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M.R. Josse: Indo-US Tango - Implications

Indo-US Tango: Implications

By M.R. Josse

INDIAN foreign secretary Shyam Saran proclaimed recently that India is willing to partner the US to 'balance the power equation in Asia.' Hitherto, South Block officials tended not to refer to such concepts as an 'Asian balance' in the context of Indo-US relations.

Paradigm Shift? Now, apparently, it is kosher to openly advertise that the US and India can "contribute to creating a greater balance in Asia." Debunking that such a posture could be hazardous to the health of Sino-Indian ties, Saran claims that ties with China will intensify.

While that remains to be seen, it is significant that Saran went on to say "(we are) inviting more and more countries within the discipline of a new security paradigm" that places India at the centrepiece of a new world order.

Notably, Saran's tall claims emanate precisely when Indo-US relations – and especially the Indo-American nuclear deal of July 18, 2005 – are in danger of meltdown, against the backdrop of the Bush administration's difficulties to sell it at home and the Indian opposition's fierce assaults on the government's pro-US policies including those related to Iran.

Noteworthy, too, is that Saran's latest burst of bravado was timed when the UN oil-for-food scandal has not only toppled Saran's political boss, K. Natwar Singh, but, indeed, as its dark shadows are inexorably reaching the Congress party itself.

In any case, it has for sometime now been official Indian policy to wax eloquent over the scope of India-China relations and to laud the positive impact of the same on the two respective economies. Yet, at a less public level, India has fiercely and consistently striven to match China in military prowess and economic clout, no doubt driven by an unspoken bid to finally cleanse the humiliation to the national psyche of India's 1962 defeat at the hands of China.

It will now be in order to recall Saran's public address on February 14 this year in the Indian capital. Therein, spelling out what he called India's neighbourhood policy, he pompously claimed "dominant status" for India.

Incidentally, he justified India's decision to postpone the then impending SAARC summit. He also lashed out at unnamed SAARC members for actively seeking "association with countries outside the region or with regional or international organisations in a barely disguised effort to 'counterbalance' India within the Association or to project SAARC as some kind of a regional dispute settlement mechanism."

The first segment of Saran's formulation clearly points to China whose association with SAARC as an observer was secured at the recent Dhaka summit due to Nepal's deft and dogged diplomacy. Saran, as one present in Dhaka at that time can attest, personally led a crusade against China's case at the official and ministerial level meetings, insisting only on Afghanistan's entry as a new SAARC member.

Two points are to be specially noted. One is the basic anti-Chinese bedrock on which the edifice of Indian foreign policy rests; the other, the vehemence with which India objects to any notion of 'counterbalance' where India herself is concerned!

Two Versions So, the question naturally arises: is India now prepared to join the US in an alliance that is aimed at countering or containing China? That, let me underline, is no longer merely a hypothetical question. It has a direct bearing on our national security, particularly against the backdrop of the anti-Nepal, Indo-US-UK axis that operates today, not to speak of the Indian role in attempting regime change here by hook or by crook.

As all know, Nepal has under the monarchy always cherished and nurtured relations with China, scrupulously avoiding adopting a dual policy including that vis-à-vis Tibet and the Dalai Lama as many countries, including India, indeed practice.

Returning to the containment of China theme let me now briefly recall Henry A Kissinger's June 13, 2005 write-up in the Washington Post, entitled: China – Containment Won't Work. He states, inter alia:

"US policy in Asia must not mesmerize itself with a Chinese military buildup. There is no doubt that China is increasing its military forces, which were neglected in the first phase of its economic reform. But even at its highest estimate the Chinese military budget is less than 20 percent of America's; it is barely, if at all, ahead of that of Japan, India and Russia, all bordering China – not to speak of Taiwan's military modernization supported by American decision made in 2001."

Moreover in an interview to News India-Times of June 10, 2005 Kissinger hints that India might be seduced by Washington, specifically cautioning that she "should not be part of American efforts to counterbalance China" because "Washington's military cooperation with India could complicate matters with China." Not surprisingly, though, K. Subrahmanyam argues differently. In a recent Times of India piece, elated by 'the great nuclear handshake' between India and the US, he argues for going full steam ahead with the US as that would be a means for India to get out of the constraint of "a regional power hyphenated with Pakistan and dominated by China in a unipolar Asia."

He claims that early in the second Bush administration the US "recognised India's centrality to an Asian balance of power and the need for the US to have India as a partner."

Is it a merely a coincidence that the Indo-US-UK axis against Nepal dates from pretty much the same time period? I believe not.


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