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The Rediff Special/Josy Joseph in New Delhi

April 24, 2003

This article is the fourth of a six-part special series on Indo-US military relations. The first part dealt with the US attempts to gain access to Indian military bases and establish USAF airbases on Indian soil. The second focussed on how access to American technology could be the key to gaining entry into Indian bases. The third highlighted the American perception of the Indian top brass.

The series is based on 'Indo-US Military Relations: Expectations and Perceptions,' a US defence department-commissioned study, that is in possession of rediff.com.

If American policymakers are so unimpressed with Indians, can the Indians think any better of their US counterparts?

"The Indian military approaches the prospects of a military relationship with the US military with deep-seated suspicion, distrust, and apprehension." That is what the US defence department classified report, Indo-US Military Relations: Expectations and Perceptions, based on interviews of some 40 Indian policymakers, high ranking military officers, members of National Security Council, senior officials of the Ministry of External Affairs and some security analysts says.

"The deep-seated suspicion in India of America can be attributed to no one issue, but grows out of past US policies, specific events, and actions taken by specific institutions," the report, which is in possession of rediff.com, says.

Primary among the reasons is American support for Pakistan over the past decades. Indian policymakers argue that US has traditionally supported Pakistani positions until Kargil 1999, when President Bill Clinton, cited in the report as a key person responsible for upswing in Indo-US relations, forced Pakistan to withdraw its fighters from atop peaks and respect Line of Control.

Indians also frequently suggest the 'US positioning of the USS Enterprise in (or near) the Bay of Bengal during the 1971 war with Pakistan as the most potent symbol of the United States supporting its adversary'. That American step 'unquestionably left an indelible imprint on the Indian psyche', says the report.

Indians also point out that Americans supplied weapons to Pakistan that were intended to be used against Communists in Afghanistan but 'Pakistan used them against India'.

And over the decade, America has 'repeatedly turned a blind eye to Chinese technology transfer to Pakistan that contributed to the development of Pakistan's nuclear capabilities and its arsenal of ballistic and cruise missiles'. This report was prepared before the Pakistan-North Korea axis of nuclear proliferation came to light, so that finds no mention in the report.

One of the most important grouse that Indians have about the American attitude towards terrorism in India is that the 'Americans have failed to acknowledge, until 9/11, Pakistan-sponsored, cross-border terrorism in Kashmir'.

"The combination of these factors leaves lingering suspicions among Indians that the US military has been and will continue to be Pakistan-centric," the report says.

Noticeably, many Indian interviewees agree that the 'US military is much more comfortable with the Pakistanis' and that the US cooperation with Pakistan will be the 'default US response' to the problems in the region.

These perceptions of Indian policymakers were strengthened by American response after 9/11. The Indian government for the first time in its relations with US offered unconditional cooperation to its post-9/11 campaign. "But the United States failed to respond or even to communicate effectively, and seemed to opt for a new relationship with Pakistan," Indians argue.

Other than Pakistan, major reasons for India's distrust of the US include the fact that Uncle Sam is not a reliable partner or supplier. "The Indians see Americans as quick to entice and then dismiss strategic partners when US strategic interests change," the report says.

And an Indian Admiral offered an insightful reason for that: "The United States is a rational society that is driven by self-interest. Even at a personal level, Americans have few permanent relationships. Americans act independently, sever family ties, and shift personal relationships with little reservation. This is foreign to Indian sensibilities. In contrast to America's rational approach, Indians follow a traditional approach in all aspects of life, and place high value on loyalty, commitment, and long-term relationships, including extended family relationships."

The Indian argument on non-reliability of the US is rooted in the Asian past. During the height of Cold War, till the war in Afghanistan against Communists got over in late 80s, Pakistan was a frontline state. "From Pakistan's experience as an American partner, Indians conclude that the United States, narrowly focused on its own national interests, neglect even its most accommodating 'surrogate states' when its interests change," the report says. "In that light, if Indian becomes a strategic ally of America, how will the United States treat India when US strategic interests in South Asia, Southeast Asia, or the Middle East change?" Indian policymakers ask.

Indians also point out how they closely watched the US court China as a 'strategic balance' to the Soviet Union during the Cold War. With the Soviet Union's collapse American strategic rationale for the partnership waned, and today its relations with China are at best is lukewarm.

In fact, according to reliable sources in diplomatic circles, US Ambassador to India Robert D Blackwill's resignation is linked to American stand on China and India. Though this doesn't find a mention in report and still not widely discussed in media, sources say that Blackwill was for first ending terrorism, including that in Kashmir, before trying to engage India as a counter to China. But Blackwill found too much resistance in the state department and so decided to return to Harvard.

Indian policymakers interviewed for the report argue that any attempt by America to cast India as a 'balancer' to China, or any state, will not last.

In the end of 2001, India Today magazine had in fact reported that America has asked India to be a strategic partner to counter growing Chinese influence. The proposal, which according to the magazine also contained specifics like opening American military bases in India, was discussed twice in Cabinet Committee on Security meetings.

The India Today report does not find any mention in this report, which was prepared after the magazine came out with its claims.

Indian policymakers also have deep distrust of America as a reliable supplier of military spare-parts and technology transfer. "US sanctions, particularly the most recent following India's 1998 nuclear tests, left a deep negative impression on the Indians because these sanctions cut off supplies not only from the United States but also from third-party suppliers, including those from Britain and Netherlands," the report says. "A visceral distrust for (American) Congress colours many Indians' thinking about the Indo-US relationship and leaves Indians with a deep sense of uncertainty."

Surprisingly, despite all the talks about a strategic relationship, Indian policymakers are not sure of America's strategic vision 'in India's part of the world', and on where does India fit in this vision. There are, according to the report, two key reasons behind this lack of clarity:

Firstly, according to the report, Indian military officers are keen to know the reasons behind the US' sudden interest in India. The Indian military also wants to understand the US 'objectives and strategies' in the region generally, and in the war on terrorism specifically. They want to understand how India fits into the US military view of the region. To date, they feel that no one has explained this to them adequately. Moreover, no mechanisms of joint consultation on larger strategic issues have been established, the report quotes Indian top brass as saying.

Secondly, Indian military, says the report, 'has little sense' of America's larger strategic objectives in their region, they are anxious about what they might have to give up and what they might receive in any relationship with the United States.

Such scepticism, however, does not hide the reality from the Indians that the US is world's sole superpower and the world would remain unipolar for many more decades. "For this reason, military officers, in particular, believe that India must engage the US military," the report adds.

But America's predominance raises several key contentions that have been articulated in the report:

  • Indians would reject any Indo-US relationship that 'circumscribes' India's strategic options and freedom or limits its ability to address its security concerns. And they are particularly sensitive about their relations with Russia and nuclear capability.
  • Indians fear that America could use its predominance to 'impede' strategic relationships that India needs to develop such as those with Myanmar and Iran.
  • Indians worry about US insensitivity to the effect of its policies on other states. For example, Indians point out that recent American military actions and deployments in Asia could provoke 'China into asserting its interests elsewhere such as in Myanmar', and thus draw India into an unintended stand off.
  • Indian military officers warn that Indian intellectuals view any relation with US as 'colonialism through the back door', and so a stronger Indo-US military relation could set off strong political dissent within India.

Indians say the US bureaucracy is no better than that of India, 'and it is even more incomprehensible'. Many Indian policymakers say, "They have seen little change in the speed at which their requests are processed since sanctions were lifted in October 2001. Consequentially, Indians view American bureaucrats as potential obstacles to the Indo-US military relationship."

Most Indian policymakers and military officers who have interacted with Americans and been to the US say that most Americans are 'ignorant' of India's history, in many cases not even knowing that, like America, India was born of a long revolutionary struggle and has become a vibrant democracy.

On the contentious Kashmir issue, Indian policy makers say any American attempt to pressurise India to find a solution to the crisis would backfire. "Indians stress that the US role in the Indo-Pakistan conflict should be confined to putting extreme pressure on Pakistan to change the character of the Pakistani state to make it democratic, economically viable, and terrorist free." But, Indians doubt that Pakistan will 'change', even if Kashmir is solved, the report adds.

Part I: Target next: Indian military bases
Part II: US tech hold key to Indian bases
Part III: Of insults, obsessions and distrust
Part V: Tango's closer, but shop talk's taboo
Part VI: Spats apart, future's rosy

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