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More attention for India

Bush's trip to India will confirm that US is going to give a lot more attention to India, says Walter Andersen, a former state Dept official.

india Updated: Feb 24, 2006 18:48 IST

President George W Bush's trip to India early next month will confirm that the United States is going to give "a lot more attention to India", says an American expert on South Asian affairs.

Walter Andersen, a former South Asia Bureau intelligence official in the State Department, says the March trip by the Republican president could be compared as much as a landmark as the 2000 trip by then Democratic president Bill Clinton.

Anderson, now associate director of the South Asia Program at the Paul Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, considers the current relations between the two countries as an almost tectonic shift. But not so much because of the civilian nuclear deal of July 18, 2005.

"The most important message (of the July 18 agreement) was that the US saw India as a global power and wants to build on it," said Andersen.

And because of how long the visit is, a large entourage will probably accompany Bush, including not just top advisors and officials, but a retinue of Indian Americans and American CEOs, quite predictable since the CEO Forum was formed at the July 18 meeting between the leaders of the two democracies.

Like most presidential visits, this one is meant to set the stage and confirm a given. "The Clinton visit didn't have major deliverables but showed the administration was getting over the nuclear issue and setting the stage for change," argued Andersen.

"This visit (by Bush) is again to signify something - to confirm that the US is going to give a lot more attention to India."

The visit has not yet evoked much excitement in the American press. Except for some comments from top American officials dogged by the Indian media about the trip, very little is heard about it.

"There's more hoopla in India. But presidential visits normally don't generate a lot of hoopla," said Andersen. But he said the press play might build up closer to the visit.

That means little because most times Americans do not hear much about presidential trips, especially if there is a scandal brewing in Washington.

Then the country receiving the US president doesn't stand a chance. American journalists following in the entourage will ask much more about scandals brewing back home than about what might be happening in the country the president is visiting. Unless it is China or Russia.

Now that India has entered the exalted area of "strategic" partnership, it might get more attention during the visit.

Luckily, there's a "sexy" aspect to Bush's trip, and it is sexy because there's a significant lobby here that doesn't like the civilian nuclear cooperation part of the July 2005 agreement Bush and Manmohan Singh signed in Washington.

So journalists will flog that question, both from the Indian side and from the American side. They might be trumped if India comes up with an actual list separating its civilian and military nuclear facilities.

The other newsy part that will make the papers here, even if it irks some Indians, is the Pakistan leg of Bush's visit.

The "frontline" state, the "closest ally" in the war on terror, may be the butt of criticism in the US media but it draws unrelenting praise from the administration, not a little helped by President Pervez Musharraf who thinks any publicity is good publicity even if it is negative.

First Published: Feb 24, 2006 18:48 IST