US-India relations: The elephants are mating - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 15 November 2010

US-India relations: The elephants are mating

US first lady, Michelle Obama, showing her dance moves at Mumbai. I don't know if she practiced before coming to India, but she picked up the steps with remarkable speed.

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 16th Nov 10

Sceptics of the US-India engagement, who had contemplated President Obama’s recent state visit to India with noisy lip smacking in the gleeful anticipation of failure, have been left bemused by the outcome. On the one hand, there was friction and public jostling, including American-style homilies on free trade and the duty to foster democracy in Myanmar; and Indian-style obstinacy on the nuclear liability bill. On the other hand, Obama greatly pleased India by linking Pakistan with terrorism, and by backing an Indian permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

Welcome to elephant mating, the coming together of fractious democracies. The grass gets trampled, but there are tangible, positive outcomes. A polarised Indian intelligentsia, and a trivialising media, which have made an easy living from milking positional divergences to predict doom for the US-India relationship, must learn to abandon such simplistic linkages. Trampled grass could also indicate a great communion.

The ardour and pace of the US-India courtship has been apparently masked by the friction that has accompanied it. Compare the relationship of a decade ago --- the blink of an eye in strategic time --- with where we are today. In 1999, reacting to India’s nuclear weapon tests, Republican senator Jesse Helms, the influential chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, declared that “The Indian government has not shot itself in the foot. Most likely it has shot itself in the head.” That Quixotic statement was positively respectful compared to America’s Cold War view of India. On 5th Nov 1971, as India readied for war with Pakistan, President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, heartily agreed that Indians were “a slippery treacherous people” and “the most aggressive goddam people around”. Kissinger referred to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi as “a bitch”; Nixon termed her “an old witch”.

All that ice is turning rapidly into steam. From Jaswant Singh’s dialogue with Strobe Talbott, through the Clinton and Bush visits, the 18th July 2005 declaration; the defence pact of that same year, the nuclear deal of 2008, and now Obama’s cool-but-enthusiastic embrace of India, US-India relations have hurtled along dizzyingly. But India’s strateratti has been so fixated on the inevitable differences, while Washington and New Delhi try to harmonise issues like (a) commercial and trade relations; (b) civil nuclear commerce; (c) intelligence sharing and homeland security; (d) defence trade and partnership; and (e) technology sharing; that analysts have overlooked the convergence on the really big issues: counter-terrorism, intelligence sharing, a rising China, India’s ambitions in the Indian Ocean and East Asia, and --- in private discussions --- even on the future of Pakistan.

The US-India relationship will continue to be misread until India recognises that relations with a democratic superpower --- tossed about by the expectations of two separate electorates --- will be inevitably more complex than the stolid handshake of the Soviet Union, or the posturing and sloganeering of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).

India’s expectations from the American partnership remain coloured by the India-Soviet Union experience, where superpower partnership was essentially a free ride. During the Cold War, India had only to provide the Soviet Union with the badge of political support from a third world leader, to reap rich dividends of development, technological and military aid. This was often politically embarrassing, especially when the Soviet Union indulged its proclivity for invading neighbouring countries, but New Delhi held its nose and shut its eyes and was repaid by unwavering Soviet support at crucial periods, such as the 1971 Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation, Article IX of which invoked Soviet intervention if a foreign power --- China or the US were key concerns then --- intervened militarily during India’s liberation of Bangladesh.

Today, with India’s foreign policy based on simultaneous, and synergistic, engagement with every global power centre --- call it multi-alignment --- New Delhi’s careful engagement of Washington is radically different from its old, no-questions-asked support to Moscow. Not even the staunchest enthusiast of US-India partnership advocates that New Delhi hitches its wagon --- poodle style --- to Washington, backing its foreign policy follies and participating in its military adventures. But Indian expectations are asymmetric: many Indians expect that New Delhi can legitimately choose where it will support Washington, but the US must support India everywhere.

While this is clearly unrealistic, America’s image in this country is challenged by the fact that Washington’s imperatives in AfPak --- an emotive symbol in much of India and, especially in policy and media circles --- are damaging to Indian interests. Diplomats contrast this with the Soviet Union, recalling its hands-off policy towards South Asia, and correctly pointing out that Moscow never imposed political costs on India by its actions in our region. But the world has changed, our backyard is a key battleground against terrorism, and so pragmatism, not petulance, will bring Washington around.

Given Pakistan’s control over land routes into Afghanistan, there is a practical logic behind Washington’s tolerance for Islamabad, even knowing that it is being backstabbed. That contradiction between America’s imperatives in Afghanistan and its frustration at Islamabad’s double-dealing will work to India’s advantage after a US military pullout. But India has its own contradictions: New Delhi wants US troops to remain in Afghanistan, knowing well the dependence this creates on Pakistan.

These complexities make AfPak the most challenging of diplomatic tightropes for Washington and New Delhi. That Obama publicly linked Pakistan with terrorism may have gratified his hosts, but that statement says less about any willingness to block India-directed terror, than it does about Washington’s intense desire to place the India relationship on a firmer footing. Post-Obama, the partnership is in cruise mode, being carried along by the sheer breadth of the engagement, especially the people-to-people dynamic. All that can derail this momentum is another major blunder like Obama’s ill-considered G-2 offer to China, essentially offering it the role of assistant superpower, which would presumably lord it over India. But Obama, it seems, is learning on the job.


  1. Very nice article Col. Shukla! I absolutely loved "from milking positional divergences":) True about our intelligentsia, and Chinese geopolitical strategy. Maybe our government will learn this one? Trampled grass as indicative of communion.. grand !!

    But one thing though, you mentioned "..discuss Pakistan's future.." What future? :)

  2. Given Pakistan’s control over land routes into Afghanistan, there is a practical logic behind Washington’s tolerance for Islamabad,

    I differ!

    US expunged derogatory remarks (against Pakistan) in the sep-11 commission report.

    Sr George (elder Bush) pardoned (Aslam Adam from Butner federal prison in North Carolina) a Pakistani Heroin drug (1.5 million worth) smuggler silently alongwith Casper Weinburger and others. Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., a stalwart friend of the Pakistani military regime and its domestic lobbyists, had interceded on Adam's behalf with the Justice Department and prison officials.

    Its a futile US war who are reluctant to fix or find Lord Osama despite intelligence reports that he is hiding in Pakistan city. (tora bora caves are inhabitable for the likes of him requiring dialasys twice a week).

    Each ounce of Amonium Nitrate, Semitex (key ingredient in explosives) is coming from Pakistan, so are copies of Stinger missiles, now made in Pakistan as Anza-II into Afghanistan - something (Stinger) that changed the Afghan battle (1982) and made russians flee towards thier motherland. There is a museum, Manzar-e Jahad in Herat Afghanistan where you find downed helicopters. Overall Stinger missile claimed 333 chopers.

    Pakistani LeT killed 6 Americans in 26-11 among all and no action on Pakistan.

    Pakistan is not fighting North Waziristan, despite it got extra dose of billion dollars recently and getting many frigates for free.

    Message is simple; US does not want India to be off the hook as for as Pakistan is concerned!

    US direct involvment started in Afghanistan 10 years ago, but where was the US before that vis a vis India?

    US does not want economic competition from India who is destined to become second economic juggernaut after China, hence wants to diminish India´s progress by maintaining a bully like Pakistan, who periodically stabs it (India) with impunity. It is in the interest of USA, thats why we did not get few spares for 6 Sea king Helicopters and fire finder-Artillery Locating Radar AN/TPQ-37 which were lying idle for months. Uranium denial, despite contractual obligations (Tarapore) is a foregone matter.

    Even now several Indian companies are black listed by state department as I write this.

    And yes, I am not devil´s advocate.

  3. What you write is what is expected of a good sales rep but doesn't quite equate with the situation on the ground. Look at what india did to it's relationship with Iran at US insistance. This single point sent the message across the world, of Indian independence or is it poodleness? (especially in the ME/asia)

    US is currently in sales mode and india is in piggy back will get some alignment but will also be lectured in your own parliment to tow the line. Result of piggy back is exemplified by Afghanistan...where you spend a lot of money and have no say in the process whatsoever. This simply equates india with Poland (a sub-serviant state).

    Next question what will india do wrt Burma? This was the else in Barak's lecture to the parliment.

    Your thinking is still being driven to an extent by your animosity towards can you overcome this?

    @Heberian, if you are serious, have a look at the latest research/surveys by PEW. You will get better understanding of why your neighbour will be around for quite a while.

  4. Keshto:

    You're right, you're no Devil's Advocate. You are, I am delighted to find, a genuine, 24-karat crackpot, a Hindu version of the nutcase Islamists who claim that 9/11 was a Judeo-Christian-Hindu plot to do down the Muslim world.

    Keshto, I only published your lengthy and incoherent rant because it is mad enough to raise a few good laughs in these days of falling stock markets.

    With that laugh having been had, kindly keep your future contributions below 100 words.


  5. Hello Col Ajai,

    Please checkout this link

    If US navy has taken by suprise about Chinese capablities arent Indian Navy worried about it.

    Hope you reponds.

  6. When pakistan gets dissolution and
    merges back democratically to the original entity, all the mutual relations between India, Russia and US will be at the top of the world for good.

  7. When did Hindus turn Anti-US? They were only pro-swadesi for a very brief period.
    Its the Commies who are American/Western baiters. I hope its not a touch of Yellow fever from your new found friends from JNU, Ajai.

  8. "a genuine, 24-karat crackpot, a Hindu version of the nutcase Islamists"

    Vow..col saheb... Kudos..for aping Mr Chidambaram... and oh btw how do you know 'Keshto" is an Hindu? Kudos once again...

  9. Hi,
    It's always a delight to read your articles. Most of the world has still to realize that you are a military thinker at par Martin Van Crevald, Thomas X.Hammes and Douglas Macgregor. I anxiously am waiting for your book.

  10. this relationship demands realpolitik , buy their bad debt. Dont accept cash accept industrial technology instead. International relations exist to further the aims of on entity, if played right the entity could be us. If not India would be condemned to the dust bin of history as a hapless has been.(Awating s*** storm). There are plenty of things that can be worked on and plenty of things that can be improved with the application of political will and intelligence. The India US dynamic is as complicated as a Gordian knot. But as ti stands we have more to gain from the alliance than to spurn it. Which is good but at the same time we should not commit all out prospective eggs to one basket, the american one. India needs a broad ranging engagement with 3 powers in 3 difference regions, encompassing defense, industry, security, and trade.

    With the Russians there needs to be solid engagement to reduce chinese influence in central asia. This is not impossible and is achievable. With Europe for industry, production, security and also learning how to run a country properly.

    With the us to define and pursue a common regional goal to curb/contain china and present a bloc against the belligerence from the middle east.

    All 3 are essential to the mutual security, defense and prosperity of all parties.

  11. @broadsword,

    You are more optimistic in your article and bring out points that are supportive in nature to your theories.

    keshto is right in some also wrong in the other.

  12. No relationship will give only one sided rersults.
    It is futile to expect win win response between two unequal partners.
    We buy arms with hard currency and hope that when we need to use them there are no embargoes on spares.
    But hopefully a new era of commercial relationships will follow a warmer political interlude.

  13. "nutcase Islamists"

    Sir, Islam is a great religion, what have you got against it? Why r u using foul language to demean our religion sir?

    Nisar Ahmed

  14. guys try not to make too much fun of keshto. Otherwise he will simply go back to BR...and that means we will have to go there to have a laugh. Keep going keshto!

  15. Nisar:

    Clearly you're not a Muslim, you're only posting under a Muslim name, because you don't seem to know what "Islamist" means. According to the free online dictionary, Islamist means: "supporting or advocating Islamic fundamentalism".

    Fundamentalists of any colour, caste or religion are --- in my book --- nutcases. Islamists, like Hindu fundamentalists, are nutcases.

    Secondly, don't take my words "nutcase Islamists" out of context. The context in which I make my statement is: "the nutcase Islamists who claim that 9/11 was a Judeo-Christian-Hindu plot to do down the Muslim world".

    What exactly is your argument? Are you arguing that (a) those people are not nutcases? or (b) that they are not Islamists?

    Anonymous 04:10:

    What is your guess about Keshto's religion? If he's a Christian or Jew, he's the first of those religions to call himself "Keshto".

    Frankly, I don't care what his religion is. What I object to is his victimisation phobia.


    All you sweethearts who visit Broadsword and find themselves free to take swipes at me... please don't feel so aggrieved when I retaliate.

    If you love to give... learn to take!

  16. @ Ajai Shukla and keshto
    Just some advice on being a good blogger. That was quite an insulting response to a valid thought process. The moment we try stifling other peoples' thoughts, we move towards being tyrants. He is an Indian I am sure as patriotic as you and me, only he views the world through a different lens(I don't agree with all you publish I read just to widen my perspective). If you disagreed with his thoughts so badly, you could have not published his comments, but this kind of public insults are uncalled for. Be a good host buddy.

  17. col. shukla

    The armchair general!!!!

    It sounds quite degrading, people. Please stop this. If you read his articles they are quite thoughtful and articulate.

    Unless of course if he has military experience (computer games don't count), in which case pardon my ignorance.

  18. Broadsword said...
    All you sweethearts who visit Broadsword and find themselves free to take swipes at me... please don't feel so aggrieved when I retaliate.

    If you love to give... learn to take!

    Awesome reply Mr. Shukla.

    I wonder why people who keep bashing others don't like to here anything in return.

    Its new India bros Forget what Gandhiji said If someone slaps you offer them the other side. I say screw them If some one slaps you on one side slap them on both and hit them between the lags so that they will think 10 times before even looking at you again.

    Loved your reply Sir.

  19. Colonel Saheb.. you dont stop amuse me... on one hand you are sure the Keshto is a Hindu by the name and at other hand you dismiss Nissar Ahmed to be a a Non muslim inspite of his Muslim sounding name.. vow what a lahori logic.. Kudos again...
    and you say
    "Frankly, I don't care what his religion is. What I object to is his victimisation phobia."

    Not that I'm endorsing or Opposing Keshto's views.. but why bring "Hindu" into this equation? Do you think only Hindus are patriotic and so pose these kind of questions? am still not unable to fathom your point here... guess again a lohari logic...

    col saheb.. I think from a secular Indian Army soldier you have become a psuedo secular Journo..I wonder if this was the main criteria to be a succesful Journo in India...

    and lastly we are mutual "sweet Hearts" ending this with a mmmuuuaahhhh to u..

    --Anonymous @ 04:10

  20. @Broadsword,
    All you sweethearts who visit Broadsword and find themselves free to take swipes at me... please don't feel so aggrieved when I retaliate.

    You are a better writer. We all love to read your blogs to learn how one can defend a one sided imaginary theories of your making.

    -One sweatheart.

  21. @ Mertz-

    I am aware of those reports, and also of the disinformation strategy behind those reports. I never said that our beloved neighbour wont be around. I just rhetorically asked "What future" and I stand by my question.

    You may want to read Pakistani newspapers to know more about the soul searching that some brave ones there are doing these days, despite the Army. And do you really think any sane Indian wants Paksitan to be broken up and have mad mullahs running around with nukes and a desire for those lovely voluptous 72 houris? We'd rather they stay in one piece, and keep those nukes away from the mullahs.... even if it means they have to beg, borrow or steal to buy weapons instead of feeding and educating their sad masses.

    But, as for what future... tell me what future ... living on doles by the west as long as they need to give doles? Propped up by the Chinese need to try and contain India? A future where a majority of the population is educated in those wonderful institutions of higher learning... the esteemed Madrasahs??

    What future indeed??

  22. "We all love to read your blogs to learn how one can defend one sided imaginary theories of your making."

    Ditto. The key is, in Colonel Saheb's own words, "Discredit what you cannot disprove." Sometimes he takes it a step further to: "Denigrate who you cannot disprove."

  23. What about the tragic near borderline helicopter crash.

    Sincere condolences to their families.

  24. It's not ChIndia anymore. It's IndUS. One can hope.

  25. It is very clear whose lawyer you are. AfPak to India is more relevant than what AfPak will ever be to the US, even then you are BLIND to this aspect and gross neglect by US of India's security imperatives.

  26. India is already a global superpower. Forget about G2, G8, G20, India is class by itself. India is G1, the lone hyper-superpower in the world.

    Let me tell you something about our Great Country India.

    1>India Largest Democracy in the world-: Population: 1.2 Bn. India’s population will surpass china’s by 2030. India has the largest middle class in the world –> Population superpower.

    2>India the most industrialized country. India produced the cheapest car, the Tata Nano. India’s IT industry is second to none. Industrial superpower.

    3> India never lost a war in its 8000 years history. War superpower.

    4> India never invaded other country in history. Peace Superpower.

    5>Largest english speaking nation by 2010. The world’s biggest back office. world’s largest skilled workforce. World’s largest working age population. People superpower.

    6> over 800 movies made anuualy–bollywood overshadows hollywood, Movies superpower.

    7> 6 Miss Universe / Miss world titles in last 10 years: Beauty superpower

    8>Per capita income US $9550 ; 2% live in poverty, literacy levels at 88%. India has the world’s largest number of millionaires and billionaires: economic superpower!

    9>The Indian Diaspora
    38% of Doctors in AMerica are Indians
    36% of NASA employees are Indians
    34% of Microsoft employees are Indians
    28% of IBM employeesare Indians
    17% of Intel employees are Indians
    13% of Zerox employees are Indians

    intellectual superpower!

    10>India will eventually become world’s largest economy in 2083–Goldman Sachs

    11>India is fastest growing GDP’s in the world, averaging over 10% growth since 1990.

    12>India’s GDP will exceed that of Italy in 2020, France in 2020, Germany in 2025 and Japan in 2035 — USA in 2050, China in 2082 –Goldman Sachs

  27. 13>India’s Foreign exchange reserves history
    1990-91 $40 billion
    1995-96 $200 billion
    2001-02 $600 billion
    2002-03 $760 billion
    2003-04 $1000 billion
    2004-05 close to $1500 billion
    2006-10 over $ 3000 billion

    14>Indian Economy
    Robust hyper growth of manufacturing, agriculture and services
    Low external debt, low deficit, high trade surplus

    299 Fortune 500 companies outsource IT work to India
    Increased disposable income, increased wealth
    Large emerging affluent middle class

    15>Indian Aviation
    Air deccan–1 st low cose domestic carrier
    Most international carriers now target India for network growth and profitability
    $5 bn capital infusion in govt owned carriers
    Airport privatization

    16>India will be the second fastest growing travel and tourism market over 2005-2014 at 8.8%– WTTC

    17> Size of indian tourism is 330 million as of 2004

    18>Indians going abroad as of 2004
    Singapore — 375,658
    Saudi Arabia — 373,636
    UAE — 336,046
    Kuwait — 293,621
    Thailand — 280,641
    Bahrain — 268,383
    USA — 257,271
    China — 213,611
    U.K — 205,065
    Hongkong — 193,705
    NewZealand — 16,862

    19> India growth projections
    1999 — 2.7%
    2000 — 3.4%
    2001 — 3.6%
    2002 — 4.2%
    2003 — 4.5%
    2004 — 5.9%
    2005 — 6.9%
    2006 — 8.0%
    2007 — 9.4%
    2008 — 11%
    2009 — 12.8%
    2010 — 15%
    2011-2050 — 16.8%

    20> Drivers of outbound growth
    Increased charter operations
    Upper middle income group will remain largest segment
    potential consumer pie will grow to 300 billion
    Age group of 15 to 49 likely comprise 62%
    Self-employed who account for over 40% will emerge as
    high potential target market
    Holiday finance will become popular

    21> Over 500 million Indian’s will travel overseas by 2020 — WTO

    22> india discover water in moon, space superpower

    23> 15 indian awarded Nobel prize.

    READ it and WEEP you chinese wanabees.

  28. - Anonymous at 19:21 and 19:22

    What a pathetic attempt at being an agent provocateur.

    Grow up, get more training, use Google better, and don't underestimate the intelligence of the readers of this and other blogs. Oh, and while you are at it, get a lobotomy each for you and your ilk.

  29. I hope you will read this and respond to it, too.

  30. To the anon posting awesome statistics.

    You have an amazing skill there. I have never seen anyone pull crazy shit out of their asses like that.


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