Differences over regional issues are likely to take centrestage at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s meeting with US President Barack Obama on Sunday on the sidelines of the nuclear security summit, said officials in the Indian delegation.
New Delhi wants to get a full measure of the drift in relations with the United States in the background of differences over the latter’s Afghanistan-Pakistan policy.
US national of Pakistani origin David Headley will also figure in the talks most certainly — India wants his extradition or direct access to him to question him on his role in the Mumbai attacks in November 2008.
But the bilateral meeting with Obama — not all heads of state or government gathering in Washington will get that — is taking place on the “mutual insistence” of the two countries, said officials.
The issue at stake is New Delhi’s absence from most US plans for Afghanistan.
Delhi believes it has a role in Afghanistan, which is a SAARC partner and key to its Central Asia strategy. And it’s not giving up just because Pakistan doesn’t approve.
New Delhi is most worried by the West’s growing keenness on the Taliban re-integration process favoured by Pakistan and Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai.
Despite Washington’s assurances that the reintegration of the Taliban will not be outsourced to Pakistan, Delhi is not too convinced.
India also had some reservations about the UK-sponsored idea of a Regional Afghan forum, requiring the neighbours to work together to help Afghanistan stay on its feet once the foreign troops started pulling out.
The plan got stuck over America’s difference with Iran — Afghanistan’s western neighbour — over the nuclear question.
The relationship between the US and President Karzai are on the slide, and what’s more worrying for Delhi perhaps is that Karzai is cozying up to Pakistan. Indian officials said that they had invested in Karzai, perhaps too much, and the situation is very fluid in the event he is replaced. There are differences over Iran too. While the demand for a fresh round of sanctions is mounting, Delhi differs.
It believes “sanctions are not the answer to the problem”, said on official, adding that the International Atomic Energy Agency route is still the best way to solve the crisis.