US Double Whammy in South Asia
6th September will be permanently etched in the history of US engagement in South Asia as a red letter day. Whether it would be a golden day for the region or Washington only time will tell, for as Zhou Enlai said famously about the French Revolution in the 1950's, 'It is too early to tell'. But the immediate significance of two seminal events, though one, the waiver by the Nuclear Suppliers Group to India overshadowed the other election of Asif Zardari as the President of Pakistan indicated a significant shift in realignment of power politics in South Asia towards America.
Firstly the Nuclear Waiver has now firmly placed India in US axis of influence. Given the extra ordinary length to which the US State Department had to go through to push the Waiver in the NSG there is no doubt that Washington has invested heavily in New Delhi. US President George W Bush as well as Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice have been personally involved in engaging global leaders who were either hesitant or down right disinclined to approve the waiver for India.
Obviously what transpired will never be made public but it would certainly have included some pleasantries and a lot of harsh truths to make them veer to the Indo US point of view. Without this personal intervention, it is quite certain that the waiver would not have come through, at least not in this round of NSG meetings, which would let the 123 Agreement drift to the new US administration post January 2009.
By placing its prestige behind the waiver, the US political leadership has lifted India from the mediocrity of an emerging power to that of an arrived one, albeit as an addendum to the P 5 for the moment. It did what the former Soviet Union did once, with the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation in August 1971. While it provided New Delhi with insurance in the 1971 war it also put it in the Soviet orbit.
The US has been engaging India since the turn of this Century, signified by the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership (NSSP) evolved in September 2004. But the Indo US Nuclear Deal has operationalized this partnership and could be considered at equivalent of the cooperation between India and Soviet Union or Russia so far.
While India may not fall fully into the US sphere of influence, it would certainly remain obliged to Washington and follow some of the policies which do not directly conflict with India's strategic interests. Defence cooperation may be one sphere where considerable ingress of the US military industrial complex in India could be envisaged as this is reasonably bipartisan.
The reaction by China confirms our inference of growing engagement between India and the US in the years ahead. Chinese policy has been to delay and even stop the waiver by the NSG which is consistent with the long term goal of Beijing which does not obviously want another competitor in Asia. With India's alignment with the US, there is likely to be greater leaning by Washington towards New Delhi in the days ahead and therefore the entire regional polity in Asia is likely to undergo a change in the medium to long term. To Beijing this would imply another competitor after the regional player Japan. A strong India was not preferred and therefore it was trying to delay the Deal through the back door so far, but had to finally expose itself given that there were no other cards left.
The second seminal event in the favor of US policy in South Asia has been election of Zardari as the President in Pakistan. This would imply replacing Musharraf a firm supporter of US war on terror with Zardari who is similarly inclined. With the militancy in Afghanistan going out of hand, a firm anchor in Islamabad was necessary. The PPP led government and Presidency provides the same to Washington and it should be able to capitalize on the same in the days ahead. Though launching Special Forces operations may not be the right way to do so.
All in all as President George W Bush would have retired for the day in the White House and Condy Rice in her Boeing 757, they should have smiled with satisfaction.
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Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle
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