No Pak hyphenation in India-US ties
Unlike her husband and former US president Bill Clinton, who administrated a sugar coated pill to Indian Parliamentarians post-Pokhran on non-proliferation, CTBT and dialogue with Pakistan in March 2001, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton does not mince words or believe in diplomatic parlance of the bygone era.
While credit is due to Bill, his successors George W Bush and Barack Obama for redefining the India-US relations, Hilary Clinton has no small role to play in cementing the ties between the two largest democracies in the world.
During her three day trip to India this week, the diplomatic buzzwords of the past decade like India-Pakistan hyphenation, restraint, Kashmir or nuclear flashpoint were all missing as Clinton candidly discussed the regional neighbourhood with Indian leadership.
For Washington watchers, it was a welcome relief that Secretary Clinton did not link Pak based terrorism directed against India to either the political issue in Kashmir or to the bilateral dialogue between the South Asian neighbours. This was a sea change from the unsolicited advice given by visiting US joint secretary level officers like Robin Raphael, Karl Inderfurth or Christina Rocca, who were feted like viceroys by India and Pakistani establishment and media, in the past decade.
Known to be the only one who wears pants in the Obama administration, Clinton minced no words in her assessment on Pakistan with the Indian leadership. She apparently told Krishna that if Pakistan thought that they could keep a snake in their backyard for their neighbours then the leadership and the Army are sadly mistaken.
Secretary Clinton made it amply clear that US does not have a segmented approach to terrorism emanating from Pakistan-Afghanistan arc. Her comment that it was she who had authorised the $10 million bounty over 26/11 main accused and Lashkar-e-Taiba amir Hafiz Saeed was a message to her own State Department and the US ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter, who made light of the reward. While Munter has now quit after the Saeed howler, the state department and its representatives in India are still to get the message clearly.
It is not that Secretary Clinton is charmed by India or is anti-Pakistan. She firmly has US interests in her mind and virtually berated New Delhi during her July 2011 strategic dialogue visit on New Delhi ignoring US for the multi-role medium combat aircraft deal and the liability clause in the Indo-US nuclear deal.
To her credit, Secretary Clinton has normalised the India-US relationship, where everything is discussed frankly without any barbs. The bilateral engagement is now a continuous process with leaders picking up from where they left last time. Both sides now routinely share perceptions on China, Iran, Afghanistan or even Eurozone crisis. It is signficant to note that while the leadership of both sides is comfortable with each other, the bureaucracy still carries baggage from the past.
As US state department still cannot forget the days of beer with Pakistan Army generals in Murree in Marghala hills, some New Delhi babus are stuck in time wrap of US 7th Fleet moving into Bay of Bengal during the 1971 Indo-Pak conflict.
The imperious and outdated mindset of the US state department was evident this week when slanted stories of Clinton pushing West Bengal chief minister Mamta Bannerjee on FDI in retail and Teesta Water Treaty with Bangladesh started appearing on the eve of US foreign minister’s visit. The fact is that nothing of the sort was either on the agenda or discussed between Clinton and Mamta during their meeting on May 7. Perhaps this was the agenda set in convergence with the Cold War warriors in the two countries. Now it is nobody’s case that India should blindly jump into US camp or start opposing it tooth and nail on account of its own rising power status. India needs to protect its own interest and not be afraid of engaging any country on its own terms.
While western media has tried to make Iran into a new irritant in Indo-US relations, the two sides showed a great deal of maturity this time in not falling into the trap laid out for them. The fact is that India has reduced its crude oil intake from Iran by nearly 18-20 per cent since last year, but it also not possible for New Delhi to jump onto Saudi-Sunni bandwagon in Middle-East and make life difficult for its 6 million expats in the Gulf.
Although India has made its stance amply clear on Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon, New Delhi cannot blindly follow US interests in the restive region. This was spelt out in black and white by the Indian leadership to Secretary Clinton this week and the latter understood the problem and wisely choose not to ratchet up the divergence. The Indian policy on Iran is just like its engagement with Beijing—dictated by its own self-interests.
While New Delhi scored a self-goal on its ties with Sri Lanka on voting on human rights resolution due to political compulsions of the UPA government, time has come for India to realise that diplomacy is not conducted on emotions but hard cold facts.
The meeting between Secretary Clinton and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was a demonstration of two allies moving forward bilaterally without comprising their own positions. Just as State department needs to know that bilateral relationship with India is not just deal making and business, South Block should know that Americans are not out to fool them into a reckless strategic decision.