffer says.

Obama’s visit offered the first breakthrough over the logjam between the two regarding the nuclear deal. According to a report, “The US has agreed to withdraw the tracking clause in India-US nuclear deal.” (Debobrat Ghose for F India on Jan 25, 2015)

Pakistan, predictably, has reacted by stating it had “taken careful note of statements made and agreements reached” in New Delhi.” (Wall Street Journal) It goes on to state Pakistan must not face discrimination by USA in enactment of deals between both neighbours. Pakistan has also decided to raise concerns about Indian hand in the terrorism on Pakistani soil, especially in Balochistan, reports a local daily. Though this concern may be genuine, the timing brings the genuineness in question. This is something Pakistan should have done with all the information at its disposal way before and not when pinched.

A local daily states, “The Pakistan government recently shared a ‘dossier’ with the US on the Indian involvement in terrorist acts here. The security official said it included some strong evidence of the Indian involvement in Dec 16 Peshawar school carnage which left 149 schoolchildren and teachers dead. The attack was claimed by the banned Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).” (January 29, 2015)

What Pakistan desperately needs from its leaders are strategies aimed to bring Pakistan out of the corner due to the mismanagement of both local and foreign policies (or lack of them) that it finds itself in.

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