The overriding goal of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s summit with his American counterpart was to determine what position India held in the worldview of Barack Obama’s administration. The impression is that Mr Singh has been reassured. The rhetorical contrast with the American president’s recent visit to China is striking. The India-US joint statement speaks of the two countries’ common values, of a bilateral partnership that was good “for peace, stability and prosperity in Asia, and for the betterment of the world.” Mr Obama said the United States welcomed India as “a leader in Asia and around the world” and became the first US leader to publicly adopt the Indian formulation of the two being “natural allies”. When he was in Beijing, Mr Obama spoke of the US and China moving from rivalry to mere competition. The only value the two countries agreed should undergird their relations was a bland “respect for each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Nonetheless, principles are relevant because of their ability to ease the way for tangible cooperation. The summit lacked for path-breaking agreements, including the leftovers of the civilian nuclear agreement, and only had a set of high-sounding tie-ups in climate change and education. This partly reflects the speed with which the summit was put together: Mr Obama is the first US president to host an Indian leader in the first year of his presidency. The evidence is that the diplomatic paper trail to the summit was incomplete. Over the coming years, he will have to show that he’s prepared to go out of his way to promote the trajectory of Indian power. Mr Singh understands that the greatest US assistance lies in helping sustain the country’s economic growth, making up for India’s many deficits in education, food security and technology.
But security cannot be outside any India-US parley. India lives in a tough neighbourhood and the US is a military force in the region. Pakistan barely makes an appearance in the summit’s formal communications — a fall-out of India’s determination to dehyphenate itself from its neighbour. Yet Mr Singh was certainly relieved by Mr Obama’s promise to “finish the job” in Afghanistan. A US withdrawal would have been the stuff of nightmares for India’s security. The summit was a success in sketching a roadmap for the future of the relationship. The test will be to see how well the map can be navigated in the real world.