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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2705

Hillary Clinton leaves questions unanswered

By Atul Cowshish - Syndicate Features

There were probably divergent expectations in India and the US when the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, paid her first official visit to India. The Americans wanted India to agree on their formulation on capping the greenhouse gas emission, show an inclination to sign the NPT, remove all restrictions on trade with the US and share America’s benevolent view of Pakistan.

None of these were on the wish list of her Indian interlocutors and differences remain, leaving no room for euphoria after her five-day visit. But maybe it was not so dismal. There is a feeling that contrary to the impression in most quarters in India, the Obama administration is not working to downgrade relations with India; it hopes to take them to a higher level—level three, or whatever it is called.

It will too early to say that is achievable in the near future. Hillary Clinton failed to remove one strong impression in the country that the US has again gone back to ‘hyphenating’ its relations with India and its ‘arch enemy’ Pakistan—a major factor in erratic Indo-US relations in the past. Nothing more than symbolism should be read into her decision not to include Pakistan in her itinerary during her Indian visit.

While in India, Hillary Clinton spent a lot of time answering questions about terrorism, particularly terror activities that emanate from territories controlled by America’s foremost, long-standing ally in the region, Pakistan. Shorn of generalities, her replies did not suggest any shift in US policy, one that allows Pakistan to protect the ‘good militants’—the Jihadi ‘freedom fighters’---to continue with their business of exporting terror to India.

Yes, she did say that a terrorist is a terrorist. The use of that phrase could be seen as more encouraging in India if Clinton had been equivocal in condemning India-specific terror outfits in Pakistan and the patronage extended to them by Pakistan army’s ISI. Not that a public rebuke will force Pakistan to demolish groups like Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, more so when even a muted protest from Pakistan sees US officials rushing to placate the Pakistanis.

Hillary Clinton was not able to dispel the notion that America has adopted a deliberate policy to appease Pakistan, even if it hurts Indian interests somewhere. It is not clear how can the US take relations with India to a higher level when America’s priority areas lies elsewhere in the region—China and ‘Af-Pak’.

The US thinks that the situation in ‘Af-Pak’ area will not improve unless India addresses Pakistan’s largely imaginary security concerns on its eastern borders. The Hillary Clinton visit has done nothing to mitigate the misgiving that the US is pressurising India to address the Pakistani concerns without any asking for a reciprocal gesture from the latter.

Hillary Clinton landed when a controversy was raging in India over the inclusion of the ‘B word’ (Balochistan) in a joint statement issued by the prime ministers of India and Pakistan after their talks in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm El-Shaikh. New Delhi probably missed an opportunity to call the Pakistani bluff on Balochistan during her visit. It might have also helped assuage the anger generated in the country over the inclusion of Balochistan in the joint statement of the two prime ministers.

Hillary Clinton could have been asked to clarify for her Indian hosts what is the public, official stand of the US administration on the Pakistani gripe about India’s ‘large presence’ in Afghanistan and also the absurd allegations that India is behind all the trouble in Balochistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan—sending Gurkha soldiers to fight in the Swat valley and other lawless tribal areas!

The American official in-charge of the Af-Pak region, Richard Holbrook, had only a few weeks ago rebuffed the Pakistanis by telling them that India had very small consulates in Afghanistan, implying they could not pose a threat to Pakistan. Clinton’s comment would have nailed the Pakistani propaganda.

Ambiguity and doubts about certain aspects of the Indo-US civil nuclear agreement—the issue of enrichment and reprocessing rights—have not been removed. The Americans remain sensitive about transferring certain high-end technologies to India and even military equipment, thus bracketing India with Pakistan, an established proliferation rogue.

It is perhaps not her fault if she was not asked to elaborate on her comment that for the US China is now the most important country. The poor human rights record of China attracts nothing more than a ritualistic notice in the US. The recent crack down on the Uighur Muslims in China did not invite the same harsh comments from the US as, say, the action of the Burmese junta against the protesting Buddhist monks.

It need not be emphasised that the US cannot cultivate its relations with autocratic China without sacrificing at least something in its ties with democratic India. And China has been becoming more and more aggressive in is tone towards India, reaffirming is expansionist agenda in the region.

A particular Indian concern has been the US obsession about the ‘end use’ of the military equipment that it might sell to India. Clinton should have been asked to tell India why a similar concern is missing in relation to the billions of dollars worth of aid and military equipment that the US and its allies regularly pump into Pakistan.

With an internationally known nuclear smuggler as its icon, Pakistan has a history of irresponsible behaviour. The Americans know it for sure that Pakistan has been constantly increasing its nuclear stockpile and most of the money that is sent to Pakistan for ‘development’ is spent on purchasing military equipment. The Indian interlocutors failed to plod her about the relevance of giving Pakistan certain offensive artillery, aerial and naval weapons in the name of fighting militancy, knowing full well that Pakistan will use them against India.

After the maiden visit of Hillary Clinton to India the loud cries that the new US administration, headed by Barack Obama, had chosen to downgrade relations with India might be muted. That might please the US because the Obama administration is struggling to salvage the battered American image in the comity of nations. But no hurried judgement can be made about the long-term impact of Hillary Clinton’s visit to India. .

Hillary Clinton extended Barack Obama’s invitation to Manmohan Singh to visit the US late in November as the first foreign ‘state’ guest of the new US administration. Important though that kind of symbolism or ego messaging may be, it will be better to wait before making a surer assessment of the future course of Indo-US relations. The best that can be said about her visit is that she was able to tell India that it is still on the US radar; whether it is in the form of a blip or something bigger will be known in coming days.

- Asian Tribune -

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