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How to judge the Bush visit
February 25, 2006
It is never easy to formulate a set of criteria for judging the success or otherwise of a visit by a US President to India. So don't believe what you read in the two weeks after George Bush leaves on March 4.
Those who say it was a great success will be exaggerating. And those who say it was dismal failure will also be exaggerating.
Partly, this is because such visits are rare and there is no great inventory of issues over which the two countries engage. Until 2000, when Bill Clinton came, only two US Presidents had bothered to visit India -- Dwight Eisenhower in the mid-1950s and Jimmy Carter in 1978. That is, two Democratic presidents and two Republican ones, even though in the 59 years since 1947, the Republicans have been in power longer -- 33 years -- 1953-61, 1969-77, 1981-93, and from 2001.
Partly, this is because the rhetoric is almost the same each time a President comes. And, as we now from the book by Strobe Talbott, find out what actually went on, if at all, only much later.
Partly, the deals made by the bosses are very general. The minions have to work out the nitty-gritty afterwards and no one gets to find out which detail was really important to the other side. Usually this happens during casual conversations or in seminars in which officers who were active at the time participate. This happens several years later.
Indeed, often the details never get worked out and the whole thing is forgotten by both sides. The various and much-hyped Indo-US agreements on science, technology, education, etc. are testimony to this.
Partly, just as the USSR had lobbyists in India when India was so chummy with it, the US has also created a similar bunch of bhands (people who wrote royal panegyrics). Their espousal of the cause confuses everyone because very often it goes against common sense.
Partly, because it likes binary solutions, the media creates a single issue as the make-or-break item. Sometimes, it is helped along in this by the two governments because, for whatever reason, it suits them if the visit is projected in this manner.
The nuclear issue is one such. The fuss, I am convinced, has been orchestrated to allow the principals to appear as if they have clinched a deal against all odds. Chances are that the deal has already been worked out and it will be announced with fanfare at the last minute so as to make the visit seem a success.
Partly, it is because the US doesn't really want to talk about the one issue that really matters to India -- its approach to Pakistan. The US has never done anything to discipline the only country in the world that is totally and wholly dedicated to the cause of dismembering India and is a nuclear proliferator of admirable audacity.
In fact, India has a whole dhobi list of grievances. The first entry on that list dates back to 1951, when the treatment given by President Harry S Truman to Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan of Pakistan really upset Nehru because it was identical to the one given to him, Jawaharlal Nehru, no less, in 1950.
Ever since then, Pakistan, which is America's pet monkey, has been riding on our back. So India has always had a problem with the US.
For America, the two are equally important, albeit for different reasons. India can't understand -- I can't at any rate -- the double standards that America employs in dealing with Pakistan.
But the panegyric writers are hopeful. Please don't worry about that, they say breathlessly, look at what the Americans are willing to give us -- NUCLEAR RESPECTABILITY, don't you know.
Well, yes, but what when they give the same thing to Pakistan (or China does), using the same logic as was used for India? In fact, China has already said it will give Pakistan eight reactors. Why does Pakistan need so many?
Much is also made of the fact that India and the US have common objectives -- containing China and terrorism. But the truth is that the US is not capable of containing China and it wants to contain terrorism only against itself, which is why Pakistan is such an American darling.
Nor do the Americans trust India. After all, don't forget, India is very good at de-stabilising established orders.
In a space of just 50 years it has brought down two established systems -- colonialism in 1947 and the NPT in 1998 -- and upset a basic precept of the post Second World War consensus -- not to redraw international boundaries by force, which is what it did in 1971 in Bangladesh.
The US has never felt comfortable with India and, given the number of client states that kow-tow to it now, it never will. In that sense, our relationship with it is a bit like that of France. Therefore, howsoever well the chemistry at the individual and corporate levels may work, at the level of nation states it doesn't work.
Net-net, don't lose sight of the most important issue in Indo-US relations: US-Pakistan relations. The rest will sort itself out eventually but not this, not as long as Pakistan makes itself useful to the US.