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Quid Pro Quo

March 24, 2010 by  
Filed under foreign policy, war on terror

The Indo-US strategic relationship has come under the scanner recently – one because of Headley and the next a result of US- Pak Strategic dialogue. The media, strategic experts and the foreign policy pundits have argued along lines of a transactional or a transformational relationship between the two nations coming under a strain. They have also argued the quid pro quo India has to offer for an Indian tilt in the Obama policies in the region in favour of India.

Bush underscored the importance of India as a bulwark against rising Chinese influence in the Indian Ocean Region. To that end he wanted to ween India away from Russian dependence in various arena including the military and civil nuclear energy.The Bush administration, pursued policies towards India that embodied a strategic realist perspective. In fact, it stayed the course until the very end. Thanks both to his affection for India and his conviction about the strategic importance of the US-Indian partnership, Bush declined to shift towards a transactional approach even when some in his administration believed that the president ought to use his nuclear initiative to press India for concessions in order to secure the political prize of completing the Doha Round. It was in light of these strategic objectives that Bush courted India actively in all spheres including trade and commerce.

Obama has changed priorities. His priority number one is to “get the hell out of Afghanistan”. This changes his focus in the region and especially marginalizes his short term interest in India in favor of Pakistan which sent a 56-page document to the U.S. ahead of strategic talks scheduled for Wednesday, seeking expanded military and economic aid in what some American officials believe is an implicit offer to crack down in return on the Afghan Taliban.U.S. officials say the document and the talks surrounding it could help redefine one of America’s thorniest foreign-policy relationships, if it leads to a serious Pakistani clampdown on the Taliban.”

Ashley Tellis in his piece “Who Gets What” argues that in this exchange game “India’s real contribution to advancing US goals consisted not of a partnership in support of American aims but rather getting things right on the issues that mattered for the success of global order”. He argues that voices in US have also asked that “US efforts to favour India should be conditioned by what New Delhi is willing to do for Washington in return”. He further propounds the concept of  Strategic Realist Approach where each nations supports the others geopolitical interests .

Ashley articulates, “To the degree that the American partnership with India aids New Delhi in growing more rapidly, it contributes – along with Japanese, Australian, and Southeast Asian power – towards creating those objective structural constraints that discourage China from abusing its own growing capabilities , even as Washington preserves good relations with Beijing and encourages all its Asian partners to do the same. American strategic generosity towards India, thus, remains an investment in its own geopolitical well being. And India’s success itself, so long as it is not used to undermine America’s vital interests, becomes New Delhi’s strategic bequest to Washington-and the answer to the question , “What will India give in return?”

However the Obama administration does not seem to follow the Strategic Realist approach in the region as of now. The answers lie in the same question posed to Pakistan,” What will you give in return?” Pakistan has 2377 body bags and a score of other war efforts in Pakistan to show for the quid pro quo. Obama wants this pressure maintained till a negotiated settlement to the vexed Afghani inheritance is resolved. So, in the short term Obama, even while he may be convinced of developing strong strategic ties with India, is bound to hold the Pakistani hand in steering him out of the Afghan conundrum.

However, this short term strategic move by US should not undermine the long term Indo US strategic alliance where the scope for quid pro quo is passing through a different route – through Russia and China rather than Afghanistan.US has well articulated long term strategic interests in the region and they will not be served well by fueling an Indo Pakistani race for preferred nation. It is therefore in US interests as much as it is in South Asia’s, that Obama tread cautiously in his relationships with India and Pakistan by adopting a complex blending of various approaches balancing the short term need of solving Afghanistan to remaining relevant in the long term.

US has to follow a global approach to keep South Asia viable and there may not be any quid pro quo in the short term. The strategists in US and India would do well to find a mean in these crucial times.

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