Relations between United States and India may be expanding rapidly but prospects of future military cooperation against terrorism do not look bright, says an American expert.
Polly Nayak, who was the US intelligence community's senior expert and manager on South Asia till her retirement in 2002, says persisting policy differences are responsible for this situation.
"While regular contact among counterterrorism officials will probably increase their mutual comfort over time, it will remain easier for the two sides to agree on tactical agendas than on strategic missions, given their foreign policy differences," Nayak says in US-India Strategic Cooperation into the 21st Century, a book released on Friday at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies in New Delhi.
"India's strong preference for multilateral intervention and nervousness about US intentions and policies make joint US-Indian military operations against terrorism in the world unlikely in the near term," she says, presenting an American perspective of the issue.
"India probably will remain especially opposed to any US counterterrorism activities that would entail the presence of American Special Forces on Indian borders, let alone on Indian territory."
Nayak, whose rank was equivalent to that of a two-star general, says India's growing global clout could also become a stumbling block.
"US-Indian counterterrorism cooperation also may be limited by growing differences in focus," she writes. "It is likely that India will remain preoccupied for at least the next decade with terrorism generated by home-grown separatist or ideologically-based groups like those in the northeast, not by Islamist militants."
"India's wider international aspirations may also limit cooperation with the US. First, India itself is likely to be one of the major players that will seek to balance—sometimes neutralize—the US superpower role in global affairs. Second, India will continue to prefer multilateral decision-making and cooperation."
Buy Nayak points out that this anticipated scenario might change if the shape of terrorism India faces also changes. If India emerges as a major playground for international Islamist terrorism, it could provide new incentives for New Delhi to collaborate with the US as well as with Israel, Europe and a host of Middle Eastern and Asian governments.
New evidence of a global Maoist resurgence also might drive New Delhi closer to Washington, Nayak says.
"Major terrorist attacks against US interests that prove to have been orchestrated by Al-Qaeda or by local groups based in Pakistan could upset Washington's relations with Islamabad. Some Indian officials might see such a development as opening more space for US-Indian cooperation."
Going into the background, Nayak says that the US and India have cooperated on counterterrorism for years 'and doubtlessly will continue to do so'. A formal partnership was launched in January 2000.
But these ties could not reduce fundamental differences between the US and Indian perspectives on terrorism, complicating their relationship and limiting operational closeness.
Both countries, she says, have divergent preoccupations and threat perceptions. "Each side has suspected bias in information received from the other regarding its terrorism nemeses."
Even after 9/11, counter-terrorism cooperation between the US and India have widened but not deepened, Nayak says.
"Despite gains and the benefits for bilateral ties of inducting a new generation of officials on both sides into cooperative ventures, counterterrorism relationship continues to suffer from some familiar ailments."
"These include differing views of and equities in emerging regional problems as well as mistrust on the Indian side."