Obama visit: A testament to Indo-US partnership

Obama visit: A testament to Indo-US partnership

Obama visit: A testament to Indo-US partnership

While President Obama’s three-day visit to India was an indisputable success, the extent to which it was leveraged to address the threat posed to us from Pakistan and China remains a question mark.

The leadership and bureaucracies on both sides are to be complimented in ensuring that the visit was rich in the variety of agreements and understandings arrived at. Indeed, Obama himself indicated that more agreements were concluded during his India visit than during any other visit undertaken by him. These covered nearly every conceivable area of national activity ranging from agriculture to space, from higher education to defence, from energy to health, from trade to counter insurgency and from high technology to the promotion of a nuclear weapon free world. While none of these, on their own, were as important as the nuclear deal, but taken together they demonstrate that India-US relations have been taken to a new high and have become extremely broadbased.

One of the more important positives from the visit for India was the assurance that ISRO, BDL and DRDO, along with many of their subsidiaries, would be removed from the entities list, and that India would be treated like close allies in regard to clearances for import of sensitive equipment and materials. Acceptance of this long standing demand will enable our industry, hitherto starved of state of the art US technology, materials and equipment to access the same more easily.

Equally significant was the US readiness to seek to propel India on the international scene as a global player. This was evidenced by the indication that it would be supportive of India’s membership of export control regimes like the NSG, MTCR, Australia group and the Wassenaar Arrangement, and that it looked forward to India being a permanent member of a reformed UN Security Council. While India’s entry into these bodies will take time, US support will obviously help the process. Membership of the export control regimes will enable India to be a part of their rule setting mechanism for export of sensitive materials, equipment and technology, and draw it into the international non proliferation architecture, thereby enhancing its stature as, of course, would a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.

Unconditional support

 It may be mentioned that US support to us for the latter is not conditional on India’s conduct and, specifically, does not hinge on its policy vis a vis Myanmar as some made out on the basis of an erroneous interpretation of the US President’s address to Parliament, where the latter in announcing his support for India’s candidature had gone on to underline the responsibilities that would come with permanent membership of the UN Security Council and mildly criticised India for having shied away from chastising Myanmar for its human rights violations. Not only is no such conditionality reflected in the joint statement but the latter is also devoid of any mention of Myanmar!

It is also gratifying that both on terrorism and Afghanistan, President Obama virtually endorsed the Indian position. While on the former the joint statement calls for the “elimination of safe havens and infrastructure” of terrorism and for bringing “to justice the perpetrators of the November 2008 Mumbai attacks”, on the latter the US side is not merely appreciative of what India has done so far but would like to see an enhanced role in close cooperation with it “to promote a stable, democratic, prosperous and independent Afghanistan”.

It is significant that the two sides agreed to deepen their strategic consultations on Central Asia, West Asia and East Asia with the President urging India not only to “look east” but “engage the east.” These assertions  represent US support for a more activist Indian policy on the regional and global scene and a welcome sign of a more collaborative approach of the USA vis a vis India. This is a salutary development in the context of the more assertive positions being taken by China in the region.

Security concerns

Finally, the visit helped deepen the already very good chemistry between Dr Manmohan Singh and President Obama. The differences of nuance between the two in their joint press conference on outsourcing, dialogue with Pakistan etc are par for the course during such visits and should not be overinterpreted. Their positive body language and the very meaty India-US joint statement is ample testimony that theirs is a warm relationship based on respect and trust.

While the Obama visit was a considerable success, what is not known is the extent to which it addressed India’s concerns emanating from the threats posed by Pakistan and China. It is reasonable to assume that these threats were discussed in private. But the assessments shared by the two leaders of the nature and magnitude of these threats and how best they should be addressed will remain, and perhaps should remain in the immediate future, a mystery to the public at large. One, however, hopes that these discussions helped in promoting a closer understanding between the two leaders in this regard, and suitably sensitised the US President to our core security concerns, which have assumed a serious dimension not only because of increasing Sino-Pak collusion, but also because an India centric Pakistan Army is today being armed by both China and USA.

(The writer is former Deputy National Security Advisor and currently Distinguished Fellow, Vivekananda International Foundation, New Delhi.)

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