India Out Of The Loop On Af-PakMarch 18, 2010
Chidanand Rajghatta, TNN
WASHINGTON: The atmospherics are good but the ground realities are unfavourable. India is struggling to stay relevant and advance its geo-political equities with the United States at a time Washington is buffeted by domestic pressures and international crises that are undercutting its resolve to put ties with New Delhi on a higher plane.
Good intentions, broad agenda, and packed schedules notwithstanding, Indian diplomatic foray into Washington this week was notable for gripes and grievances than any significant advancement towards the stated goal of achieving a strategic relationship with the US, foreign secretary Nirupama Rao had a series of meetings on Tuesday, including a drop-in by secretary of state Hillary Clinton at a state department meeting with her counterpart William Burns, but in the end there was no meeting of minds on the most fundamental security issue of the times.
India and US disagree on Afghanistan and Pakistan. That much became clear towards the end of the foreign secretary’s visit although elaboration on this issue was foiled by the cancellation of Rao’s wrap-up press meet (Indian Embassy said she was unwell).
At a time when Washington is searching for an exit strategy from the Af-Pak region, a statement released at the end of her visit (in lieu of the cancelled press conference) tersely noted that “she (Rao) reiterated India’s long-held position that it was important for the international community to stay the present course in Afghanistan for as long as it is necessary.” The international community on the other hand wants to get the hell out of Afghanistan — yesterday.
There were other unresolved issues. Rao’s engagement was also partly torpedoed by the withdrawal by the government of the nuclear liability bill in Parliament hours after her arrival here. As a result, there was little progress on tying up loose ends of the civilian nuclear deal including an agreement on reprocessing although there were brave words about the deal being on track and on schedule.
Most notably, on the issue of high-tech cooperation, the Indian side was still pleading for removal of some its organizations from the so-called Entities List, seven years after the establishment of the group. “The Indian side requested the US department of commerce to review US export controls applicable to India and update them to bring them in keeping with the changed political realities that contextualize India-US strategic partnership today,” the concluding statement said.
To say India has become a mere sideshow in Washington would be overstating it (besides meeting Clinton, Rao also called on the NSA Jim Jones and two key lawmakers on a day Washington was awash with the health care issue and the US-Israel spat). There were important advances in bilateral matters, including setting the stage for external affairs minister S M Krishna’s visit to Washington shortly leading in turn to President Obama’s visit to New Delhi later this year.
But on the Af-Pak issue, India is clearly out of the loop. Pakistan is again the new game in town. Even as the Indian foreign secretary made the rounds of a capital in political and legislative ferment (over the health care bill), diplomatic corridors were abuzz with Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s own outreach to the Taliban through his brothers and Pakistan’s effort to impose itself on that engagement.
Rao meanwhile was telling think-tankers that Taliban remained untouchables for New Delhi. India’s gripe about US arms to Pakistan also went largely unaddressed. In fact, even as Rao was complaining about the potential use by Pakistan of US-supplied weapons against India, Washington had delivered from its base in Jordan a squadron of 14 AH-1 Cobra advanced helicopter gunships to Pakistan.