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New Directions in India- US Relations

-- By Dr Ramesh N. Rao

On Sunday US Secretary of State Madeline Albright met the Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh in Singapore in what could be termed a very positive meeting and hopefully setting the stage for a real turning point in India - US relations. 

The two were attending the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and building upon a week=s set of events and meetings that could be culminating in President Clinton visiting India in November.

India and the US came a step closer to ``broadening and deepening'' ties by ratifying an extradition treaty on July 21.  The treaty will help both countries tackle problems of terrorism and drug trafficking. 

India has been facing terrorist threats for a long time from insurgents across the country, especially in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and the US has had to deal with Islamic fundamentalism inspired terrorism by the likes of Osama bin Laden, who till today is holed up in the Taliban controlled Afghanistan.

The rapprochement between the two largest largest democracies in the world is possible because India tackled the crisis in Kashmir these past two months in a mature, careful and effective manner. 

India lost more than 300 soldiers and a lot of military hardware including two aircrafts and a helicopter, in fighting the Pakistan led and inspired groups of mujahideen who had occupied the icy heights of mountains on the Indian side of the Line of Control that now demarcates the boundary between Pakistan and India. 

The Indian Army could have crossed the Line of Control and inflict damage on the supply centers well inside Pakistan, which were helping keep the Pakistan led forces up on the mountains.  India could have ratcheted up the skirmish into a regular war after Pakistan returned the tortured and mutilated bodies of six Indian soldiers. 

That act by Pakistan was clearly inspired to raise the ante and tempt India into a harsh reaction. 

Had India responded in that way, Pakistan could have internationalized the issue, made the United States concerned about another Kosovo like situation and thrown a more dangerous spanner into the South Asian works. 

India deployed its ground troops and its air force effectively.  It did not allow the troops to cross the Line of Control.

It carried out a well thought out public relations campaign that told the Western powers and especially the United States, that India was a mature nation, that it was a reliable nation able to handle its newly acquired nuclear power status with assurance and care. 

 India has not had a good relationship with the US in the past 50 years.  Cold War considerations pitched the two democracies into opposing camps and Indian leaders= tendencies to shoot their mouths off and to lecture to the US in world forums clearly rubbed the mandarins in the US state and defense departments the wrong way. 

But the BJP-led government, which many feared was an Indian version of an Islamic fundamentalist regime, has clearly proved, even in its caretaker capacity, that it has wise leaders. They had a mature response to a dangerous situation that could have easily escalated into a fourth war between India and Pakistan.    

This is the background in which we should see Madeline Albright's comments on the terrorist massacre in Doda (Kashmir).  She told reporters on July 20: AWe condemn attacks against civilians and, obviously, those who perpetrate them and those who give assistance to the perpetrators.  Acts of terrorism must stop immediately because such actions make the Kashmir conflict more, not less, difficult to resolve.@ 

Though Albright did not mention Pakistan, the reference was obvious.

Albright's strong statement on terrorist acts sponsored from across the border significantly coincided with US Congress  authorizing President Clinton to waive for one more year the sanctions imposed on India after its May 1998 nuclear tests. 

India, with its rich heritage, the fifth largest gross domestic product in the world, one-sixth of the world’s six billion and a messy though vibrant democracy, can be a useful and powerful ally of the United States. 

Indian media and its socialist/left politicians should give themselves a breather and stop attacking the US at every opportunity if they wish the world=s richest and most powerful country to come to India’s aid. 

Help from the United States can make India grow from a developing country into a developed nation. 

If it can alleviate poverty and illiteracy and if it builds the right infrastructure for US investment, India can be the shining star in South Asia. 

It is time for the two largest democracies to collaborate now to usher in a bright new millennium.

Originally published on July 27, 1999.

 
     
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