/**SNAP Code begin **/ /**SNAP Code end **/

Monday, November 23, 2009

Critical US Visit of Manmohan Singh

The recent peak of India-US relationship was when during Bush's visit to India, he and Manmohan Singh were discussing the nuclear agreement with a group people and in response to a comment by AEC chief Anil Kakodkar he said something to the effect that as long as we can keep you happy to get (the nuclear) deal done. Meaning, he didn't want minor issues blocking progress of India-US relationship. The key driver to India's improving relationship with US was president Bush himself. Now the relationship is at critical tipping point. On the one hand, it could continue on the high trajectory and make US and India close strategic partners or it could start drifting sideways at the current level of engagement - excellent trade and commerce with some military to military contacts with occasional political interaction with no significant substance. Increasing, the later is becoming a high probability scenario with the former becoming a lower probable.

I was dismayed to see Manmohan's Singh interview with an US journalist - there was no substance at all to the current visit.

I also think that India and the United States could be partners in refocusing our attention on an equitable, balanced global order. 

What does that mean?
We would like to strengthen energy cooperation with the United States -- [in] clean coal technology and in renewable energy resources. Similarly, there is concern for food security. We would like to have a second Green Revolution in our country -- therefore, cooperation in the field of agriculture, in science and technology, in health, and in dealing with pandemics.

It's typical small country talk with no case for enhanced strategic relationship. While, usually, India is not an agenda setter - it takes agenda given to it during multilateral forums - the utter lack of new agenda for this trip is disheartening. The nuclear issue was put on the top of US-India relationship agenda by Atal B. Vajpayee when George Bush was open for strengthening the relationship between the two countries. Manmohan Singh carried forward Vajpayee's agenda, but he has no new agenda of his own. And it's not like there is nothing going on around India that doesn't involve US.

For starters, India needs to understand the evolution of relationship between US and China. Is what China aggressive behavior towards India's entire border area, and how it impacts US relationship, on the agenda? Who would US support in diplomatic and strategic battles? Why did US say China had a role in India-Pakistan relationship when Obama was in Beijing recently, even as Chinese themselves said nothing about it?

There are increasing calls in US that somehow US should settle the issue of Jammu and Kashmir, presumably, favouring Pakistan so that it can take up US fight against Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan.  This scenario is not inconceivable as Obama is having second thoughts about Afghanistan war being the good war. A quick way for US to exit this region would be to go back to the 1950s, when Pakistan was the sole pillar of US, and British, strategic interests in the subcontinent. While India will never be a vassal state of US, Pakistan can play the role very well, as long J&K can be settled favourably towards Pakistan - the favour that can milked by US for another 50 years.

It makes even more sense, if US thought working with China is in its long term economic interests as US becomes more focused on economic issues, towards becoming a Europe-lite. The current US political leadership is internal looking and clearly would be happy to concede strategic ground to China in return for economic benefits. China is already US financier. US economic growth prospects would improve if it aligns with China - an economy that is vastly bigger than India's and will continue to be so throughout the current century.

Aligning with China and Pakistan makes eminent sense to US, especially for the current US left leaning leadership. I have argued in the past that the India-US relationship was primarily driven by George Bush. Changing the course of relationship of the two countries from Bush's era will not be difficult. That's why the current trip by Manmohan Singh is so crucial to US-India relationship and India's future. Will Manmohan Singh put India's future on the top of the agenda and get US leadership see our way or will he accept the agenda set by US, again, and realize the impact of US potential realignment too late, boxing India into a unfavourable strategic future?