The United States and India are forging a "natural global partnership" economically, militarily and culturally in one of the most significant shifts in US global policy in a decade, says a senior US official.
While the US-India civil nuclear accord has received the most public attention, there is actually an "ambitious agenda" of cooperative efforts under way through official government channels, private businesses and non-profit organisations, said Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs R Nicholas Burns.
In a speech to the Asia Society in New York Nov 27, he said that the United States and India finally "have found each other" and are now "increasingly close partners in global politics" on a range of interests that flow from both the "bright side" and "darker forces" of globalisation.
"We can safely say, I think, that we'll be partners in global economics and trade and investment. We're also going to have a very strong military relationship between our two countries," Burns said according to an official report of the meeting.
He cited a litany of joint projects that included supporting the emergence of democratic institutions in countries around the world; cooperating in science and technology, engineering, agriculture, communications and global climate change; and fighting illicit drug trafficking, trafficking in women and children and global terrorist organizations.
"We've never seen this kind of intensity of effort and purpose in the US-India relationship. It is absolutely what the United States should be doing to effect the kind of relationship we want to have with India," he said.
Burns said he will be visiting India in early December to ensure that all US initiatives are going as planned.
The cooperation between the Indian and US navies and air forces to help the victims of the 2004 tsunami demonstrated that the two governments could play a role in bringing relief to victims of natural disasters and might be relied on in other common security interests, Burns added.
All the countries of South Asia are now a priority for US foreign policy in what is a shift in attention over the last eight years during the Clinton and Bush administrations, Burns said.
"For the first time in decades, American policymakers of both political parties in the Congress and certainly in [the Bush] Administration believe that what happens in South Asia is vital to the future security interests of the United States itself," the official said.
Pakistan is "a key ally with which we are building ever stronger relations," Burns said.
Because of the significant number of Al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists remaining in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, there is "no more important partner in the fight against global terrorism than Pakistan," he said.
But, while counterterrorism efforts have been a focus of Washington's engagement, the US commitment to Pakistan "is much broader" especially in the area of energy, poverty alleviation and business growth.
"We support President [Pervez] Musharraf's vision of a strong and moderate and prosperous Pakistan," he said.
The United States has "two great friends in the region" in India and Pakistan, Burns said. "One is not more important than the other, just different. The United States seeks a priority relationship with both."
Reflecting the United States "newly energetic role" in South Asia, Washington is now engaged in Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh "to help each overcome serious internal crises in ways we had never been before," the under secretary said.
In Nepal, the United States will support "an agreement between the government and Maoists that safeguards the aspirations of the Nepali people," he said. "This means violence, intimidation and criminal acts by the Maoists must end. We will be watching closely."
The United States also will remain involved to help stop the civil war in Sri Lanka, he added. The United States hosted a meeting of the Sri Lanka Donors Group which called on both the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to engage in cease-fire agreement implementation talks.
Concerned about the political violence in Bangladesh, Burns urged the political parties to resolve their difference through dialogue.
"Bangladesh is a pivotal country in South Asia, its future is important to the entire region," Burns said. "It has the advantage of size, a growing economy, and a talented population. Can its leadership put aside their differences to lead the country forward in peace?"