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US ties with India, Pak on divergent paths

India is the celebrated rising democratic power for whom Washington is willing to jettison 30 years of non-proliferation policy.

india Updated: Mar 13, 2006 13:47 IST

President George W Bush's visit to India and Pakistan this month underscored dramatically the increasingly divergent US approaches to the South Asian nuclear rivals.

India is the celebrated rising democratic power for whom Washington is willing to jettison 30 years of non-proliferation policy so New Delhi can buy US nuclear energy technology.

Pakistan, its future stability in question, gets nudged by Washington to do more to fight terrorism and to expand democratic freedoms.

"If Pakistan is going to judge its relationship with the United States by how close the United States is to India, it's bound to be disappointed because the US-India relationship is at a historic high-water point," said Teresita Schaffer of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

India, whose relations with the United States were long mired in Cold War politics, is now basking in the glow of the landmark nuclear energy deal and of being anointed by Bush as a global power central to US geopolitical strategy.

In Pakistan, by contrast, commentators expressed concern that President Pervez Musharraf had little to show for an alliance with Washington that has pitted its army against its own people in the post-September 11 hunt for Al-Qaeda militants on the Afghan border.

Many Americans "aren't understanding the level of anxiety Pakistanis now feel and how Musharraf is seen as being pushed in a corner," said Alan Kronstadt, South Asia analyst for the Library of Congress's Congressional Research Service.

This was underscored by Bush's unusually public rejection of Musharraf's request that Pakistan get a nuclear deal like India's, Kronstadt said.

Beyond the visit itself, "there was really nothing given to Musharraf ... India got a huge gift in the nuclear deal and Pakistan got a pat on the back and advice to do more on terrorism and on democracy," Kronstadt said.

Different paths

Richard Boucher, assistant secretary of state for South Asia and Central Asia, noted that Bush announced US-Pakistani partnerships and dialogues on strategic issues, education, energy and economics.

"We believe that these respond to Pakistan's needs as it develops a stable, modern, prosperous and democratic society ... (and) the real test is whether we are helping the Pakistani people move into a better future," he said.

Pakistan, one of the largest US aid recipients, remains a valued ally in the war on terrorism, but is not seen by Washington as measuring up to India as a democracy or a state willing to guard against weapons proliferation.

Pakistan's former top nuclear scientist ran a black market that sold technology to Libya, North Korea and Iran.

Pakistan's anxiety over its US ties is long-standing. The two were allies in the 1980s struggle against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, but once the Soviets withdrew, relations cooled -- in large measure because of US concern over Pakistan's nuclear-weapons program.

Although Washington has worked to dispel this notion, "there is a common fear in Pakistan that the United States is going to wash its hands" of the relationship, Kronstadt said.

Bush's visit was intended to underscore US support and he "paid a lot of attention to Musharraf," said Schaffer.

But she criticised the administration for focusing too much on personal ties with Musharraf and for not reaching out to political opposition and civil society groups crucial to Pakistan's democratic evolution.

Some analysts worry the enthusiastic US embrace of India -- especially the landmark nuclear deal -- is encouraging Pakistan to lean more heavily on its long-time ally China.

"Pakistan feels endangered by the closer US-India relationship (and) while the United States will try to keep relations with Musharraf strong, Musharraf will be able to play the two (US and China) off against each other," said Daniel Blumenthal, a former Pentagon official.

First Published: Mar 13, 2006 13:31 IST