American attempts to link its nuclear energy collaboration with India to New Delhi criticising Iran's nuclear programme is strategically "short sighted" and reveals Washington's insensitivity, says a Western scholar.
Arthur Rubinoff, professor of political science and South Asian studies in Toronto University, says perceptions - including indifference, hostility, resentment and disdain - have until recently been as important as security interests in shaping US policy towards South Asia.
"The current controversy linking energy assistance to the condemnation of Iran's nuclear programme illustrates Washington's incompatible objectives and short-sighted strategic policies toward India," Rubinoff says in "US-Indian Strategic Cooperation into the 21st Century", a book to be released on Friday at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.
Rubinoff described the July 2005 civil nuclear pact between India and the US as "a major strategic confidence-building measure" that sought to reverse 35 years of American non-proliferation policy.
But he says the US administration made a tactical error in not briefing key legislators in Congress in advance, as a result of which even Congressmen normally well disposed towards India joined the non-proliferation lobby in linking the proposal to India's support of international curbs on Iran.
"As a consequence, the US convinced India to vote to censure Iran at the September 24, 2005, meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna - an action that jeopardized Tehran's supply of energy to New Delhi and evoked charges from some of the (Indian) Congress party's coalition partners that it was capitulating to America.
"The current controversy linking energy assistance to the condemnation of Iran's nuclear programme illustrates Washington's incompatible objectives and short-sighted strategic policies toward India."
Rubinoff, who is one of several experts who have contributed to the book, deals with the evolution of India-US relations and details how their differences mounted because of misunderstandings over various issues, including Washington's support to Pakistan.
He explains how the US "turned a blind eye to Islamabad's clandestine development of nuclear weapons" just because it needed Pakistan's help to supply weapons to the Afghan guerrillas fighting the Soviet Union in the 1980s.
"Because of Cold War alliances with the US, Pakistan had been exempt from the same impediments that marked US-Indian relations, such as the abuse of human rights, hostility toward Israel, and especially unhappiness over nuclear proliferation - even though, unlike New Delhi, it was a major proliferator. As a result, the Indian government understandably felt that a double standard applied regarding US policies towards the sub-continent."
The author says Indians also see a double standard in the war against terrorism. "Indeed, successive American administrations have ignored the connection between the Taliban and terrorism in (Jammu and) Kashmir."
Rubinoff says one reason why the US understanding of India had improved in recent times was the growing clout of the over 1.7 million Indian Americans.
"They have become a bridge between the two countries... The educational achievement and economic status of this upwardly mobile community has succeeded in changing the perception of Indians in the US... Under the circumstances, both Republicans and Democrats have attempted to mobilize the community's resources."
Rubinoff says the "test of the Indo-American relationship will be how the US accommodates India's ambitions". He adds that in reaffirming its support of regional security for Pakistan while promoting India as a global power, the US was walking a tightrope that risked generating an arms race in South Asia.
He also warns that despite the positive developments in Indo-US relations, ambiguity and mistrust remains. Misconceptions, he says, would impede bilateral ties.
"That Washington could encourage India to support its Iraq fiasco indicates that the US still does not appreciate the constraints of India's domestic politics and discrete national interests," he says. "This reality is further illustrated by policy differences toward Iran and the controversy surrounding the outsourcing of American jobs to India."