New Friends in the Block

New Friends in the Block

Contrary to apprehensions based on experience with the Republican world agenda during Regean and Bush Senior’s Presidency, India has emerged as one of the favored nations for the new administration in Washington. This has been evident in a number of instances featuring mutual dealings between India and United States under the present set up. Following Kargil, the argument was advanced that there has been a paradigm shift in US’s policy towards India and President Clinton emerged the best lobby that New Delhi could have hoped for itself in Washington. Immediately on the eve of inauguration of the new dispensation, the Secretary of State Collin Powell has acknowledged the “crucial importance of India” to the United States and New Delhi’s “potential to keep the peace in the vast Indian Ocean area and its periphery” and pledged to deal more wisely with the world’s largest democracy…” The same sentiment was repeated by the Secretary of State in his meeting with India’s permanent representative to the UN, when he said that relations (Of the US) with India have been “very good” and that it intends to further improve them, continue the momentum in bilateral relations especially as it has evolved in the last few years of the Clinton administration. (The Hindu. March 29, 2001 pg. 12.) More recently the status got clearer with the sort of reception that was accorded to the Indian Foreign Minister, Mr. Jaswant Singh at Washington. The fact that Jaswant Singh got to meet not only the top officials in the Bush Administration, but Bush himself in an unscheduled meeting in the Oval office, was sign enough that the Indo-US bonhomie of the Clinton era has not been derailed by the change in the administration. (Edit. The Statesman 12 April 2001.) This followed what the Indian Prime Minister, emphasized to build upon, the prospects for a “natural alliance” with Washington. (C. Raja Mohan; The Hindu 3 April 2001.) In fact the visit of the Indian Minister of external Affairs, the first high level diplomatic effort, is a part of India’s initiatives to help dispel the impression gaining ground that New Delhi is doing little to engage and cultivate the new Republican dispensation in Washington. It is important to note that even as the tour was on, formal legislation was being introduced in the American House of Representatives calling for the lifting of sanctions against India which were imposed in the wake of Pokharan tests of 1998 and the Indian Prime Minister was playing host to one American who has made Indo-U.S. rapprochement a possibility – former President, Clinton. (The. Hindu. 8 April p.8). The first high-level Indian contract with the Bush administration is also significant as it coincided with US’s fierce diplomatic standoff with China over the spy plane issue. (Hindustan Times 6 April 2001) The Minister was in Washington at a time when the foreign policy establishment here was consumed with the developments in the South China Seas and in yet another shouting match between the United States and China. This backdrop did have some impact on the general discussions between the Indian delegation with the key players of the Bush foreign policy team. (The Hindu 4 April 2001)

The timing of the visit merits more than any passing remarks. Besides coinciding with events in China and the visit of the former US President Clinton to India, the time was just ripe for influencing certain key appointments to the US administration that will have relevance for India. The Bush team at the middle and lower levels was still being finalized including the announcement of the successor to Karl Inderfurth, Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia. As on date, the team constituted persons described as “known quantities.” Most of those already nominated had served either in administrations of both Reagan and Bush senior. Condoleeza Rice, the new National Security Adviser, seems to owe her appointment to the recommendation of George Bush Senior, who thought well of her expertise on the erstwhile USSR and Russia when she served in the National Security Council (NSC) during his presidency. The rest of the appointees seem to have been recommended by the Vice-President, Dick Cheney, who served as Defence Secretary under Bush Senior. Since this is the first exposure of President Bush to political Washington, he has largely relied on Mr. Cheney in deciding on his team members. The result of Vice President Cheney’s influence has been a predominance of old Pentagon hands in the new team. This has naturally led to some apprehension amongst Indian analysts regarding the implications of what they see as the Pentagonisation of the new administration policy towards South Asia, in general, and India and Pakistan, in particular. The conventional wisdom in large sections of the Indian analytical community, has been that the old Pentagon hands, barring such exceptions as Richard Armitage, the new Deputy Secretary of State nominee, generally have better vibrations for Pakistan than the professional foreign service officers of the US State Department. All of them, whether professionals or ideologues, understand India’s security compulsions vis-a-vis China, which contributed to its military nuclearisation but, at the same time, do not want that their acceptance of India’s perceived need for a nuclear deterrent to be interpreted by New Delhi as acceptance of its plans, if any, for a further up-gradation of its nuclear and missile capability. (B.Raman The Business Line 4 April 2001)

The official agenda had been to have the talks cover a broad spectrum, encompassing bilateral relations. The fact that India’s Minister for External Affairs is also the Defence Minister of the country put New Delhi in a unique position to ensure convergence of issues across a much wider platform. Besides, several recent developments made it easier for the Minister to articulate India’s views and ensure an appreciation of the same by the Bush administration. Most significant has been UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s stand that only the Lahore Declaration and not the UN resolution on Kashmir could pave the way for a lasting solution vindicating what India has been putting forth as its official position on Kashmir imbroglio. Its important that the Secretary General refused to draw parallels between those UN resolutions which are binding on their passage like those on East Timor and Iraq and on Kashmir which are recommendatory and hence dependent on the agreement of the parties concerned. The Indian Prime Minister had termed the statement “very significant” that was indicative of the changed attitude of the international community. This, together with India’s continuing peace gestures in the form of ceasefire initiatives and Pakistan’s relentless abetment to violence, cross-border terrorism and hostile propaganda against India should help India articulate the view that India has been maintaining that for resumption of talks with Pakistan, it is Islamabad that has to create the atmosphere. “The onus lies squarely with Pakistan,” and now the world understands. More over after the revelation that Taliban continues to have secret understanding with Pakistani volunteers for terrorist missions against India and that Washington’s realizations that Kabul regime has been deliberately avoiding to take a stand against terrorism in the region, has resulted in a perceptible change of mood among US law makers as clear from Republican Senator Sam Brownback who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s sub-committee on Near-East and South Asia, wanting, the Bush administration to take bold initiatives to give bilateral relations a more meaningful thrust. (Anindya Rai Verman, The Statesman 4 April 2001)

In what has been described as one of the finest diplomatic gestures and an indication of the importance the new Washington administration bestows on relations with India, President Bush, dropped by during a meeting between the External Affairs Minister, Mr. Jaswant Singh, and the U.S. National Security Adviser, Ms. Condoleeza Rice, taken Mr. Singh to the Oval Office, where they spent a few minutes.” Security and strategic analysts were prompt to ascribe this unusual gesture to Washington’s diplomatic impasse over the spy plane issue in which the Bush administration might have been tempted to send a “message to China.” It appeared as a deliberate strategy of somehow trying to convince Beijing that there is something “extra” in Washington’s relationship with New Delhi that in the process is mean to keep China uncomfortable. (The Hindu; April 14 p.14) But the fact that the Indian Foreign Minister was accorded this rarest of the rare gesture holds tremendous significance for New Delhi’s initiatives. Through this unusual overtures, Washington might have managed to send a signal to Beijing that the Bush administration would place an increased strategic importance on India hereafter, a point of view which just can’t be brushed aside as India and China compete equally well in terms of market opportunities and regional strategic influence if not in terms of force capabilities which is of marginal significance to the United States. (The Asian Age 8 April 2001)

An equally important event was simultaneously unfolding in India in the visit of former President Bill Clinton as part of American-India Foundation’s effort to raise funds for earthquake relief in Gujarat, with an affirmation that he would be working with the NGOs, Government agencies and “the concerned Indians to not just rebuild Gujarat but to rebuild it better.”( Mahesh Vijapurkar; The Hindu 3 April 2001). During the tenure of his visit the former President offered to share knowledge on disaster management and related skills gained over years by the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Authority, and “Indianize the concept since U.S. methodologies would not apply in India.” It would help translate the knowledge base to the grassroots to spread its benefits far and wide. The American Indian Foundation, which is pooling resources from across the U.S., especially from the Indian Diaspora, said its efforts being steered by well-positioned Indian Americans, was to see disaster management as “a long-term priority area”. From what was said, funding rehabilitation of some villages was perhaps only an other important element of their endeavor. (The Hindu 7 April 2001.) And continuing his tryst with the real India that was glossed over during his visit as the President of the most powerful nation of the world, Clinton put another hamlet of the country on the world map today with a whistle-stop tour of Rampur Maniharan village in non descript Indian hinterland. For the two-and-a-half hours that he spent in this “sugarcane belt,” Clinton held court wherever he went – endearing himself to the crowds not just with his demeanor but also with his vote of confidence in the potential latent in India. “No nation in the world has as much potential to do well and be prosperous in the new century as India. But it all depends on educating all the girls and boys in all the villages,” he said after laying the foundation stone of the Hillary Rodham Clinton Centre for Multimedia Technology. Stating that Indians were rated highest in terms of educational qualifications and income among the 200 ethnic and racial groups in the U.S., Clinton said “Indians who have come to the U.S. have done more for America than America for them.” At the end of his visit, the former President expressed the confidence that Indo-U.S. relations would steadily improve. “I would be very much surprised if they don’t …Both the countries are now on the right track”, he said suggesting that the just concluded visit of the Indian External Affairs Minister, Mr. Jaswant Singh, to the U.S. would help to further the relationship” (The Hindu 10 April 2001)

India did reap the benefit out of its Foreign Minister doubling up as minister of defence. The two countries jointly decided to revive the defence dialogue and cooperation between the no longer estranged democracies. In fact, this time around the two sides resolved to raise both the level and scale of their palaver on security. For one thing, the Indian Defence Minister and the U.S. Defence Secretary are to meet at least once a year. The chairmen of the Chiefs of Staff will also exchange visits, and regular defence talks at other levels will be restarted. (Inder Malhotra; The Hindu 11 April 2001)

Thus out of its first-ever high-level engagement with the Bush administration, India managed to define a substantive agenda for strategic cooperation. It could project itself as a key player which had a rightful place in influencing the global system. New Delhi could make it abundantly clear that while it was keen on developing a positive and equal relationship with the United States, it was unwilling to compromise on its sovereignty. In other words, New Delhi was not looking for a strategic “alliance” with the U.S. Rather, it wanted to establish a durable “partnership”, in which security cooperation figured prominently. India also made U.S. recognise that its strategic interests were not just focused on the existing definition of South Asia rather spread along an arc stretching from the Suez Canal to the Strait of Malacca, gateway to South East Asia. In other words, the U.S., while fulfilling its global obligations, should factor in India’s aspirations and autonomy in this zone. Besides, while building a special relationship, India wanted Washington to understand that it would continue to deal with its former allies at-least in respect of defence procurements and strategic alliances. (Atul Aneja The Hindu 11 April 2001)

The bonhomie in Indo –US relations was apparent in a States Department release which described the content of discussions between the. Jaswant Singh, Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell. In addition to proliferation, trade and regional issues the duo also discussed Indonesia, Sri Lanka and “quite a lot of economics” as it pertained to bilateral relations. (Mr. Richard Buocher, reported in the Washington Post.)

It is difficult for New Delhi to see how it could have it better in the realm of India’s evolving foreign policy with the United States, and that too with a new Republican administration. Washington in the last two months may have said all that New Delhi wanted to hear, and perhaps even more. It is a game but one that needs a level of sophistication on the part of India if its own larger regional and global objectives are to be served. But given the fact that India is yet to evolve a system for organizing its security priorities and strategic options as evidenced from the fact that the National Security Council, formed more than two years ago, hasn’t met even once, hoping for productive security dialogue with the U.S. or any other country, for that matter, without the wherewithal in terms of expertise and negotiating skill is like expecting to build a comfortable home without bricks, mortar, cement and steel. But it doest not cost much to remain optimistic.

Compiled By

Arabinda Acharya