The first unofficial US-India Strategic Dialogue organised by The Brookings Institution and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce in Washington, DC threw up some interesting facets on bilateral ties, finds out Aziz Haniffa. The fourth in a five-part series.
Jonah Blank, former journalist and now policy director for South Asia on the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, believes the Bush administration should have expended its political capital on strongly supporting India's bid for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council and being a catalyst in India securing this long-desired position in the world body, instead of the US-India civilian nuclear deal.
Blank, who is also an academic, author and anthropologist, said this was the hat he was wearing to the first unofficial US-India Strategic Dialogue, "rather than my government official hat, in order not only to enable me to speak more forthrightly, but also in order to make sure that I don't inadvertently portray my views as representing anyone's views but my own."
First off, he added, all this talk of framing United States-India relations as 3.0 as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had done was misleading.
"Someday we will be (there), but I don't think we are now," he said, and argued, "A more accurate framing would be to say that India-US 1.0 lasted from 1947 until the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and India 2.0 began after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and that we're still in it right now."
Blank agreed with Karl F Inderfurth, former assistant secretary of state for South Asian Affairs in the Clinton administration, that "the centerpiece of India 2.0 was the US-India civil nuclear deal, but I would contend it didn't have to be that's just the way it happened to play out."
There were any number of other issues, he added, "that could have solidified this relationship and moved it forward some of which, quite frankly, may have done a better job of advancing the agenda."
Blank said the most important one was the United Nations Security Council, and bemoaned that "the Bush administration decided specifically not to champion India's membership in the UN Security Council with a permanent seat that was an active decision that was made."
If that decision had not been made, he continued, "If the decision had been made to use the political capital to give India a seat on the Security Council, I would contend that that itself would have done at least as much good for the relationship arguably more and may well have helped bring India more into the worldview of seeing international institutions as an avenue for Indian policy, rather than a threat to India sovereignty."
He was quick to acknowledge that "this in not to say that this civil nuclear deal was not important. It was But I would argue it didn't have to be the avenue to solidify India-US 2.0."
He disagreed with the likes of Marshall Bouton and Frank Wisner, who had said on other panels that India would be indispensable to favorable outcomes as far as the US was concerned on the Afghanistan-Pakistan fronts.
"While we have a huge overlap of interests," Blank said, "there's a very limited amount that the US can do to bring about outcomes that we'd like from Pakistan or from Afghanistan. There's a limited amount that India can do on either of those fronts, either. India wants the US to bring about a change in Pakistan's behavior; Pakistan wants the US to bring about a change in India's actions. (But) all of those things are not only unrealistic, but quite rightly unrealistic."
When he was challenged that the nuclear deal was not such a heavy lift for the Bush administration as would have been pushing for a permanent United Nations Security Council seat for India, he countered: "I would say that actually, the civil nuclear deal was a very heavy lift."
The point he was making, he said, was that "it took a lot of the administration's time and political capital It seems on the face of it, at least to be no heavier a lift that if you're going to reform the Security Council, it's very hard to come up with a rationale that would not include India's membership."