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Democracies in tandem

India’s common democratic values, growing economy, geographic location and strategic assets make it an indispensible partner for the United States. Robert D Blackwill and Naresh Chandra write.

india Updated: Sep 14, 2011 23:42 IST

India’s common democratic values, growing economy, geographic location and strategic assets make it an indispensible partner for the United States. On a number of issues of global governance, India remains the most important ‘swing State’ in the international system.

The US remains the preeminent global power and matters greatly to India’s rise with respect to the balance of power in Asia and beyond.

Today, the Council on Foreign Relations and the Aspen Institute India are releasing a joint report prepared by a group of distinguished individuals. The report analyses shared US-India national interests on various difficult global challenges and proposes dozens of specific policy prescriptions to reinvigorate long-term cooperation between the two democracies.

Both nations desire a stable, pluralist Pakistan. But Pakistan appears to be in systemic decline. For the last decade, the US attempted to alter Pakistan’s calculus in Afghanistan and cause it to cease State support for terrorism.

Washington sought to empower moderate elements in Pakistani society and shift Pakistan away from confrontation with India and towards integration with South Asia and the international community. This strategy has failed. A new one is needed urgently.

The US should condition all military aid to Pakistan on sustained anti-terrorist measures by the Pakistan military against groups targeting India and the US, including in Afghanistan. New Delhi should continue to reassure Islamabad that India does not seek to destabilise Pakistan.

Meanwhile, the US and India should prudently plan for the worst. They should begin official exchanges on multiple Pakistan contingencies, including the collapse of the Pakistani State and the spectre of its military losing control of its nuclear arsenal.

The US must not allow Pakistan to exercise a veto on India’s involvement in Afghanistan. India has pursued a multi-year, multi-billion effort to help stabilise Afghanistan. In the decade preceding 9/11, terrorist groups that used Afghanistan as a safe haven targeted India, and New Delhi is rightly determined to prevent the re-emergence of that threat.

The common objective to prevent a renewed terrorist haven in Afghanistan is why both America and India should support a long-term residual US military presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014.

Neither India nor the US desire confrontation with China, or to forge a coalition for China’s containment. Though both nations want a congenial relationship with China, they also share an overriding goal of preventing any country from exercising hegemony over Asia.

China’s record over the previous few years has been less than reassuring for those worried about China’s future intentions. America and India should sustain efforts to engage China in Asian regional institutions. But these multilateral actions with China’s participation aren’t inconsistent with other consultations without it.

Washington and New Delhi should resume regular multiparty discussions on Asian security with like-minded Asian States, in addition to continued US-India bilateral discussions on the implications of the rise of China.

America’s concerns over a stable Asia mean it has a major interest in India’s security. Despite a decade of reforms, the US export controls still treat India as if the Cold War had never ended. American firms want to sell hardware to India and transfer technology to India’s still struggling indigenous defence industries.

The US government should treat India as an ally for purposes of export controls, even though India doesn’t seek an alliance relationship. A strong India is good for Asian stability.

America and India already have a deep, mutually beneficial economic relationship. It should be improved. An investment treaty between the countries has been stalled within American bureaucracy for years, and discussions on a free trade agreement (FTA) haven’t begun.

Meanwhile, India is nearing an FTA with the European Union and has signed trade deals with South Korea and the Association for Southeast Asian Nations (Asean). It’s time for US-India economic ties to catch up.

Finally, America and India have a combined interest in combating climate change. Both innovation and technology transfer will be necessary to curtail global carbon emissions.

They should fund efforts by their scientists and businessmen to develop energy innovations necessary for a sustainable future, including the establishment of a ‘monsoon joint centre’ located in India.

For all these reasons and many more found in the joint report, America and India must not allow their bilateral relationship to drift. The two governments need to urgently re-energise their interaction to promote their shared national interests.

(Robert D Blackwill is a former US ambassador to India. Naresh Chandra is a former Indian ambassador to the US. The views expressed by the authors are personal)

First Published: Sep 14, 2011 23:23 IST