India and the U.S. – strategic or symbolic partners?
With initial euphoria over last week’s U.S.-India talks on the wane, it may be time to take a long, hard look at what New Delhi actually gained from the first official “strategic dialogue” between the two sides.
The timing was just right as Washington implements its AfPak plan, the correct gestures were made and U.S. officials went out of their way to convince the Indian media all was fine between the world’s two biggest democracies.
And while it is true that India-U.S. relations are now at their best, the June 2 talks between U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and India’s Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna showed that though the two may have made progress on important but second-tier issues such as trade, agriculture and technology, there remains a disconnect on a strategic level.
Many in India seem worried the talks did not produce the deliverables New Delhi was looking for — even though President Obama has backed India’s $1.2 billion development initiatives in Afghanistan, Washington may not have been able to convince New Delhi it was balancing India’s interest in the war-torn country vital to its security.
Neither was there any talk of pushing Pakistan to go after the men India has persistently blamed for attacks on Indian cities, including Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed.
Of course there are things the United States wants India to do: ratify the nuclear liability bill to open India’s $150 billion nuclear power market to American firms, scale down its public support for Iran, open up the economy and expedite the award of contracts for 126 fighter jets in which U.S. companies are a strong contender for the multi-billion deal.
Both sides have acknowledged the lingering doubts they have about each other. Clinton admitted to unresolved problems as India frets that the Obama administration does not accord it the importance it received under the preceding government of George Bush.
Given the tentativeness in ties over strategic issues, one begins to wonder if the U.S. and India are the natural partners the two sides are seeking to be.
Will they be able to move away from mere symbolism to elevating their ties to strategic partners?
Will that be in the best interest of India which once propounded non-alignment and which has always sought warm ties with the Islamic world?