India and United States: A Strategic Partnership

Two recent articles published in op-ed pages in prominent newspapers drive home the point bluntly. The two articles appeared on March 21. Mr. Blackwell who was the ambassador to India until 2003 has written his opinion eloquently in the Wall Street Journal. Mr. Larry Pressler, a former Republican senator from South Dakota from the 1970's to the 1990's, (who now serves as a member of the board of Infosys, a software company in India), in an op-ed in New York Times, does not mince his words in his criticism of the administration for slow progress in bilateral relationship, until now. 

It is time to encourage and support the world's largest democracy, India, openly without any preconditions or reservations. India is the only country in South Asia that is free and democratic deserving the full and unfettered support of the United States. In the State of the Union address by President Bush recently the theme of the speech was to promote freedom throughout the world. He said that America will stand with those who will fight for their freedom, wherever it may be. If Mr. Bush wants to put his words into action, he should start with India.

To be fair, George W Bush has extended a hand of friendship to India to an extent never done before by any American president. Fortunately, he was re-elected for a second term and this bodes well for India. Progress has been made in bilateral relationship on both economic and military fronts as well as other matters of trade and national security. It is recognized that no other bilateral relationship changed so much positively in the first term of George W Bush as between India and the U.S. However, the rate of progress has been painfully slow and the administration has not gone far enough.

Mr. Bush can take credit for the changes occurring in the Middle East. Free elections in Afghanistan and Iraq were landmark events. Those two countries are rid of the ominous Taliban and the evil Saddam Hussein, both made possible because of steadfast American support. Palestinians have held elections and the Lebanese are in the process of booting Syria out of their country, prior to their elections in May. Even autocratic Egypt and Saudi Arabia are showing signs of empowering the people, though under pressure from the Bush administration. People power was evident in Ukraine and in Krygyzstan, when corrupt officials tried to rig the elections. None of this would have been possible without American support.

The Indian democracy is much more complex than that of the most enduring democracy in the world i.e. the United States. It is secular, multicultural and multilingual, heterogeneous, with a free vibrant press and respect for the rule of law. Mr. Robert Blackwell, U.S. ambassador to India 2001 - 2003, noticed the keen interest shown towards India by George W Bush and asked him to explain as to why. Bush immediately responded, 'a billion people in a functioning democracy. Isn't that something? Isn't that something?' Yet, during his first term, Bush has been handcuffed because of the terrorists' predilection to hide in Pakistan. Pakistan's cooperation was much needed in the early days after September 11. After re-election, Mr. Bush has confidently started proposing bold initiatives through his dynamic Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the pragmatic Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The myopic view held by Washington when it came to the relationship between India and Pakistan has changed somewhat but not to the extent that is desirable. Now the Bush administration has not only accepted India as a nuclear power but also has recognized its potential as an economic powerhouse of the future. It is the only country in Asia that can challenge dictatorial China in its zeal to become the major power in the region. The United States can help in this scheme in a positive way and has realized the importance of doing so. Recent visit by Condoleezza Rice to India has opened up the possibility of such cooperation between the two countries on many fronts ' in nuclear power generation, co-production of combat aircrafts, collaboration on missile defense and defense trade. The United States has broadened its view and sees a greater role for India in the international organizations like the United Nations Security Council.

The United States for decades was reluctant to include India into the inner circle because of fear of transfer of technology that might tip the balance of power in the region. There was fear of enabling the Indian military industrial complex to become too strong and dominate the region. It was looking through blinders, when viewing at the relationship between India and Pakistan, the two nuclear powered countries at odds with each other. Now there is realization that the communist China is a bigger threat both economically and militarily. On the surface, the relationship between the U.S. and the two dictatorships may appear copasetic but there are tensions. China's recent flexing of its muscle with its unwillingness to negotiate with Taiwan, and Pakistan's firm dictatorship with no immediate plans for democratic elections have both irritated the U.S. The only antidote is India, if its military can be beefed up, with a full open backing by the United States. It is certainly more reasonable to support the secular democracy in India than dictatorships in China or Pakistan, especially in today's tumultuous world of increasing terrorism with its beheadings and mayhem, suicide bombings and religious frenzy.

Past senator Mr. Pressler is especially critical of the possibility of United States selling F-16's to Pakistan (which he had stopped in the 1990's). Since F-16 has nothing to do with fighting the Al-Qaeda or the Taliban, and has everything to do with using them against India, there is no need to irk the Indians by selling them to Pakistan. Mr. Larry Pressler is of the opinion that the United States should forge ahead with a robust pro-India stance and reward India for its record on human rights and free economy as well as free press. He also feels that the aid given to Pakistan to help thwart terrorism is mainly being used to strengthen General Pervez Musharaff's hand in Pakistan. Mr. Pressler wants United States to publicly announce its support of India in all regional conflicts, which in turn will make Pakistan less enthusiastic about claiming Kashmir as its territory (and stop training terrorists to fight the jihad in Kashmiri soil). While we need Pakistan as an ally, we should not fail to point to its failures of democracy and woeful records on human rights. Pakistan, according to Pressler is a corrupt dictatorship not worth coddling up to.

'Freeing ourselves from our profitless Pakistan policy would allow us to look clearly at the biggest problem in the region: China. We should tell Beijing that we will help India match China's arms buildup and that we will work toward a modified free-trade agreement with India to help it offset China's state-dominated trade practices,' opines Larry Pressler.

Mr. Robert Blackwell sees encouraging signs between the relationships of the two countries. What can be done to further improve the bilateral relationship to a mutually advantageous state? He advocates a more cautious and subtle strategy. 

The first, according to Mr. Blackwell is to welcome India as a friendly nuclear state (as it views Great Briton and France). The constraints on trade of technology and high-tech equipment should be lifted and the United States should assist India's nuclear energy needs by selling it civil nuclear reactors. India's economy is hungry for energy and is too dependent on oil from the Persian Gulf States, making it vulnerable in many of its policies making it lean toward dictatorships in the Middle East.

Secondly, the United States should enter into a long-term program of space cooperation. Again, technology should not be withheld from India with the fear of strengthening its military. India has a million-man army that actually fights, unlike the armies in modern Europe. It is strategically important to equip Indian armed forces with the best weapon systems and take it up to par with the Chinese army. The dominance of the Chinese in the region both with conventional weaponry as well as nuclear advances needs to be counter-balanced.

Lastly, any reform of the United Nations should include admitting India as one of the permanent members of the Security Council. India also should be welcomed to be part of the G-8. Its economic clout and geopolitical importance make it a natural choice to be an important participant.

Mr. Blackwell also urges India to make certain adjustments in its policy towards the West. It should join the U.S. more actively, including in the rebuilding of the civil society in Iraq. It should also work towards convincing Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions. India should involve itself in the Palestinian reforms. It should become a member of the Proliferation Security Initiative which calls for interdiction of ships with suspicious cargo on the high seas. It should hold joint military exercises with the United States. India should continue its efforts to normalize its relations with Pakistan. It is a tolerant country with a good record towards the minority Muslim population (incidentally, India's Muslim population outnumbers that of Pakistan). It should take a leadership role in the regional conflicts and instabilities in Afghanistan, Nepal and Bangladesh. It should lift its trade barriers towards U.S. goods and take part actively in future trade talks. India is blessed with 100 million young technology experts, who are largely doing the computer programming that keeps the world progressing at warp speed. It is time to forge ahead with partnership that will be a win-win situation for both countries.

Mr. Blackwell admits that this is an ambitious agenda for both India and the United States. But he feels the time is ripe and it can be accomplished.

'Old bureaucracies don't fade away; they just dig in. So the Bush administration and the Congress government in New Delhi must push through these fundamental changes in policy from the top down. It can be done,' writes Mr. Robert D Blackwell.

It is the God-given right for every human being to be free on the face of this earth. If both countries move with trust and with a common purpose, aiming for a safe and prosperous future, taking a stand against abuses of human rights and poverty, the world will be a better place for our children and grandchildren. A non-democratic country like China or Pakistan cannot be allowed to dominate the region and it is the responsibility of the free people of this world to make sure democracy is rightly rewarded. It is not easy to maintain and manage democracy in a diverse, multi-ethnic country like India. But it behooves America to support such an effort by such a large democracy, especially in today's dangerous atmosphere around the world.

America has had a long history of cosseting dictatorships. This appetite has not been completely whetted yet. It is easy for the government to make deals with a single dictator than go through a body of duly elected representatives of a democratic government. The Bush administration still views the balance of power in the region as a duel between India and Pakistan. It has now decided to sell 24 F-16's to Pakistan. It has also told India that it can bid for the F-16's as India is already planning to add more than 100 fighter jets to its arsenal. Though Pentagon does not consider F-16 as the most desirable fighter plane anymore, and Indian air power will still remain far superior to that of Pakistan, the decision to sell jets to Pakistan flies in the face of any logic. It is in poor judgment and insincere as well as duplicitous. It is also hypocritical to sell sophisticated arms to the dictatorial Pakistan and rebuff Europe in its attempt to sell arms to the other dictatorship in the region, namely China. 

The speech at the State of the Union by the President was noble indeed and it has inspired many suppressed people to take bold steps risking their lives. But now it is imperative that the words of George W Bush's are supported by action. Otherwise the words will remain meaningless, and ring hollow.    


More by :  Dr. Neria H. Hebbar

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