Narrow vision

The fact that issues relating to Pakistan’s policies and actions dominated the talks between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Barack Obama in Washington shows a narrowing of the bilateral relationship between India and the US. Most of the issues that India raised concerned Pakistan — its reluctance to speed up the trial of those involved in the Mumbai terrorist attack, the fear that the arms supplied by the US may be used against India and the Pakistani establishment’s opposition to any role for India in Afghanistan. Even the demand for access to David Headley which India has sought has a Pakistan angle. New Delhi may be able to get more information on the involvement of Pakistan’s military or intelligence officials in Headley’s activities which were directed against India. The claim that Obama was receptive to Indian concerns on all these is not a singular achievement for India.

It has long been the US policy to place its relations with India in the context of its relations with Pakistan. The Bush administration had moved out of this axis and had tried to develop an independent relationship with India, befitting India’s emerging role in the world. The Obama government has however seen ties with India as a part of its AfPak policy. India has also fallen into this trap by limiting its discussions with the US to a Pakistan-centric agenda. Obama was quoted as saying that there was no country in the world where the opportunities for the US for a strong and strategic relationship were greater than those with India. But this was not underlined by the drift of the talks in Washington.

The prime minister did well to state India’s intention to pursue its policies and interests in Afghanistan with or without the US, and to express reservations over the US plan to impose more sanctions on Iran. It is easy to explain that the US is constrained by the compulsions arising from its involvement in Afghanistan. But India will have to pursue independent bilateral relations with both the US and Pakistan, without being influenced by the nature of US-Pakistan ties. As long as the Obama administration confines India to a regional matrix, the full potential of India-US relations cannot be realised. This is the message India should drive home to the US, even as regular contacts are helpful in understanding each other’s positions and addressing mutual concerns.

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