Are India and the US Partners Now and For the Future?† No, Itís a Marriage of Convenience
-- By Dr Ramesh N. Rao
While Clinton's visit in March and Vajpayee's reciprocal visit in September seem to have engendered some warmth and friendship among the two countries, it would be imprudent to proclaim that the US and India are going to be friends forever.
Yes, there were quite a few "experts" calling for a change in Washington's attitude towards India. Gobarev, in a paper for the CATO institute, said that "Washington's overemphasis on the proliferation issue illustrates the tendency of US policy-makers to treat India as a potential adversary than a potential friend.... Pursuing the current course may well extend the impasse in relations to the point of irrevocably 'losing' India". But did these experts' opinions actually count?
There were three major issues that needed to be dealt with or resolved during Vajpayee's visit:
1) Sanctions: Following the nuclear tests conducted in 1998, a number of sanctions were imposed against India. Unfortunately, no headway was made in the removal of sanctions.
2) Terrorism: The State Department has identified the Afghan-Pakistan region as the hub of international terrorism. The Indian and US teams did spend time talking about it but it was not clear as to what specific steps the two are going to take to curb terrorism. The US did not declare Pakistan a terrorist state.
3) Permanent Seat for India in the UN: A group of 65 US Congressmen urged Clinton to support India's bid for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. Clinton sat on the recommendation.
To understand the nature of India-US relations, one just needs to read the New York Times' editorial following Vajpayee's visit: the editorial argued that India should take the initiative in defusing tension in the area no matter what its traditional and entrenched enemies continue to do! And even before Vajpayee's plane had taken off, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom held hearings on religious freedom in India and invited partisan ideologues to present their lies and half-truths. The Commission's chairman, Elliott Abrams, even dashed off a letter to Clinton, before Vajpayee's arrival, to twist the Indian prime minister's arm on religious matters.
The New York Times, the old-timers in the State and Defense departments, India-baiters in numerous "South Asia" programs in US universities and other vested interests continue to put spokes in the development of a healthy relationship between the world's two largest democracies. The US, given its overwhelming interest in itself and identifying itself with the "West" has mostly been a fickle ally to most of its "non-traditional" friends. Think about it.
Originally published on December 28, 2000.