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'Nothing wrong with India-US relations, just a slowdown'

By Sheela Bhatt
June 22, 2013 22:53 IST
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K Alan KronstadtK Alan Kronstadt is an expert in South Asian affairs at the US Congressional Research Service which consistently files reports on India, Pakistan and its neighbourhood. Kronstadt is in favour of strong anti-nuclear proliferation measures. One of the CRS reports which created a buzz in 2011 was the one that mentioned Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as a potential prime ministerial candidate.

On a recent visit to India Kronstadt took time off to talk to’s Sheela Bhatt on why India-US bilateral relations are getting cold.

Many people think that Indo-US bilateral relations are not at the level where we expected when the Indo-US nuclear deal was signed. Can you tell us what has gone wrong?

Well, you know, I wouldn’t characterise things as going wrong. I think there has been a sense of slowdown… There has been some disappointment at the level of progress in both capitals but I think it’s safe to say that the long-term trajectory remains unchanged.

That the leaders in both countries are enthusiastic for the most part about closer engagement over the long term and there has been some amount of struggle in finding ways to effect that , specially, after such a huge initiative as the nuclear deal. So, that may have raised the expectations in Washington and… you know, in the years that have passed those expectations have been somewhat tempered but, however, we are engaging India on a large number of fronts that seem to be a very fruitful areas of cooperation.

But why is it not looking like moving substantially or on a faster track?

Well, I think, you know in the area of military relations there is a lot of enthusiasm about engagement and I understand that the United States has more military exercises with India than any other country. So, that’s an area where there is clearly good reason to cooperate and in the naval area in particular. Defence sales have progressed.

I think by fast track, when you use that word, it depends on what measure you are using. I think it’s safe to say that ten years ago very few people would have imagined the relationship to be where it is today with so much close engagement and you know, roughly $9 billion direct investment is significant.

What has made American businessmen pessimistic? Why aren’t they coming to Indian markets as per our expectations?

Obviously there was a great deal of optimism with the United Progressive Alliance-2 as it was no longer saddled by coalition supporters (like the Left parties in UPA-1) but what we found was the government was not able to effect the kind of liberalisation and reforms that American business people were hoping or certainly at the pace that was being hoped for and… so that lead to some frustration.

Why is the relationship full of potential getting dull?

Again, I wouldn’t use that terms. I think it is better to look at the relationship as proceeding on many fronts. Yes, there might not be the excitement that we saw with the nuclear deal, there is no high visibility front-page type of initiatives but there is a kind of routinised engagement between the two countries which is unprecedented in history.

You are on a visit of India. How do you think the Indian side and its strategic community is perceiving the American relationship?

Lot of the interlocutors I have engaged have expressed enthusiasm and approval of the general trajectory of the India-US relations. There are some areas of difference which are well known but for the most part there seems to be a significantly shared world view on many issues and it seems that at least with the strategic communities in both countries there is a kind of general agreement on where to go but there are some, you know, bumps on how to get there and at what pace and Americans may do well to have some patience in the engagement with India.

How do you see from Indian soil the Indo-Pakistan relationship and India’s concerns about US-Pakistan military relationship?

In my meetings, I haven’t come up against much of the… may be even expected disagreements between the Indians and United States over Pakistan. In general, I think it’s fair to say that the people in both the countries, both the capitals, recognise the difficulties and the problems that exist inside Pakistan and are intent on seeing a long term effort to ameliorate those.

Everybody benefits from that including the Pakistanis. So, there is a lot of support in Washington for the democratic process in Pakistan and the benefits that can come from institutionalising the democratic process and civil society institutions in Pakistan. So, there is a hope that they can have a free and fair election and continue with this unprecedented historical transition of power in Islamabad.

Do you see major fundamental change in the balance of power amongst politicians, army and other religious groups? Do you think army is going to get less power, now?

I really wouldn’t speculate on those issues. These are domestic Pakistani issues that Pakistanis need to work out on their own but again, I think support for civilian leadership and for a solid democratic process establishing itself in Pakistan is in everyone’s interest.

Do you see India much different than from your last visit?

I do. I think Delhi is clearly a cleaner city. I think the CNG in the auto-rickshaws and the buses has made a real difference in air quality. The subway (Metro), you know, I didn’t ride the subway but I have heard it’s an effective means of transportation also good for the environment. I have seen less evidence of poverty and… not that there is no poverty but it doesn’t seem to me at the same scale when I first visited ten years ago.

So, those are differences I have seen in Delhi… I can’t really comment on the other cities I have visited.

Do you think the Indo-US nuclear deal has been successful in achieving its target?

Well, I think the answer to that question depends on what you see as the main purpose of the deal. If you see it in the most concrete terms from the American point of view of selling civil nuclear technology and perhaps reactors to India, there has been a lot of frustration with the delays on that and some of the legal and liabilities issue that have arisen.

If you look at it from the Indian point of view… maybe it is more successful. India has now been able to import uranium and has, you know, gone forward with its plan to expand its civil nuclear power sector. But, you know, these things take time. Nuclear reactors are big structures that are expensive and take a lot of time to build and there is a lot of commercial negotiating that has to be done.

Maybe at the time the nuclear deal was christened, there was an expectation that things would materialise faster. So, by that measure it’s too early to say whether it’s been successful or not but it certainly is moving slower than a lot of people in the United States hoped for.

The resistance in giving a US visa to Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi is an institutionalised government opinion or is it more influenced by civil societies and lobbies in Washington?

Well, there is not a lot I can say about that. The State Department makes decisions on visa applications. In 2005, it made a certain decision. It can make a different decision in a hypothetical future… but under the International Religion Freedom Act, it did find reason to not issue a visa to Gujarat chief minister. What will happen in the future? I certainly can’t say.

Do you think things are changing for better for Modi in Washington?

I really have no way to assess that. Again, the State Department makes these decisions and they are not advertising where they are standing on this. We can point to what happened in 2005 and the State Department says that he is welcome to apply for a visa again at any time he chooses.

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