April 06, 2020
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Congressmen And India-Experts Are Cautiously Optimistic About Indo-Us Ties; But

Congressmen And India-Experts Are Cautiously Optimistic About Indo-Us Ties; But

Frank Pallone
Democrat, New Jersey, Chairman of India Caucus in the House of Representatives

Will the Clinton-Gujral talks start a new chapter in ties?

I have no doubt that it is a new beginning. In the next six months the fact that so many American Cabinet members and the President are going to India indicate that the US-India relationship has improved significantly. The US is going to make India a foreign policy priority and I think we have nowhere to go but up, frankly.

Do you think we have a reached a stage where the prism of Pakistan will be out of US-India relations?

I don’t know that I can say that US relations with Pakistan will not continue to impact in some way our relations with India. But what is happening now is that India has become more and more a foreign policy priority for the US so that our relationship with Pakistan is no longer going to be a hindrance.

Sumit Ganguly
Professor of Political Science, Hunter College, New York, and a South Asia expert.

What makes this Clinton-Gujral meet unique?

Much depends on what India does. And on how it engages the US. I wouldn’t focus so much on non-proliferation and on human rights in Kashmir. I would focus on the one issue that seems to be working in Indo-US relations—the economic relationship. If you can get a firm economic relationship with the US, a lot of other issues could be put on the backburner and dealt with quietly rather than in public fora.

Do you think US ties with India can be delinked or decoupled from its relations with Pakistan?

It can’t be decoupled. But if India improves ties with Pakistan, then the usual awkwardness in dealing with the US on the Pakistan issue will certainly lose its sting.

There has been some talk that this relationship could be strategic.

Yes and no. This requires greater transparency on the India side. The Indians can’t keep planning on holding military exercises and two days prior to that, cancelling them. This has happened on a number of occasions. The Indians have to overcome their fear of the American forces.

Marshall Bouton
Executive vice-president, Asia Society, and an India-expert

Do you see a new beginning?

Yes. I do. We are clearly in a watershed period in Indo-US relations. We now have a positive direction. It began, in many respects, with the end of the Cold War and was given a further impetus by the economic reform process in India.

And now we have entered a new phase in which the US has decided that it wants to focus on a broad constructive engagement with India. That engagement will no longer be conditioned upon specific issues such as arms proliferation. That is not to say that the US has given up its objectives, its concerns in that area.

What are the prospects of a strategic Indo-US relationship?

That is unlikely in the near future for a variety of reasons. And nor is it really necessary. There is no shared threat which the two countries need to address through some strategic relationship. We need to create a level of mutual confidence and trust so that when we do engage with each other, our motives are not automatically questioned. I give very high marks to the Clinton Administration in respect to India.

Stephen P. Cohen
Professor of political science, University of Illinois at Urbana, and a South Asia expert.

Is this a new beginning in Indo-US relations?

Well, I wouldn’t say that it is a new beginning. It’s going back and trying to make up for lost time. We deferred a serious dialogue about what a serious relationship could be. The blame or responsibility for this is about evenly shared by both countries. But the present group in Washington, at least, is interested in a fresh start. They are no longer making the non-proliferation issue the guidepost for American policy. But I don’t think there is going to be any dramatic interventions.

To what would you attribute this?

I think personalities make some difference. Among these personalities (both in US and India) there is less fear that the region is going to turn into a scene for a nuclear war than it was perhaps three or five years ago. There’s less hysteria about stability in South Asia.

Do you foresee an American policy towards India devoid of the Pakistan factor?

In the past when we’ve had a dialogue with India, one of the things we had from them is basically that ‘you must dump Pakistan’. We can’t forge a relationship on the basis of India dictating our relations with a third country. And, of course, Pakistan is always warning us about our ties with India.... There’s a new opportunity for India to conclude its dialogue with Pakistan which makes American role irrelevant. India can offer Pakistan more than we can in terms of security and trade.

What may be the main thrust areas?

I wouldn’t want to predict the future...but I expect the problem may be on the Indian side because India is so distracted by its internal developments and has such an unstable government. So, it may be hard for India to move quickly toward either Pakistan or toward the US. The Gujral doctrine has received fairly wide consensus across the political spectrum. India does need to move in its relations with Pakistan and the US in some significant way. It just can’t say no all the time. It has to offer something in order to get something.

Gary Ackerman
Democrat from New York, Member of House International Relations Committee:

Is there a new paradigm in Indo-US ties?

I think it is a tremendous opportunity: a new current is developing that is being built on a maturing of a wonderful relationship between the peoples of India, the peoples of US and our two governments. This is a relationship that will continue to be built—a renewed relationship that’s only going to be strengthened. These are all good signs in the air.

There’s talk of a strategic relationship between the US and India.

That is a good possibility. Talks on this issue will begin and, hopefully, we will see that strategic relationship happen. There are some steps that our State Department would like to see happen and some discussions will take place. I think a strategic relationship is very much on the cards.

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