Reaffirming US relations with India was one of the few foreign policy successes of the Bush Administration. A nuclear power with an impressive but stable economic growth, India is already the South Asian superpower and likely to become more than that. It works with Brazil and Russia and even with China (the so-called “BRIC”) to strengthen its international position and it plays a pivotal, albeit an oftentimes overlooked, role in the Middle East.
President Obama was wise to invite his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh for the White House’s first state dinner on November 24 — a clear sign that the current administration also intends for India to be part of its “multilateral” strategy. According to the president, India is “indispensable” in the building of “a future of security and prosperity for all nations.”
Singh, as finance minister during the first half of the 1990s, broke with India’s past of moderate socialism and instituted a series of reforms that carried the country out of recession. As prime minister, he continues to promote privatization and free trade while while investing generously in a massive campaign against poverty. Obama recognized these achievements when he declared that, “[a]s leading economies, the United States and India can strengthen the global economic recovery, promote trade that creates jobs for both our people, and pursue growth that is balanced and sustained.”
In another one of the president’s crusades, bringing proliferation to a halt, he also acknowledged the importance of India. “As nuclear powers, we can be full partners in preventing the spread of the world’s most deadly weapons, securing loose nuclear materials from terrorists, and pursuing our shared vision of a world without nuclear weapons.” Both countries have known the “pain and anguish of terrorism,” the president spoke, so they must stand together to “promote the development and prosperity that undermines violent extremism.”
Prime Minister Singh responded in kind when he opined that India and the United States are “bound together” by common values and a shared dedication “to meet [the] challenges of a fast-changing world in this twenty-first century.”
There is an elephant in the room that neither leader spoke of. The US is investing in Pakistan to support its war on terror at a time when India and Pakistan are accusing one another of involvements in terrorist attacks in their countries. After fighting three wars the two countries are still engaged in something of a nuclear cold war. Pervez Hoodbhoy notes however on the New Atlanticist, that most of India “would like to forget that Pakistan exists.” Fast on its way to become a true superpower, India “has no need to engage a struggling Pakistan with its endless litany of problems,” according to Hoodbhoy.
That’s not how Pakistan sees it. Islamabad is by no means comfortable with India’s newfound American approval. The Obama Administration will have to carefully balance its commitment to Pakistan against its relationship with India. It needs the first to bring the war in Afghanistan to a successful end but once that’s done, India is really the onle country in South Asia that matters.