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It's good, but it could be better

The India-US relationship is healthy. But it lacks a common strategic purpose, HT writes.

india Updated: May 09, 2012 21:50 IST
India-US relationship,Hillary Clinton,Pakistan terror

Because of its unscheduled nature, the visit of United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton provided an unvarnished perspective of the India-US relationship. There was no package of "deliverables" - no agreements to sign, no contracts to take home. The speeches were about themes that had been heard before. But Ms Clinton and her Indian counterparts did get a chance to go over the problems and potholes in the relationship between the two democracies. Inevitably, Iran sanctions, opening up the retail sector and other irritants came to dominate the public debate about the visit. Not that some commonality was not evident: the US expressed much reduced patience for Pakistan's terror posture, agreed on the window of opportunity in Myanmar and shared an unspoken view that China needs to be ushered down a specific path of political evolution.

The metrestick to use is whether the differences are major and where the relationship is trending. The answer to the former is 'no'. No two countries agree on everything. But what is evident is that New Delhi and Washington share very similar worldviews. They differ most on the tactics on how to make this worldview a reality. The US even made a mild pitch in favour of the Teesta waters agreement on the off chance that would ease the present Centre-state gridlock. While this highlighted the impotence of the Manmohan Singh government, it also underscored how much the two countries share common interests - and that India's overseas successes are complementary to the US's own interests in Asia.

Most of the problems in the Indo-US relationship that were raised during the trip are temporary in nature. Some of what the US Secretary of State urged, notably allowing foreign direct investment in retail and modifying the civil nuclear liability law, are in India's own interests and should have been pursued by New Delhi whether the US asked or not. Both sides are guilty of a loss of courage on the trade and investment fronts. What is missing in the relationship is a strong sense of common strategic purpose. The Obama administration muddied the contours left by his predecessor by dabbling in a special relationship with China and an Afghan policy seemingly dictated by Pakistan. The US walked back from those policy paths, and what has replaced it is largely favourable to India but lost in the fog of pre-election manoeuvring and recessionary economics - in both countries. The Indo-US relationship is healthy but neither side has the time to determine exactly why.

First Published: May 09, 2012 21:35 IST