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The House That George Built

The importance of Indo-US relations is an issue both Republicans and Democrats agree on

The House That George Built
The House That George Built

It isn’t just the Indian Parliament that’s shocked at the Indo-Pak joint statement following the Manmohan Singh-Yousuf Raza Gilani meet at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh earlier this month. Half a world away, South Asia analysts in Washington dubbed Manmohan’s concessions to Pakistan a curious climbdown, immensely surprised as they were that he should have delinked Indo-Pak dialogue from action on terror by Pakistan.

As Lisa Curtis of the Heritage Foundation admits, “I thought the joint statement was very surprising, particularly in the light of the release of Hafiz Mohammed Saeed.” The Lahore High Court recently ordered the release of Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), the organisation that has been accused of carrying out the Mumbai attacks. The court’s decision could be read as a sign that Pakistan is not serious about shutting down LeT and its affiliates, Curtis argues.

Many in India see America’s hand in the joint statement. This perception has gained ground partly because President Barack Obama is trying desperately to get Pakistan to shed its paranoia of India and focus on the Taliban and Al Qaeda threat. Suggestions from some members of the US Congress that concessions by India on Kashmir would allow Pakistan to concentrate its attention on its western border are dismissed by analysts as an oversimplification of the deep, historical rivalry between the two nations. “India has troops on the border because Pakistan has for years supported militants infiltrating across,” says Curtis. Asking India to remove those troops without reciprocal action by Pakistan to shut down terror groups does not make sense, she argues.

Gratuitous suggestions of providing comfort to Pakistan have had some commentators in India speculating with alarm that the US has reinserted the hyphen in its relations with India and Pakistan. But Sumit Ganguly, a visiting scholar at Stanford University, doesn’t believe the Obama administration is either “callous or foolish enough” to re-hyphenate the relationship. He thinks US secretary of state Hillary Clinton appreciates the significance of India, especially when it comes to the future of critical global negotiations such as climate change, the Doha Round and non-proliferation. Ganguly describes the recently concluded end-user monitoring agreement as nothing short of dramatic, allowing India to access sensitive technology. He further adds, “Despite the idiotic rants from some quarters in India, the two sides are quietly moving ahead on the question of reprocessing in Vienna.”

Teresita Schaffer of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies also dismissed the hyphen talk. “Indians have to recognise that their country is the largest power in a region that also includes several deeply troubled states, that Pakistan is one of those, and that Pakistan’s ability to control its territory is a major policy worry for the US, and that it’s natural for US officials to talk to India about this,” said Schaffer, adding, “Indeed, it would be strange if they did not.”

The removal of the hyphen is a reflection of the evolution of American foreign policy thinking as well as developments in India, such as its impressive economic growth. “Americans across the political spectrum realise that we live in 2009, not in 1949, much less 1959 or 1969,” said Evan Feigenbaum, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asia under president George W. Bush. He contends the US has taken dehyphenation quite literally—“bureaucratically as well as intellectually”—and that US-India relations are one on which both Republicans and Democrats see eye to eye.

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