Thursday, May 21, 2009

Indo-US Relations in the Second Manmohan Singh Administration

This essay on Indo-US relations in the second Manmohan Singh Administration first appeared on the IPCS website.

With a decisive mandate for the Congress (I)-led UPA government, the general assumption is that there will be continuity in India’s relations especially with the United States. With the Congress (I) not having to depend on the Left parties for support anymore, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be able to pursue the strategic partnership with the US with greater ease. The Left parties would have exercised a stronger say particularly in matters pertaining to US, China and Nepal, and have been overly critical about US-India defence agreement of 2005, the Indo-US nuclear deal and the strengthened defence and military ties with the US. The end-user monitoring agreements on American defence items supplied to India too would have come under the Left scanner. The defeat of the Left parties has particularly elated the NRI community who believe that the new government will not only take the economic relations to a higher level but also significantly strengthen the strategic ties between the two countries.

With the Congress (I) and Manmohan Singh at the helm of affairs, there could be easy passage of further economic reforms and of FDI into India. Opening up of sectors including telecom, retail, media and insurance can now be speeded up and fiscal reform measures will also be on the table that can get the country out of the economic downturn faster.

In fact, Manmohan Singh’s decision to call the Left a bluff and conclude the Indo-US nuclear deal proved his mettle and strong leadership qualities. Although the nuclear deal will enable it to meet about 3 percent of India’s energy needs, more significantly, the deal, as the Prime Minister saw it, got India out of the nuclear apartheid of more than three decades and put India on the global map as an important and responsible player.

While continuity is foreseen, there might be a few issues that one has to factor in India’s relations with the US. These concern nuclear issues, regional security issues including Kashmir and Pakistan, China, Iran and WTO and climate change issues.

The Democrats including Obama have been staunch opponents of the Indo-US nuclear deal. Now that the deal has been completed, their opposition cannot mean very much. However, there could possibly be some difficulties at the next stage of negotiations on operationalizing the deal. It should also be borne in mind that the Obama Administration will remain committed to non-proliferation goals, including Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the Fissile Material Control Treaty (FMCT) that will be pushed with greater vigour. The Obama Administration is also likely to strengthen its efforts to bring in countries like India, Pakistan and Israel into the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) framework, though it is unclear if this is just a declaratory posture ahead of the next year’s NPT Review Conference or something more serious. India not being a member of the NPT remains a major issue for the Democrats. Obama’s renewed interest in getting CTBT ratified by the US Senate and thereafter by other countries, including India and Pakistan could become a sore point in bilateral relations. On the other hand, India’s opposition to the CTBT has weakened somewhat, if one goes by the speech that Shyam Saran gave at the Brookings Institution recently.

Obama’s AfPak strategy linking Kashmir to the security of Afghanistan is not a very palatable one for India. This is exactly what Pakistan has always sought and it could possibly be a sticking point in India-US relations. Second, there is a clear gap between the US and India on their objectives vis-à-vis Afghanistan. The US has a limited objective – ensuring that the Taliban / al Qaeda do not use the Pakistan-Afghan territory to carry out terrorism against the US. For India, it is a much more complex issue of ensuring that Afghanistan does not fall back into the hands of Taliban and become a fertile ground for terrorism and instability in the region. India also disagrees with the US on dealing with Taliban by making a differentiation between good and bad Taliban. Besides, a deal with the Afghan Taliban may not bring much positive results when the effective command and control are with the ISI in Pakistan. Lastly, the US will be making the same mistakes as it did at the peak of the Cold War when it funded a large number of tribal groups. It must be kept in mind that over a period of time, these groups outsmart their masters and get out of control.

Finally, the nature of US-China relations will also affect Indo-US relations. A softer approach towards China is not something favourably looked upon by India as it happened, for example, during the Clinton administration, where they wanted to jointly manage South Asia. On the other hand, India does not want to see them become hostile to each other and get into a conflict situation, where India may be forced to take sides. Both of these situations could prove dangerous for India. Similarly, improved Indo-US relations will likely have a negative effect on Sino-India ties. In the same way, improved US-China relations will raise concerns in New Delhi and could affect both US-India as well as Sino-India relations.

No comments: