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Turning away

Turning away

Author: Harsh V. Pant
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: March 12, 2009

Introduction: Obama, unlike Bush, doesn't care about India

India is realising that it's difficult to be out of the limelight once you've got used to it. For the eight years of the Bush Administration, India occupied pride of place in the US' strategic calculus. Wooed as a rising power, it was seen as a pole in the emerging global balance of power; it was acknowledged as the primary actor in South Asia, de-hyphenated from Pakistan, and then it was given what it had long desired· de facto nuclear weapon state status. From a problem state that · could never say yes, India emerged as a state that the US could do business with. It was all too good to last far long. And now one of the architects of the US- India strategic partnership during the Bush period, Shyam Saran, is asking India to hedge its bets in light of what he views as Sino- US strategic convergence.

Clearly, the new administration in Washington has little time far New Delhi. Indeed, India is now viewed primarily as a problem that the Obama Administration needs to sort out. It is instructive that the only context in which Obama has talked of India yet is the need to. "sort Kashmir out" so as to find a way out of the West's troubles in Afghanistan. The talk of a strategic partnership between the two democracies has all but disappeared. This new administration has little time for grand strategy.

Actually, this new administration that actually has little time for friends. The growing emphasis on ties with China has alarmed Japan; a letter to Russia suggesting a bargain - in which the US would not go ahead with missile defence if Russia helped convince Iran on nuclear-weapons-has alarmed Poland and the Czech Republic. An eagerness to negotiate with Iran has alarmed the Gulf States and Israel.

Asia is clearly emerging the new pivot of US foreign policy, but it doesn't look like India has a place in the new priorities. When Clinton decided to make Asia her first destination as secretary of state, the original Policy Planning Staff transition memo apparently suggested that India should be part of the itinerary. But that was idea not deemed worthy of execution. ..

This is a slide back, as the Bush administration had started looking at India as part of the larger Asian strategic landscape. Now, the man at the NSC looking at India, Jeff Bader, is more a China expert, and knows little about South Asia. And, while the previous administration's love-fest with India was driven by Bush himself, Obama seems to have little interest in South Asia - beyond the obvious, getting US troops out of Afghanistan at the earliest. Indians would like to think that India and the US share a common interest in tackling terrorism and extremism sourced to the turbulent territory between the Indus and the Hindu Kush, but the US has so far been lukewarm to the idea of involving India in its larger strategy towards Afpak. What this sudden change in
tone indicates is that India's is still nowhere near the kind of profile that China today enjoys. China has had double-digit growth rates for two decades while the Indian story is not even a decade old. Meanwhile, the confusions that pass for foreign policy in Delhi do a great disservice to Indian aspirations. The dithering over the US-India nuclear deal fixed the image of an Indian polity stands divided on the nation's fundamental foreign policy choices. Left are serious doubts emerging about the nation's ability to leverage the present economic and
strategic opportunities to its advantage. India's response after the Mumbai terror attacks may have garnered some kudos for its restraint, but it didn't help the impression that India is happy to outsource its security to other powers, a dent in Indian military credibility from which it will not be easier to recover.

Indian elites might talk of a chimerical Chindia, but while China is today viewed indispensable in solving global problems from North Korea and Iran to the financial turmoil, India is of little help to the US in addressing its immediate foreign policy priorities. Yet it would be exceedingly short -sighted of the Obama Administration to ignore India in searching for a balance of power in Asia. India, however, needs to put its own house in order before crying hoarse over the changing winds in Washington. Global reassessment of India is primarily predicated on its recent economic rise, but India's rise will remain incomplete in the absence of a credible vision with a larger purpose. It's that vision that' India needs right now. The rest; including the Obama Administration, will follow on its own.'

- The writer is at King's College, London express@expressindia.com


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