Hillary Clinton’s Hits and Misses in India

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, center, watches a performance by Indian classical dancers at Kalakshetra in Chennai, India, Wednesday, July 20, 2011. Clinton challenged India to expand its traditional sphere of interest from South Asia to neighboring regions to compete with increasing Chinese assertiveness. - AP Photo
by Rajeev Sharma

(July 20, New Delhi, Sri Lanka Guardian) The visiting United States Secretary of State Hillary, who held the second Indo-US Strategic Dialogue with her Indian counterpart S M Krishna in New Delhi on July 19, failed to give any concrete assurance to India on its concerns about Nuclear Suppliers’ Group’s recent hardening of ENR (Enrichment and Reprocessing) technology transfer terms which put a question mark on implementation of the Indo-US civilian nuclear cooperation agreement. She also chose not to haul Pakistan over coals for its various sins of omission and commission on the terror issue, like British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicholas Sarkozy had done last year from the Indian soil. This is the half-empty glass picture.

On the other hand, Clinton pledged solid support for combating terrorism jointly with India and said that it has been made clear to Pakistan that confronting terrorism of all kinds is in Islamabad’s own interest. She amplified this point during her joint press conference with Krishna and said: “We have made the point repeatedly to our Pakistani colleagues that terrorists threaten both of us and terrorists have actually killed more Pakistanis in bombings of mosques and markets and attacks on police stations and government buildings than Americans. And so we recognize that Pakistan must act on its own behalf first and foremost to protect its own territory and sovereignty and to protect the lives of the people of Pakistan. And we have made it clear that we want a long-term relationship with Pakistan based on common interests including a mutual recognition that we cannot tolerate a safe haven for terrorists anywhere. And when we know the location of terrorists whose intentions are clear, we need to work together in order to prevent those terrorists from taking innocent lives and threatening our institutions of the State.” This is the half-full glass picture. 

She said during her visits to Pakistan she made it clear to the Pakistani Government that confronting violent extremism of all sorts is in Pakistan’s own interest. “We do not believe that there are any terrorists who should be given safe havens and free pass by any government. Because left unchecked, if the consequences of that kind of terrorist activity and intimidation can become very difficult to manage and control.” She stressed that Washington will continue to work with the Government of Pakistan on the terror issue. However, there was a tinge of defeatism in her tone and tenor when she remarked that “There is a limit to what the US and India can tell Pakistan (on the subject),” though she said the US and India had intensified their bilateral cooperation in sharing intelligence and fighting the menace of terrorism jointly. For his part, Krishna said terror sanctuaries in Pakistan need to be eliminated for regional peace and stability. 

On the issue of full implementation of the Indo-US nuclear deal, Clinton sounded iffy at best and complaining of the Indian attitude at worst. She voiced Washington’s unhappiness with India's nuclear liability law and asked New Delhi to bring it in tune with international liability norms within this year to reap full benefits of the landmark agreement. She stressed that India needs to negotiate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on the legislation even though there is no international legal requirement to do so. The bad news from the Indian perspective is that she did not come up with any assurances or commitments on the new restrictions recently imposed by the 46-nation Nuclear Suppliers’ Group on the transfer of enrichment and reprocessing technologies while seeking greater access for US products to the Indian market. She also spoke of “remaining issues” that need to be sorted out between the two countries for full implementation of the Indo-US nuclear deal. However, almost in the same breath Clinton also assured India that the US will fully implement the nuclear deal. 

What she actually meant by her utterances on the recent red rag held aloft by the NSG is that India will have to dilute its liability laws for reaping full benefits of the Indo-US nuclear deal. This is something that is politically incorrect for any government in New Delhi. The UPA government is under intense pressure from both the Rightists and the Leftists in the Indian political system to make its liability laws even harder and not to succumb to, what they describe as, “the American blackmail”. 

Moreover, though Clinton supported the rise of India both as a regional as well as a global power, she hardly came up with any definitive roadmap how Washington is going to boost India on the world stage. A case in point is India’s case for permanent membership of the to-be-reformed United Nations Security Council. She steered clear of this issue completely.
However, strategically speaking, Clinton’s New Delhi visit, perhaps her last visit to India as Secretary of State, must be viewed as a work in progress for the two democracies’ strategic partnership. During this visit, India and the United States set new goals to further strengthen the India-U.S. Global Strategic Partnership with an eye on China, one of which is an India-US-Japan trilateral dialogue that is set to commence soon at senior official level.

After delegation-level talks between Clinton and Krishna, the two sides released a lengthy Joint Statement underlining their ever-intensifying bilateral engagement in such diverse fields as diplomacy, strategic issues, defence, counter-terrorism, civilian nuclear cooperation, space, science and technology, education, trade and women’s empowerment. The two sides pledged to expand and deepen their strategic consultations in international politics, already demonstrated by their launching a Central Asia Dialogue in June 2011 in New Delhi and a West Asia Dialogue in July 2011 in Washington DC.

The two sides intend to expand strategic consultations to other regions, including Latin America and Caribbean, and plan to hold the fourth round of the East Asia Dialogue in September 2011. Besides, the two sides have already launched a bilateral dialogue on United Nations matters in New Delhi in March 2011. The two sides intend to continue this dialogue and meet next in Washington in early 2012, while continuing regular consultations between capitals and in UN cities as appropriate. The two sides reaffirmed their commitment for consultation, coordination, and cooperation on Afghanistan, and to work jointly in Afghanistan in capacity building, agriculture, and women’s empowerment, expanding on work already underway. Both sides agreed to Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, and inclusive reconciliation. Again in view of the China factor and China’s rapidly enlarging strategic footprints in Africa, India and the US pledged to promote food security in Africa through a triangular cooperation programme with Liberia, Malawi, and Kenya. The two sides agreed to explore additional areas based on requests from the three African countries.

Clinton raised a point that has of late become a favourite talking for every foreign dignitary visiting India: pitching for military sales to India. While her focus was on what India can do to generate more jobs for the Americans and boost American economy by way of increased defence exports to India and sewing up more and more bilateral trade and investment agreements, she did not say what the US can do for India. Predictably she kept her own country’s national interests supreme and did not bother to address Indians concerns ranging from easing the visa regime, transfer of ENR technology, pushing India’s case in international organizations and exerting more pressure on Pakistan on the terror issue.

Clinton is understood to have made a strong pitch for more US military sales to India, especially in the wake of American companies recently losing out in the race for a $ 10.4 billion order by the Indian Air Force for 126 fighter aircraft. She expressed her country’s willingness to sell state-of-the-art F 35 warplanes to India at “unbelievable” prices. The Americans are understood to have asked the Indian government to open its purse strings for the Lockheed built fifth generation super stealth F-35 Lightning the basic model of which is being made available to India for $ 65 million apiece. The Indian defence establishment would naturally find the offer too good to be true as much inferior fourth generation French Rafale is priced at $ 85 million and Eurofighter Typhoon (also a fourth generation aircraft) at $ 125 million apiece. The American offer signals American desperation for capturing a big pie of the highly lucrative Indian defence market, especially after two top American fighter aircraft manufacturers – Lockheed (F-16) and Boeing (F-18) – got eliminated in the recent Indian MMRCA deal worth $ 10.4 billion. More clarity would have to emerge on the proposed F 35 Lightning sales to India. 

Clinton’s hard-sell of the American military ware to India came to the fore in her following remark during her joint press conference with "On the issue of defence technologies, the United States expects to continue developing and selling the world's most competitive products. We view these sales as important on their own terms, but also as a means to facilitate the work that the Indian and American militaries can do together -- whether patrolling the seas or providing relief to the victims of natural disasters."

(The writer is a New Delhi-based journalist-author and a strategic analyst. He can be reached at bhootnath004@yahoo.com)

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