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Indo US Strategic Dialogue and South Asian Stability

28 June, 2010

By Momin Iftikhar


Conducted among much diplomatic flourish and hyperbole, the first ever cabinet level Indo-US strategic dialogue co-chaired by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Indian Minister for External Affairs SM Krishna, , may have come as a dampener for Indian ambitions, seeking a free run for India’s unbridled ascendance in the South Asian Region. Krishna had envisioned the dialogue to be an important occasion for both the countries to set their sights on “new milestones” based on shared interests ranging from counter-terrorism to nuclear safety to Afghanistan. Not to be outdone, US Ambassador to India Tim Roemer described the Indo-US bilateral relations as the “good news story of the decade”. “Perhaps that was on President Obama’s mind when he referred to it [Indo-US bonhomie] as the ‘indispensable partnership of the 21st century,” he chimed.

What had India specifically sought during the dialogue was made evident by Foreign Secretary Ms Nirupama Rao during her interaction with media in the aftermath of parleys on 4 Jun. Indian position was centered on four key issues.  First, reform of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) that acknowledged India’s central role in global politics; second a substantive politico military role in Afghanistan expanding India’s regional footprint; third, a  relaxation of US export controls for sensitive high-tech items related to modernizing India’s conventional and non-conventional deterrence and fourth; linking Pakistan to regional and global terrorism. While in US, the Indian foreign secretary showed no restraint in promoting the propaganda campaign that routinely hurls unsubstantiated charges of terrorism on Pakistan. ”Vision [of an enhanced South Asian cooperation] is, however, being challenged by violent extremism and terrorism which originates in our region and finds sustenance and sanctuary there”, she told the post dialog media briefing. Lest the point she made was lost upon the hosts she emphasized that the failed terrorist attempt in Times Square New York , had revealed the global reach of terrorist organizations which included Lashkar-e-Taiba and  Jaish-e-Muhammad; roping in organizations that are patently known to have Kashmir centric agenda.

 

Notwithstanding exaggerated Indian expectations, the joint statement, delivered in aftermath of the dialogue appeared much subdued. India obviously failed to harness support in her endeavors to claim a permanent seat in the UNSC. Under Secretary of the State for Political Affairs William J. Burns poured cold water on Indian aspirations by saying,“ The US was not against India’s inclusion in the UNSC as permanent member”. “India’s expanding role will naturally make it an important part of any future consideration of reform of the UNSC,” the statement said, poignantly excluding any promise of the US support for the hectic Indian endeavors to join the apex UN body.

On another important benchmark the statement tactfully evaded India’s politico – military aspirations in Afghanistan, a fixation that has become the cornerstone of Indian foreign policy. The joint statement politely indicated to a more circumscribed Indian role in the affairs of Afghanistan, primarily oriented towards reconstruction efforts; a flimsy cover that India has cunningly exploited in order to rake trouble in FATA and Baluchistan. “Secretary Clinton welcomed India’s vital contribution to reconstruction, capacity building and development efforts in Afghanistan and its offer to enhance efforts in this direction. Both sides pledged to explore opportunities for coordination on civilian assistance projects that advance Afghan self sufficiency and build civilian capacity”, the joint statement said. If India was looking for US concurrence in validating a vibrant political or military Indian role in Afghanistan, the statement failed to live up to her expectations. It was also silent about the 123 Nuclear Deal or transfer of sensitive technology to India.

As regard the aspect of counter terrorism cooperation with US, India certainly overplayed its cards. Just before the dialogue the Indian media went into frenzy in seeking an access for the Indian intelligence to David Coleman Headley, an American of Pakistani descent, who is under trial in US for allegedly planning a clutch of terrorist activities that include having linkages with the Mumbai incident of 26/11. The Indians hyped the Headley affair to an extent that US authorities had to relent amid reports that this Issue alone had hijacked the Indo-US strategic dialogue.  Now that the Indian interrogators have ultimately got their way would they let the world know as to what they have learnt and how has that corroborated or otherwise their view of singling out Pakistan over charges of cross border terrorism? It also validates a case for Pakistan to interrogate Headley to expose the lies that Indians have been attributing to him to malign Pakistan.

The Indo US strategic dialogue has served to underscore hard realities that belie divergent goals and interests harbored by both countries. The South Asian region is in a flux and India has yet to evolve into a mature and pre-eminent Nation earning the respect of its neighbors. China is fast emerging as the global power with politico-economic clout that is hard for US – and the world to ignore. So is the highly complex situation in Afghanistan which is making it difficult for the US to accommodate Indian ambitions of playing a leading role. The Strategic dialogue has raised hopes that US engagement shall serve to circumscribe heedless Indian ambitions thereby making substantive contributions in stabilizing the South Asian Region.

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