US secretary of state John Kerry’s three-day visit to India commencing today takes place in unpropitious circumstances. The ties between the two countries have grown steadily in recent times, President Barack Obama calling it a defining partnerships of the 21st century.
It is a wide-spectrum relationship without being an alliance of the kind that Pakistan, Egypt, Israel, or the West Europeans have with Washington. There have been some notable successes in it, but also difficult patches, perhaps the most conspicuous being the hiccups caused by India’s nuclear liability laws which US nuclear product firms have cited as a disincentive for setting up nuclear power establishments in India, although the French and the Russians have not been similarly deterred.
Nevertheless, the ties between the two countries are of such an order as to warrant an institutionalised annual strategic dialogue at the level of foreign minister. Kerry will be here for this wide-angle conversation. Suspicion will remain, however, that on the eve of the secretary of state’s arrival, the US has orchestrated an anti-India campaign in Senate and Congress, ducking behind some routine industry and trade-related issues which ought to have been dealt with through normal channels.
This is a pity. It makes nonsense of the short video message released ahead of the Kerry visit dedicated to the praise of India-US relations. The US political class will do well to bear in mind that there is enough latent anti-Americanism in India that can go off the handle if relations are not tended with care on both sides. We are both democracies and that has to be respected.
The fact also has to be respected that India knows best how to chart its course in its own neighbourhood, and needs no one’s tutelage. In light of the concerted US attempt earlier this week to appease Pakistan by seeking to accord legitimacy to the Taliban in the guise of energising the Afghan peace process by cooking up a trickster’s office for the extremist group in Doha, doubts will linger that Washington is trying to arm-twist India in going along with it on the Afghanistan question.
This is an impossibility, of course, and New Delhi has made that quite clear through a detailed statement questioning the move to confer legitimacy on the Taliban. There is enough going for the India-America relationship, so long as Pakistan, in our immediate neighbourhood, is not privileged in a way that gives it strategic advantage. Kerry comes here with the reputation of being strongly pro-Pakistan. That can hardly be of help. He will do well to see that the Afghanistan-Pakistan question does not overwhelm other elements of the strategic dialogue.