Indian Decade

Friendly Fire

The US and India have much in common. But differences over Iran and Pakistan loom large.

India and the United States are compelling examples of where divergent interests can neutralize areas of common ground—including even shared democratic values, and the fact that President Barack Obama has enormous personal regard for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who he publicly calls his ‘guru’.

Next week, the inaugural Indo-US strategic dialogue will be held in Washington, to be co-chaired by Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But the growing gulf between India and the United States, especially with regard to Afghanistan and Iran, is unlikely to be bridged during the meeting, unless the Americans try some pressure tactics (as they often have in the past).

India is unhappy both at the slated US withdrawal from Afghanistan starting next July and America’s growing dependence on Pakistan to stabilize the terrorism-torn country, knowing that Islamabad will use any acquired strategic space in Afghanistan against India. To hedge against this emerging Pakistani threat from Afghanistan, India is sidling closerto Iran, one of its previous Northern Alliance partners against the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

India and the United States became almost aberrantly close during the earlier George W.Bush administration, which initiated and partly concluded the landmark Indo-US nuclear deal. Obama, who opposed the nuclear deal as a senator, for his part approved the follow-on reprocessing agreement after some foot-dragging, but won’t permit the export of enrichment and reprocessing technologies, which are committed to India under the agreement.

Krishna, meanwhile, recently backed Iran’s uranium swap deal with Turkey and Brazil, and he’ll have to put up a spirited defence of his stance in the upcoming strategic dialogue. On the other hand, he may also capitulate to the Americans, as this writer expects him to.