Strategic Dialogue and Beyond
The forthcoming Indo US strategic dialogue is all over the media these days. On the heels of the dialogue will be the Obama visit in September.
Lately we have been viewing the Indo US relationship of the Obama – Man Mohan Singh era through the prism of Af-Pak policy of the US and various machinations spurning out of it. There is, however, a need to widen the scope of this discussion to a range of issues to include economic cooperation between the two countries and its related manifestations. It is evident that alliances in the 21st Century will be formed with or against US, militarily.
But that’s not the only way forward. Economics and other geopolitical factors have a big role to play here.
Recent developments in the U.S.-China relationship including the effective exit of Google from the Chinese market and threats of a retaliatory action by the U.S. Congress on the exchange rate issue should calm down Indian fears that the Obama administration is keener on China than India. Symmetrically, from the U.S. perspective, the current Indian leadership is well inclined towards continuing to build U.S.-India relations. This exercise will also allay fears that Pakistan was favoured by US to pursue its South Asian policies.
A Carnegie report of last year had thrown light on an interesting triangle with China at the centre of all Pakistani endeavors in Afghanistan. Despite China’s weariness with USA on a host of economic and political issues, it is standing solidly behind Pakistan in finding a solution to the Afghan imbroglio to serve its own interests in the region.
Beijing’s approach to the AfPak issue derives to a great extent from its strategic interests regarding South Asia, and the Indo-Pakistani rivalry in particular. Over many decades, China has developed a very close political, military, and economic relationship with the Pakistani leadership (described by some Chinese and Western analysts as an “all weather” and “adversity-tested” friendship), largely in order to support Islamabad’s role as a strategic counterweight to New Delhi.
Specifically, a stable, independent, friendly, and regionally influential Pakistan prevents Indian domination of South Asia, weakens Indian influence in Central Asia, and obstructs any Indian desire to focus primarily on strategic rivalry with China. Moreover, from the Chinese (and Pakistani) perspective, a stable and friendly Afghanistan provides Pakistan with a degree of “strategic depth” against India’s nuclear capabilities and conventional military superiority .
Notwithstanding, the Obama administration’s realization of India as a bulwark against China and the only democracy able to manage peace in the Asian continent would come at a price – a quid pro quo which India must be able to fulfill for any long term strategic relations to take shape beyond photo ops and handshakes. Militarily, economically and geopolitically each side has to perceive each other’s position from a coommon understanding of National Interests and core values. The relationship, therefore, has to be moderated between strategic realism and transactional trade offs.
Ashley Tellis articulates in an article by him that 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?”
By the time Obama visits India no positive military or political results are likely in Af Pak. However, this short term strategic move(Af Pak) 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.
The Strategic Dialogue and the efforts at various meetings should therefore be to charter a course along major landmarks in tthe field of Economics, Infrastructure, Defence , Climate Change and Education. Concise research work and road maps along each of these directions should be discussed threadbare and common charter for the Obama – Singh dialogue should be laid out.
The focus should be on getting the bigger picture right in this momentous alliance of the two great democracies.