WHO GOES there? Friend or foe? Indo-US relations have been on the up and up ever since Atal Bihari Vajpayee went on an official visit to Washington in September 2000. Just a few months back, the world’s two largest democracies celebrated the special friendship as President Barack Obama hosted the first state dinner of his administration at the White House for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur. But now there are signs of the relationship turning sour. The UPA government and the Congress party are now deeply divided on the issue of dealing with the United States vis a vis Pakistan.
As a cynic observed, the Obama administration’s mantra seems to be: words of wisdom for India and weapons for Pakistan; treat India as a market to be conquered and Pakistan as a mission to be accomplished. There are red faces in South Block over the red carpet reception given to Pakistan Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi and his delegation.
There’s much hangwringing over Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s statement that Washington had opened up a “strategic alliance” with Islamabad and her remark that “Pakistan’s struggles are our struggles”. It has upset even those in the UPA who have traditionally been in favour of strengthening Indo-US ties, whatever the political cost involved.
The prime minister and most of his senior cabinet colleagues like Pranab Mukherjee, Sharad Pawar, P Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal, Kamal Nath and Anand Sharma have been advocates of stronger strategic and economic ties with the US which they think is India's best long term ally.
Under US prodding, the UPA government tried to push through the Nuclear Liability Bill which later had to be abandoned following stiff resistance from the opposition benches. With the US now bending over backwards to accommodate Islamabad’s demands for more financial and military goodies, even the pro-US lobby in the government is beginning to have a rethink. Despite its public censures of Pakistan for holding terrorist training camps within its territory, the Obama administration seems to be following Richard Nixon’s path: Pakistan is in the wrong, but they are our friends.
Our ministers are not in the habit of indulging in plain-speak on matters relating to ties with friendly countries, but trust Chidambaram to call a spade a bloody shovel. On an official visit to London last week, the home minister minced no words when he squarely put the onus of taming Pakistan on the US and Britain. In an interview to the BBC, he virtually accused Washington and London of doing nothing to force Pakistan to close the terror camps operating in the country. “ Certainly we ( in India) have not been able to persuade Pakistan. It’s Pakistan’s friends, mutual friends who have to put the pressure”, he said before signing off with a warning: “ Don’t think India alone is under threat. Once you allow these terror groups to train, recruit and be able to build capacity to strike, they can strike in India, they can strike in UK, they can strike in Denmark as they were planning out of the Karachi project”. New Delhi is also livid with Washington for its tepid response to Indian requests for the interrogation of David Headley who confessed to US authorities of his role in the 26/ 11 attack. There have been contradictory signals from the Americans, with the visiting U. S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake saying in New Delhi last week that Indian investigators could be given access to Dawood Sayed Gilani aka David Headley, only for the US Ambassador in India Timothy Roemer to state two days later that Washington was yet to take a decision on the matter. Party insiders say the leadership is now convinced that India could do without such one sided friendship. Don’t be surprised if India starts cosying up elsewhere.
Recently, Manmohan Singh, while welcoming Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin, described Russia as a “ tried and tested friend” that has stood by India in “ times of need”. It was the second meeting between the two in less than three months. Three months ago, Manmohan was in Moscow. He is due to fly to Washington next month. If Obama again mouths those platitudes about “ great democracies and shared values”, the prime minister should simply turn around and tell the president what he thinks about him.