If there is one problem with India’s free and lively media, it is that they tend to be mono-focal. After the US mid-term elections, for example, the focus has exclusively been on whether or not the India-US nuclear deal will pass in the coming lame duck session. A secondary concern has been the terms and conditions of the final legislation and the so-called ‘123 agreement’ that will operationalise the deal. We seem to be ignoring a much larger problem in relation to the current mood in the US. After the electoral drubbing that featured the Iraq issue, will Washington stay on course in Afghanistan and Pakistan? This is probably a far more important and immediate issue than the nuclear deal. Let us be very clear that a precipitate American withdrawal will be disastrous not just for the two countries, but for India as well. Both symbolically and practically, the nuclear deal is important. It will end a history of US embargo on our civil nuclear programme and permit India to access financing, technology and nuclear materials from across the world. Yet, even if it does not go through, the heavens won’t fall. India has an extensive programme built on indigenous technology, and nuclear energy is not likely to form too significant a proportion of our energy mix for at least another 25 years.
But glance across our western border and you will see a gathering storm that can be stayed only with a continuing and determined US presence. The fact that large areas are coming under the sway of jehadis is not fanciful thinking. If the US is their main target, India is a No 2 on their list. Instability and insurgency in Pakistan is not a prospect we should view with any degree of complacency, leave alone delight.
The Iraq war was a dangerous distraction in the middle of the American project of transforming Afghanistan and Pakistan. Our diplomacy in the US must not be so inward-looking that it fails to notice the resurgence of the Taliban and the failure of the Pakistani authorities to prevent Taliban spillover into its own tribal areas. We must push the US to expand, rather than contract, its engagement in the region and provide all possible aid to prevent the fire from spreading. Watching the neighbour’s house burn is never a good idea. Your house could be next.