Thursday, May 10, 2012

Hillary Clinton’s India Visit: New Delhi Reminds Washington of Country's Interests in Region


US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrapped up her three-day visit to India on May 8. Her trip came at a time when India and the United States are perceived to have taken somewhat different positions from each other on various issues. After two decades of increasing proximity, disagreements between the two countries over several key matters now seem to be slowing down the momentum of bilateral relations. Those who had hoped that Clinton’s visit would put the spark back in the ties will have been a bit disappointed as both parties have not done much, in addition to reiterating already-known positions.

During her stay, Clinton met key Indian leaders, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi. and discussed a range of issues, including China, regional security and civil nuclear cooperation.

Pakistan’s Role in Eliminating Terror
The US secretary of state has pressed Pakistan to do more to ensure its territory is not used as "launching pad" by terror groups for attacks and also said that Hafiz Saeed was "one of the "principal architects" of the November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. Hillary's comments came at a joint news conference after her talks with External Affairs Minister SM Krishna who spoke of the need for elimination of "terrorist sanctuaries" in the neighborhood.The two leaders nudged Pakistan to bring to justice the perpetrators of the 26/11 attacks and pledged to continue to work together in combating the menace.

In his remarks, Krishna said the recent terrorist attacks in Afghan capital – Kabul -- highlighted the need for elimination of terrorist sanctuaries in the neighborhood and for Pakistan to take steps against terrorism, including bringing to justice the perpetrators of 26/11 attacks. He also stressed the need for stronger action from Pakistan on terrorism, including on bringing to justice the perpetrators of the Mumbai terrorist attack.

In April 2012, the United States offered a $10 million reward for information leading to the conviction of Saeed, the founder of the Pakistan-based terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).

Afghan Problem
The vision for Afghanistan was also discussed at the meeting. India stressed the need for sustained international commitment to build Afghan capacity for governance, security and economic development, and to support Afghanistan with assistance, investment and regional linkages.

To ask India to “do more” on the Iranian issue, therefore, is not fair on the part of the United States. The US secretary of state should understand that if the US has to do all it can to safeguard its geo-political interests in the Afghanistan-Pakistan area, India, too, has its interests in Kabul which cannot be properly taken care of if New Delhi loses the Iranian link.

US Investment in West Bengal
Clinton’s offer to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to invest in West Bengal is, however, a welcome development. The state will also gain immensely once the issues between India and Bangladesh are settled conclusively. An agreement between the two neighbors on the Teesta River water issue could have been signed by now had Banerjee not taken a stand different from New Delhi’s line of thinking. But, as External Affairs Minister SM Krishna told his Bangladesh counterpart Dipu Moni, in New Delhi, efforts are on to bring the West Bengal Chief Minister to the view that the country’s overall interests must be given precedence over the state’s interest.

Earlier, the West Bengal chief minister had scuttled the United Progressive Alliance’s plans to allow Foreign Direct Investment in multi-brand retail, arguing that the move would destroy small businesses. The US secretary of state seems to have failed to force a change of heart in the feisty Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

Issue of Oil Imports From Iran
The Damocles sword is still hanging on India. The United States gave no firm assurance to India that the proposed American sanctions will not apply to it for oil purchases from Iran even as New Delhi stated that the Iranian issue was not a source of discord between the two countries.
Continuing to resist American pressure over the matter, India also made it clear that it would abide only by UN Security Council sanctions against Iran and not those imposed by individual countries.

The US pressure on India regarding oil imports from Iran leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Does it not tantamount to interference in our internal affairs? As long as Manmohan Singh is the prime minister any directions of the United States in India's internal affairs and treaties like nuclear deal are cake walks.

In March 2012, the United States announced sanctions which threaten to shut out importers of Iranian oil from the US financial system unless they make significant and continuing cuts to their purchases by the end of June. Japan and 10 European Union nations have been granted exemption while India and China remain at risk.

In addition to its need for oil, there are two reasons why India must not take the US pressure lying down. India's only reliable land-route into Afghanistan and Central Asia runs through Iran. Moreover, the current US approach is likely to make the Iranian — and regional — security situation worse, not better. Saudi Arabia and Israel, which is already nuclear-armed, worry that a nuclear-capable Iran would tilt the regional balance and want the squeeze put on Iran. But too much financial or military pressure could backfire, goading the regime to commit to acquiring a strategic weapon — something it has not done until today.

India has demonstrated that it has come of age and stood its ground. Iran, despite its saber rattling, is a responsible power and we have a very useful conduit to their Leaders, which could be invaluable, when the World needs stability and growth. India must neither shut off Iran's oil imports nor Iran's access routes to Afghanistan and Central Asia. Pakistan can make overtures to a new relationship, but India cannot afford to alienate the country that can provide a counter balance to the Taliban-Pakistan nexus.

India has been firm in its foreign policy right since independence, and rightly so; we are a country with one of the fastest growing economy. We have recently done an arm deal which is considered world's biggest. We have to manage our allies ourselves. The Indian external affairs minister’s decision to disagree with Clinton and reminding her of India's interests in the region.

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