When India and the US go into the second round of strategic dialogue in New Delhi next week, they will be focusing on the region and the world and their respective role in it, apart from the standard bilateral issues.
Afghanistan, for one, is going to be a major issue on the table for foreign minister SM Krishna and US secretary of state Hillary Clinton. How is the drawdown of US troops going to play out given the shaky security situation there?
India is watching the situation there warily, and doesn’t share America’s enthusiasm for the drawdown. “It could hurt us,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said at a recent briefing for editors recently.
He might convey the same message to Clinton when they meet on July 19.
In a series of briefings — including webchat — over the last some days Indian and US officials stressed the second round of strategic dialogue will be about the two countries looking to work the world together, especially Asia.
“We have just announced our willingness to promote trilateral dialogue with India and Japan,” said an administration official who briefed on background, adding, “and we are open to quadrilateral talks and so on and so forth.”
India and the US will be discussing West Asia (Middle East for the US and Europe) this week in Washington, for the first time ever. The joint-secretary level talks were mandated during President Obama’s visit last November.
India is heavily invested in the region through trade — mainly petroleum — and employment opportunities for Indians there, and has had a special envoy for West Asia, Chinmay Gharekhan, for long, but never made it to the high-table. The joint-secretary level talk would be the first steps in that direction perhaps.
But India and the US have been engaged considerably over East Asia, which will be discussed by Clinton and Krishna. “South China issue will also figure,” said an Indian official, as an issue of “maritime navigation laws”.
The point was a deliberate one, made to rule out any desire by India to get involved in the territorial disputes involving China and other littoral nations such as Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
Trade routes through the South China Sea remain some of busiest in the world and India, just as the US, want the disputes resolved so as to keep the routes free, esoterically called maritime navigation laws.
India’s old grouse — terrorism in Pakistan — will also figure prominently in the talks. US officials admit Pakistan has done little or nothing to pursue the perpetrators and the Mumbai attacks of 2008.
The US’s own view of Pakistan has changed dramatically since the discovery of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad — culminating in the suspension of military aid — and there is likely to be an even greater convergence on the issue now.
The two sides will also be taking stock of progress on agreements and initiatives since Obama’s visit. “We have made considerable progress on all fronts,” said Indian ambassador to the US Meera Shankar on Tuesday.