News Indo-US Strategic Dialogue: Issues and Concerns Ahead  
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In Washington, beginning June 2010 the leaders of United States and India will hold four-day strategic dialogue to discuss the ongoing US-India strategic partnership. The inaugural meeting that would be co-chaired by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Indian Foreign Minister S. M Krishna would involve in-depth discussion on global, regional and bilateral issues. This first ministerial-level strategic dialogue between the two countries which are expanding their global partnership across a wide swathe of areas is also expected to lay the groundwork for US President Barack Obama's visit to India later this year. Its imperative look into the issues that are confronting the ongoing Indo-US strategic ties and that would dominate the first “US-India Strategic Dialogue.”
The areas that have already been identified as key sectors of cooperation between the two countries at forthcoming strategic dialogue includes education and development, agriculture, science and technology, health, commerce and trade, counterterrorism, energy cooperation — including the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal — and space cooperation. Multilateral issues are also part of the agenda with both sides expected to discuss the economic and financial situation, G8, G20 and the reform of the financial institutions. However, the US strategic dialogue would be looked through the prism of the Af-Pak situation, counter-terrorism cooperation particularly on Indian access to LeT operative David Headley, the mastermind of Mumbai terror attack.

India has its stakes and interests in Afghanistan and it consider Afghanistan within the sphere of its influence and will do what it takes to preserve their equity there regardless of Pakistan’s opposition to India’s presence in Afghanistan. In the strategic dialogue India needs to reassert strenuously about its position in the AF-Pak region and its vital and crucial stakes in the stability, prosperity and development in the Afghanistan. As both India and the United States have common agenda of ensuring stability and peace in Afghanistan and shared vision for a strong, stable, and prosperous South Asia., they need to have more coordination in the region

While Washington shares the concern with New Delhi about terror activities of terrorist organisations operating in Pakistan against India but seems to downplay or be ignorant about the fact that there is a very strong bonding between the Pakistani military, intelligence service agency and the terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba responsible for the attack on Mumbai. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, controlled by its Army, is playing both sides of the street in the fight against terrorism and “parts of Pakistan’s security establishment continue to support the Afghan Taliban” and other extremist groups. The US administration will have to be careful about the Pakistani military support to America in its AF-Pak policy determining US policy towards India and increasing American military and economic aid to Pakistan, as it will have a negative impact on Indio-US ties.

During the Obama-Manmohan dialogue Obama had assured India help in legal access to Pakistani-American LeT operative Headley and convincing action against perpetrators of Mumbai terror attack. But India’s immediate concern is stopping of support to terrorist activities in India from Pakistan and in this Indo-US counterterrorism becomes significant. Indo-US relationship has developed in many aspects of the common issues, but counter-terrorism still has not achieved the magnitude it should have. Both Washington and New Delhi need to have more coordination on this front and ensure that counter-terrorism becomes an important component of Indo-US strategic partnership, as stability in South Asia is linked with tackling of terrorism.

Despite nuclear non-proliferation sticklers in Obama administration, there is a sagacity of recognition that India’s unique, exceptional status as a de-facto nuclear nation cannot be taken back and its adherence to strict non-proliferation rules of the nuclear club as a non-signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. There seems to be very little difference over the nuclear non-proliferation issues and checking the WMD proliferation, both have to consider the fact that correlation of terrorism and nuclear proliferation is very much linked with Pakistan and not Iran which is in the cross-hairs of the US administration. In the coming days, the immediate issue would be how the Indian Parliament treats Civil Nuclear Liability Bill, which is caught in a political tussle with opposition parties strongly disapproving certain features of the intended legislation. After Indo-US civilian nuclear deal the road for commerce in civilian nuclear and related technology has been opened for international players. Other major players such as Russia and France have already inked the deal with India. Washington is stressing for early passage of the bill so that US companies are not left behind in the race for India’s lucrative energy and defence market.

Regarding resuming Indo-Pak dialogue which Obama had desired in his talk with Manmohan Singh is likely to figure in this ministerial level talk again. Manmohan Singh has gone ahead in this matter even ignoring the popular sentiments but its Islamabad’s non-serious and oblivious attitude to international demands to stop its patronage of terrorist groups in Pakistan, creates hurdle in the dialogue. Any pressure from the US on India to begin talks with Pakistan, reduce troops from the border, or scale down its presence in Afghanistan, doesn’t portend well for Indo-US Ties. The coming days would be an examination of Obama’s South Asia policy in the context of India and Pakistan. Bill Clinton’s “strategic engagement” and George W. Bush’s “strategic partnership” with India was possible because of their clear de-hyphenation of US relationship with India and Paksitan, Obama needs to avoid reverting back to the Cold War days when Washington viewed US-India relationship with Pakistani hyphenation. Toady, Indo-US courtship has moved beyond party and individual leader’s penchant and its more institutionalised in defence, military, energy, technology and economic issues. Moreover, Indo-US ties is not confined to the South Asia, it has long-lasting and bigger role to play in global governance, security and developmental issues, including economic infrastructure, science-tech and space, energy security, food security, poverty reduction and environmental security.

(Ph.D., American Studies, SIS, JNU, New Delhi & Post Doc , RSPAS, Australian National University, Canberra) Dr. Sharma is currently Visiting Research Scholar & Lecturer at Department of Political Science and Public Policy,The University of Waikato, Hamilt

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