President Obama understood that India matters when he invited his counterpart to the White House last year. He described India as “indispensable” at the time in the building of “a future of security and prosperity for all nations.” Together, India and the United States could work to fight terrorism and nuclear proliferation while trade relations between the two countries should improve.
Since, India’s policymakers have become skeptical. The administration seemed to pick Pakistan over India in light of its effort to end the war in Afghanistan. The president’s Afghan policy itself, which appears to be one of preparing for defeat, has New Delhi deeply concerned. An instable, possibly divided Afghanistan would surely fall subject to further Pakistani interference while becoming, once again, a safe haven for terrorists who will equally threaten India and the West. As Jeff Smith wrote at The Diplomat in August:
New Delhi is already painfully familiar with Pakistan’s agenda in Afghanistan: at least one of two devastating attacks on India’s embassy in Kabul, a July 2008 bombing killing 58, was traced to Pakistan’s Directorate of Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) by American intelligence agencies. As the sole voice cautioning against Taliban reconciliation, India was sidelined when the fate of Afghanistan was being debated at the London Conference in January. And New Delhi was visibly aggrieved when then-Afghan commander General Stanley McChrystal warned in 2009 that “increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani countermeasures.”
On another front, in its effort to strategically reassure China, the president may appear to have sidelined India as a key ally as well. There is some pushback on Beijing’s revisionist claims in the South China Sea but America needs its support so badly, not only on North Korea and Iran but on global financial and monetary reform as well, that it can’t seriously upset the Chinese. India interprets that as softness at a time when China feels comfortable enough to assert itself more forcefully.
That mounting Chinese assertiveness at the same time only intensifies India’s desire for an alliance with the United States. After half a century of setting aside border quarrels in the interest of broadening their relationship, China and India have clashed anew recently about their positions in Kashmir and Tibet which, in 1962, led to war.
On the other hand, the administration is reportedly considering to support India’s bid for permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council which would leave the West less dependent on Russia and China, both of which currently wield veto power.
Despite promises to lift remaining technology sanctions on India — a leftover from Cold War era paranoia about India’s socialistic governments — and a pledge to revise American export control laws, there is a disappointment in New Delhi with the absence of American leadership on international trade. Once the harbinger of globalization, America today is ambivalent about its commitment to capitalism.
In general, the Indians don’t feel that they’re being treated the way a rising superpower deserves to be.
When Prime Minister Singh visited Washington last year, Fareed Zakaria urged the president to remember “that South Asia is a tar pit filled with failed and dysfunctional states, save for one long established democracy of 1.2 billion people that is the second-fastest-growing major economy in the world, a check on China’s rising ambitions, and a natural ally of the United States. The prize is the relationship with India,” he wrote. “The booby prize is governing Afghanistan.” His advise is sound today as it was then.