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Mitt Romney's ambivalence on India

October 07, 2012 17:27 IST

No strong indicators from Romney on his policy towards India, the Pakistani use of terrorism against India and the Indian interests in Afghanistan, says B Raman.

The campaign websites of Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate for the United States presidential elections, discuss his likely foreign policy under the following heads:

Afghanistan & Pakistan

China & East Asia

Iran

Israel

Latin America

Middle East

•Russia

In the geographical areas of priority indicated by his campaign aides, the Af-Pak region figures on top followed by China and East Asia. Russia is the last. Surprisingly, India and South Asia do not figure in these areas of priority.

During the presidential primaries and subsequently, there were not many strong indicators from Romney personally regarding what would be his policy towards India, the Pakistani use of terrorism against India and the Indian interests in Afghanistan.

The only strong indicators regarding his view of Indo-US relations have come from his senior aides. Mitchell B Reiss, a senior foreign policy advisor to Romney, who had worked as Director of Policy Planning at the State Department under Gen Colin Powell during the first term of George Bush and as special envoy to Northern Ireland peace process under Condoleezza Rice during Bush's second term, has said: "The strategic partnership between India and the United States `retreated' under the Obama administration. A momentum was built under the presidency of George Bush, which was lost during Obama's tenure at the White House. There is a need to find more areas of cooperation between the two countries that will be mutually beneficial. The two countries share a mutually beneficial relationship in different fields including economy, diplomacy as well as military and security. There is a retreat under the current administration. The Romney administration will look to restore the relationship and forge a strong strategic partnership with India, which is the world's largest democracy."

Romney's campaign rhetoric has been muted on the question of continued Pakistani state sponsorship of terrorism against India and what kind of pressure his Administration might be inclined to exert against Pakistan on this issue.

As against this, Romney has been personally very forthcoming on the likely policies of his administration towards Pakistan in the context of the developments in Afghanistan. He has not left the articulation of his views to his senior aides as he seems to have done in the case of India.

During a TV debate on November 11, 2011, Romney said: "The right way to deal with Pakistan is to recognise that Pakistan is not a country like other countries, with a strong political centre that you can go to and say, "Gee, can we come here? Will you take care of this problem?" This is, instead, a nation which is close to being a failed state. I hope it doesn't reach that point, but it's a very fragile nation. It really has four centres of power: the ISI, which is their intelligence services, the military, separate group. You have the political structure, and of course, the fundamentalists. And so we have to work with our friends in that country to get them to do some of the things we can't do ourselves. Bringing our troops into Pakistan and announcing at a stage like this that, as President, we would throw American troops into Pakistan, could be highly incendiary in a setting like that. Right now, they're comfortable with our using drones to go after the people that are -- that are representing the greatest threat."

Romney further said in the same debate: "We have agreement with the people that we need to have agreement with to be able to use drones to strike at the people that represent a threat. And one of the things we have to do with our foreign aid commitments, the ongoing foreign aid commitments. You start everything at zero. But one of the things we have to do is have understanding with the various power bases within the country that they're gonna have to allow us, or they themselves go after the Taliban and Haqqani network to make sure they do not destabilise Afghanistan, particularly as we're pulling our troops out."

During a national security debate on Afghanistan in the CNN on November 22, 2011, Romney said: "We spent about $450 billion so far, 1,700 or so service men and women have lost their lives there, and many tens of thousands have been wounded. Our effort there is to keep Afghanistan from becoming a launching point for terror against the United States. We can't just write off a major part of the world. Pakistan is the sixth largest country in the world. We can't just say goodbye to all of what's going on in that part of the world. Instead, we want to draw them toward modernity. And for that to happen, we don't want to literally pull up stakes and run out of town after the extraordinary investment that we've made. And that means we should have a gradual transition of handing off to the Afghan security forces the responsibility for their own country. And for the region, what happened in Indonesia back in the 1960s, where we helped Indonesia move toward modernity with new leadership. We brought them in the technology that allowed them to trade in the world. We need to bring Pakistan into the 21st century -- or the 20th century, for that matter, so that they can engage throughout the world with trade and with modernity. Right now, American approval level in Pakistan is 12 per cent. We're not doing a very good job with this huge investment we make of $4.5 billion a year. We can do a lot better directing that to encourage people to take advantage of the extraordinary opportunities the West and freedom represent for their people."

A paper on Romney's likely foreign policy prepared by his aides in November, 2011, said:

"Our mission in Afghanistan is to eliminate Al Qaeda from the region and degrade the Taliban and other insurgent groups to the point where they are not existential threats to the Afghan government and do not destabilise Pakistan, with its stock of nuclear weapons. Our objective is to ensure that Afghanistan will never again become a launching pad for terror and to send a message to any other nation that would harbour terrorists with designs on the American homeland.

"Mitt Romney will never make national-security decisions based upon electoral politics. Upon taking office, he will review our transition to the Afghan military by holding discussions with our commanders in the field. He will order a full interagency assessment of our military and assistance presence in Afghanistan to determine the level required to secure our gains and to train Afghan forces to the point where they can protect the sovereignty of Afghanistan from the tyranny of the Taliban. Withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan under a Romney administration will be based on conditions on the ground as assessed by our military commanders.

"To defeat the insurgency in Afghanistan, the United States will need the cooperation of both the Afghan and Pakistani governments. It is in the interests of all three nations to see that Afghanistan and the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region are rid of the Taliban and other insurgent groups. Mitt Romney will work with both the Afghan government and Pakistan to ensure that those nations are fully contributing to success in Afghanistan. But we will only persuade Afghanistan and Pakistan to be resolute if they are convinced that the United States will itself be resolute. Only an America that appears fully committed to success will eliminate the incentives for them to hedge their bets by aligning with opposing forces.

"The United States must be clear in what we require of both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Afghan President Hamid Karzai should understand that our commitment must be met with reciprocal efforts to crack down on corruption in his government, respect free and fair elections as required by the Afghan constitution, and coordinate with the United States on fighting the narcotics trade that fuels the insurgency. Pakistan should understand that any connection between insurgent forces and Pakistan's security and intelligence forces must be severed. The United States enjoys significant leverage over both of these nations. We should not be shy about using it."

Before the New Hampshire primary in January 2012, Romney said: "Pakistan is playing both sides -- going after the Taliban within its borders in some cases and helping it in others. That's unacceptable. It's pretty straightforward to say, 'Listen guys, you can't play both sides of this game. You've got to decide if you're with us or with them. If you're with them, that will have a very significant consequence. If you're with us, that's very good thing.' He did not clarify what those consequences might be.

It is evident that Romney will follow a two-pronged policy on Afghanistan. Firstly, a review of the Af-Pak strategy to decide what should be the level of US troop commitments and presence there. Secondly, using the leverages available to the US against Pakistan and Afghanistan to make them co-operate in the implementation of the new strategy drawn up by him. On the fight against Al Qaeda he has expressed himself in favour of continuing with Obama's use of drone strikes while avoiding the involvement of US ground troops against the terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistani territory.

It would be wrong to interpret the meagre indicators on the likely policy towards India and on the question of continued Pakistani use of terrorism against India as indicating his lack of interest or indifference on this issue. It is more due to the fact that the US TV moderators and anchors are hardly interested in Indo-US relations and don't try to draw him out on this subject.

It is, however, evident that his main foreign policy priority in this region is going to be the stabilisation of the ground situation in Afghanistan and keeping up the campaign of attrition against Al Qaeda elements operating from Pakistani territory with the co-operation of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He gives the impression of not being in a hurry, as Obama is, to thin out the US military presence in Afghanistan.

B Raman