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'The US will be nervous about the Kashmir issue'
K S Manjunath
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February 02, 2009 14:05 IST
Last Updated: February 02, 2009 14:11 IST

The new administration in the United States means more continuity than change in Indo-US relations, says Teresita C Schaffer, director of South Asia Programme at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

The Bush administration had a stated policy of 'making India a global power'. Will the Obama [Images] administration have a similar viewpoint?
The incoming administration has not yet defined its policy towards India. However, Obama's message to India on its Republic Day clearly shows that the US considers India a major power. India is important and will remain so due to the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan that need urgent attention.

Will the Obama administration go out on a limb like the previous administration to pass the India-US nuclear deal?
 It is too early to answer that question.

An Asia Society report has given a policy directive to the Obama administration to forge a 'cooperative triangle' comprising the US, India and China. Is this a feasible proposition?
This idea has significant problems. On what issues will the three seek to work together? Climate change would be one of them but that would be possible after there are significant changes in the US.

The trio has a rough idea of what kind of power structure they want in Asia. There are many permutations: Does China want the US as part of the power framework? Does it want India in the framework? Now, there is an opportunity to work together if correct issues are picked -- climate change, health and the global financial crisis.

US Ambassador [Images] to India David Mulford has been asked to stay on at least until the end of February. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher has also been asked to stay back for a while. Does this indicate the US State Department's cautious approach regarding South Asia?
 It indicates two things. It shows there will be more continuity than change in the relations. Also, the confirmation of the appointment of a US ambassador or an assistant secretary of state is a long process in the US.

Asking appointees of the previous administration to serve on indicates that the new administration does not want an important position to remain vacant for too long.

What are the long-term prospects of Indo-US relations?

Long-term prospects of Indo-US ties have two contexts: Bilateral and global.
There are three linkages in bilateral ties that have improved and can improve further. These are economic (bilateral trade has gone up to $30 billion and most of this is between the private sectors of the two countries), civil society ties and stronger defence ties.

Civil society ties will improve regardless of government actions, but will have a positive effect on inter-government ties. Defence ties have improved with regular military exercises and contacts. Also, there can be cooperation in the region, and this is not confined to just South Asia. There has not been sufficient discussion to explore this aspect of the relationship.

The low-hanging fruit here are maritime and energy security. India and the US can be part of a network of relationship in the larger Asian context as part of the 'Asian balance of power'. With the ascendant role of China in the region, India and the US have common strategic and economic interests.

Both want to see China's rise to be harmonious and peaceful and neither wants to treat China as an enemy. Yet, these issues are not readily discussed by the governments, primarily due to the China card.

In the global context, the US and India have opposite interests at the World Trade Organisation and the United Nations. There is a convergence of interests at multilateral fora, especially regarding the reform of global financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

As for the expansion of the UN Security Council, the US does not desire any addition to the number of permanent members. With the Obama administration, there is a different dynamic at work at the UN, with more focus on multilateralism. Therefore, the long-term prospects are dependent on how the two handle each other's expectations.

The US must develop a different approach to deal with India's sense of strategic autonomy and India's wariness to identify with US strategic interests. As for India, it has a history of strategic ties with the former Soviet Union and must be open to change in perspective vis-a-vis a partnership with the US. On the whole, the Obama administration will have an open approach to foreign policy.

What are the areas where India and the US will have to put in extra effort?
The issues that would take some managing are: non-proliferation, climate change and Pakistan.

The India-US nuclear deal has changed the nature of the non-proliferation debate. Many people associated with the current administration grew out of the old order of nuclear establishment. They need to realise that India is now authorised to pursue civilian nuclear trade and that the nuclear proliferation threat comes from North Korea and Iran.

The deal now necessitates a new set of arrangements which must take cognisance of India's new status. India, in turn, must help in the reshaping of the ground rules.

Until now, India and the US had different positions on climate change, but it did not matter as the US did not address the issue seriously. But the Obama administration is leading by example by changing the domestic policy on higher fuel economy standards. Soon, there will be a need to engage at the global level on climate change. How China and India will be accommodated remains to be seen.

On Pakistan, special envoy Richard Holbrooke's brief is Afghanistan and Pakistan only. But he will eventually seek India's views on the situation in Afghanistan. In this regard, India and the US must understand each other's sensitivities over Kashmir and Pakistan. Pakistan will draw Holbrooke's attention to its eastern borders, but his mandate is Afghanistan-Pakistan.

Kashmir is a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan, but there has not been progress in resolving the various issues in the past 60 years. While the US will support a dialogue between India and Pakistan, if nothing happens, it will be nervous about it. It is not unreasonable or unnatural to ask whether the US can help.

However, chances of a breakthrough in the near future are bleak due to Pakistan's weak government and general elections in India in the near future.

What is the US assessment of India's handling of the Mumbai [Images] attacks and Pakistan's response so far?
The similarity in India and US handling terror attacks is that both have central/federal and state governments which have a weak response mechanism in place. This has to be addressed. As for Pakistan, it looks bad after the Mumbai attacks. Though it was not an authorised government operation, former government officials were a part of it and this is not a reassuring sign.

'Tough luck' from the Obama administration would be the basic response. But the difficulty is that the Afghanistan problem cannot be handled without Pakistan's assistance. Therefore, a strategy needs to be drawn up that not only addresses the border issue but also the insurgency in Pakistan.

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari's [Images] government and the Army must tackle the insurgency. Will the Army, which has lost thousands of soldiers, tackle the insurgents, is the main issue.

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