The Second US-India Strategic Dialogue was held in New Delhi this week jointly chaired by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and India’s External Affairs Minister S M Krishna. That it took place within a week of the latest Mumbai terrorist attacks led the media and public expectations to believe that the United States would come out strongly in real terms against Pakistan to restrain its surrogates targeting India. The US Secretary of State’s condemnatory references were routine in nature and belied Indian expectations. While one cannot expect real highs from every Strategic Dialogue but contextually in terms of regional security environment Indian expectations were high that the strategic content of this Dialogue would predominate discussions.
The main discussions as publicly reported indicate that discussions were held on counter-terrorism, cyber security, science and technological cooperation etc. What was noticeable was the pitch strongly made by Secretary Clinton on India reviewing its Nuclear Liability Bill and greater US-India defense-to defense cooperation. Implicit in the latter was the emphasis by the United States calling on India to increase the volume of her defense purchases from the United States.
India’s main pitch made at the Strategic Dialogue was that the United States should not make any hasty exit from Afghanistan and that decision should be made respecting the prevailing ground realities in Afghanistan. Further that Afghan President Karzai should be kept in the decision-making loop on the future of Afghanistan.
Secretary Clinton also visited Chennai for the first time which included a call on Tamilnadu’s new Chief Minister Ms Jayalalitha. Intended or not this would have accorded the US Secretary of State to personally size up the Tamilnadu Chief Minister who may be emerging as a powerful political force in the next Indian General Elections in 2014. Additionally, Tamilnadu is emerging as a favorable destination for US business investments.
Secretary Clinton concluding her India visit made a forceful plea that India should adopt a more prominent political stance in Asia Pacific and with references in this direction being pointedly made towards playing a greater role in bringing around Burma (Americans refuse to call it as Myanmar) to respect human rights. In other words the United States was really not happy with India’s proximity to Myanmar.
What is surprising to note is that while the United State periodically makes calls on India to play a greater and powerful role Asia Pacific it does not make similar calls on India to play a greater role in the Middle East and the Gulf Region. The reasons for this are obvious.
Prospectively it seems that the United States-India Dialogues in the future are likely to be routine affairs without any big-ticket dramatic upswings in the United States Strategic Partnership emerging in the near future, at least not till such time as the United States is forced circumstantially to dispense with its fatal strategic obsession with Pakistan.