Mumbai, a reality check for India’s American Dream ?

January 3, 2009

Not long ago India was basking in the glow of a new-found strategic partnership with the United States, one that pitched it as a global player. A breakthrough civilian nuclear deal that virtually  recognised New Delhi as a nuclear weapon state after decades of isolation was the centrepiece of this new relationship.

But the attacks in Mumbai have tested this partnership and some of the lustre is fading. America has been unequivocally telling the Indians to exercise restraint   in responding to the attacks which New Delhi says were orchestrated from Pakistan. (This while U.S. Predator drones
carried out more attacks on the militants in Pakistan’s northwest)

In recent weeks, much to the Indians’ dismay, the mantra of  restraint has now moved to the suggestion from some U.S. analysts that both India and  Pakistan must resolve their dispute over Kashmir to help bring stability to the region. One U.S. editorial suggested India must let go of Kashmir,  thus freeing up Pakistan’s military resources so that it can focus on the war on its western front. And although other analysts are saying the idea – floated long before the Mumbai attacks – is misguided, the American response to the assault on India’s financial capital has left many disappointed.

“India was sold a dream that Washington was determined to  make it a first class world power. The dream lies broken. The carpetbaggers who peddled the dream are nowhere to be seen,” wrote M.K.Bhadrakumar, a former Indian diplomat, in Outlook magazine.

India is back to being hyphenated with Pakistan, something it has long railed against. And talk that the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama may appoint a special envoy  on South Asia has also raised hackles. India bristles at any suggestion of mediation on Kashmir  which it considers a non-negotiable part of the country. After  having fought off such proposals for years, it finds itself back battling them despite warming ties with the United States.

“The question that no one seems keen to answer in Delhi is: Whatever happened to the strategic relationship with the US, the  cornerstone of the government’s foreign policy? Did Delhi forget
to include Kashmir in India’s strategic map?” asked former  newspaper editor and political commentator M. J. Akbar.

Pakistan, perhaps because of its much longer relationship  with the Americans, had been better at dealing with them, argued Bhadrakumar.  He said Islamabad had calculated that U.S. pressure had run its course and that soon attention would turn to the transfer of power to Obama on January 20.

But what of the attacks themselves and making sure they don’t  recur?  Some people in Delhi must be   wondering if the communists were right when they opposed the nuclear deal on the grounds that friendship with America was a kiss of death.

(Reuters photos – the Mumbai waterfront/Arko Datta and Snowfall in Srinagar/Danish Ishmail)

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