India Insight

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 flags of India and the United States are seen before a bilateral meeting between U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Indian National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon during the Shangri-La Dialogue Asia Security Summit in Singapore June 4, 2010. REUTERS/Carolyn Kaster/PoolThe 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.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

On U.S., India and Pakistan: maybe some transparency would help

biden karzaiAccording to the Wall Street Journal, "President Barack Obama issued a secret directive in December to intensify American diplomacy aimed at easing tensions between India and Pakistan, asserting that without détente between the two rivals, the administration's efforts to win Pakistani cooperation in Afghanistan would suffer. "

"The directive concluded that India must make resolving its tensions with Pakistan a priority for progress to be made on U.S. goals in the region, according to people familiar with its contents," it says.

It also says there is a debate within the U.S. administration over how far to push India to improve relations with Pakistan, with the Pentagon lobbying for more pressure on New Delhi and the State Department resisting, arguing this could backfire.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

India and Pakistan on the U.S. see-saw

wagah2Few who follow South Asia could miss the symbolism of two separate developments in the past week -  in one Pakistan was cosying up to the United States in a new "strategic dialogue"; in the other India was complaining to Washington about its failure to provide access to David Headley, the Chicago man accused of helping to plan the 2008 attack on Mumbai.

Ever since the London conference on Afghanistan in January signalled an exit strategy which could include reconciliation with the Taliban, it has been clear that Pakistan's star has been rising in Washington while India's has been falling. 

If the United States wants to force the Taliban to the negotiating table, it needs Pakistan's help. And Pakistan has shown by arresting Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar amongst others that it intends to keep control of any negotiations. In return for its cooperation, it expects Washington's help in securing Pakistan's own interests, including through a scaling back of India's involvement in Afghanistan.

Third time’s the charm for Mukesh Ambani

Mukesh Ambani(UPDATE: Reliance Industries has gained an overseas foothold by agreeing to pay $1.7 billion to form a joint venture with U.S.-based Atlas Energy. India’s largest-listed firm will pick up a 40 percent stake in Atlas’s operations in the booming Marcellus Shale)

The ruthless efficiency and smooth execution that marked Reliance Industries’ development of the world’s largest refining complex in western India and its vast gas fields off the country’s east coast has eluded the top-listed Indian firm during its recent attempts at overseas takeovers.

Nevertheless, Mukesh Ambani, the world’s fourth-wealthiest man and the chairman of Reliance, is known for his doggedness and is unlikely to backpedal on his overseas ambitions after being rebuffed by two overseas firms — bankrupt petrochemicals maker LyondellBasell and oil sands firm Value Creation.

What does Nobel for Obama mean for India?

Obama has won the Nobel Peace prize.The citation commends him for calling for a nuclear-weapon free world, emphasising the role of international institutions and preferring dialogue.Less than a year into his presidency he has yet to implement much of his programme.”For the time being Obama’s just making proposals. But sometimes the Nobel committee awards the prize to encourage responsible action,” said Poland’s Lech Walesa, a Nobel Peace Laureate.What does it mean for India to have the most powerful man in the world honoured for his policies?The policies of the Obama administration are different from those of the George W. Bush era when multilateralism was seen as a liability.Bush’s ambassador to the U.N. was John R. Bolton whose scepticism towards multilateralism was well known.Yet Bush helped India get a crucial waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group and was described as the friendliest U.S. President India has had.Obama on the other hand has called for strengthening nuclear non-proliferation, prompting India to seek clarifications.Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president of the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi, argues in a recent column that Indians find it more difficult to deal with those who they think of as American liberals than the conservatives.Will we now see a more forceful and active Obama on issues like non-proliferation that India is wary of ?

Nobel for an Indian?

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan has been awarded the chemistry Nobel this year.

He joins a select club of scientists recognised by the Nobel foundation.

But Ramakrishnan joins an even more exclusive group — Indians (by birth) who received such recognition.

The country still awaits a second entry in the most exclusive group — an Indian who gets a Nobel staying and working in India.

So far only C.V. Raman, the founder-member of this club, qualifies.

In the days to come, Indians around the world, especially those in the country, will derive vicarious pleasure from another Indian (at least by birth) earning the top honour.

What Afghanistan’s vote means for India

India and Pakistan, with their competitive strategic interest in Afghanistan, are keenly watching the war-battered nation’s election this week, the second since the Taliban were overthrown in 2001.

The front-runner of that vote is incumbent President Hamid Karzai who is facing a stiff challenge from his former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani. There are more than two dozen other candidates.

While a successful vote could mean a step toward achieving basic political and military stability in Afghanistan, its outcome holds crucial geopolitical significance for India and Pakistan.

Indian voters – spoilt for choice?

With 8071 candidates contesting 543 seats – that’s an average of 15 candidates for each seat — the 400 million Indian voters who chose to vote sure looked spoilt for choice.

But were they?

Though democracy means choosing who our rulers are going to be, many say there is a crucial missing link in Indian democracy — the lack of inner-party democracy.

This results in the lack of people’s participation especially in choosing candidates, unlike the U.S. where primaries are held by political parties to elect candidates.

Obama in the White House – will he deliver?

Barack Obama takes over as the 44th U.S. President riding the optimism of millions of people and inheriting a recession and two wars that will test his skills.

Hopes are high the 47-year-old can conjure up a rescue that will jolt the world’s biggest economy back to life and contain the financial crisis ravaging global markets.

As far as India is concerned, there are apprehensions the Obama administration may place curbs on its outsourcing industry, ban any future nuclear tests and resurrect the Kashmir question.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Brinkmanship in South Asia

Pakistan said two Indian Air Force planes violated Pakistani airspace on Saturday, one along the Line of Control in  Kashmir and the other near Lahore  in Pakistan proper. Pakistani officials said Pakistani jets on patrol chased the Indians away and that the Indian Air Force, upon being contacted later, told them it had happened accidentally.

  The Indian Air Force, though, has told the media that none of its planes had violated Pakistani airspace.  There has been no official response from the Indian government.

What is really going on here? Is it a case of nerves jangling, or perhaps the Pakistani establishment is  building up war hysteria against a foe they know all too well the country will unite against?
 
Or, on the flip side, the Pakistanis are right and the intrusions by the Indian jets did take place? Was New Delhi making an aggressive display, part of the "controlled escalation" that some people have talked about to force Pakistan to act for the Mumbai attacks?

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