On 24 November the world witnessed a crucial moment in US-India bilateral relations as leaders of the two largest democracies shook hands and signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU). The event marked the beginning of new relationship between the two democratic giants in the new century. Calling India a natural partner, President Obama stressed that the ties between the two countries were “one of the defining relations” in the 21st century in which India will assume a leadership role in the region and the world.
With the optimism to work together as global strategic partners, India and the US have inked several MoUs to enhance cooperation on energy security, energy efficiency, clean energy, and climate change. Additionally, the two sides have also initialed MoUs on agricultural cooperation, food security, a counterterrorism cooperation initiative, as also advancing global security. Besides, several collaborative projects are also likely to be announced soon.
Seeking to broaden and deepen India’s strategic partnership and work with the US to meet the challenges of a fast-changing world, Singh declared the meeting as a moment of great opportunity in the bilateral relationship. He elaborated on and underlined the need to work together on a wide spectrum of areas, so that the countries could jointly harness the immense available talent. He further advocated that both countries cooperate to address global challenges like terrorism, environmental issues, and denuclearization.
A key highlight of Singh’s visit was the manner in which he clearly outlined his views on China and Pakistan. On the issue of China, Singh said that he had failed to understand the reason for the assertiveness on the Chinese part. Highlighting India’s stand, he said that India wanted the world to prepare for the peaceful rise of China as a major power, and that engagement was the right strategy for India and the US to adopt in the regard.
On border issues, he admitted that New Delhi has had a long-standing border problem with Beijing. In the meanwhile, both the countries have agreed that pending the resolution of the border problem, peace and tranquility should be maintained along the border.
“I have received these assurances from Chinese leadership from the highest level. There is but a certain amount of assertiveness on the Chinese part. I don't fully understand the reasons for it," Singh said at the Council on Foreign Relations.
He acknowledged that Sino-India relations had plummeted to new low especially after the Tibetan spiritual leader, Dalai Lama's trip to Arunachal Pradesh. But he was assertive enough to reject Obama's offer to China to assume the role of a big brother in the South Asian region especially in India–Pakistan bilateral matters.
However, back home, despite the optimism, the people of India in general and media in particular, were disappointed with no statement forthcoming from the US on terrorism originating from Pakistan. As the news channels eagerly waited and journalists speculated, the hopes, analysis, and assumptions all fell flat when the joint press conference came to a conclusion with no mention of 26/11.
On being questioned about the US military aid given to Pakistan and fears that it was being used against India, Obama avoided giving any substantial answer on how and when the US would put a hold on it, or what measures it would use against Pakistan to stop the misuse of aid. The only reply forthcoming on the issue was that the aid given to Pakistan was meant only for military purposes and not for other development processes.
This was certainly not the answer that Indians were looking for, especially with the upcoming 26/11 anniversary. Nevertheless, President Obama did mention that Pakistan would have to take enormous steps to combat terrorism origination from its soil. Further, he asserted that a lesson could be drawn that terrorism that breeds on one’s ground and infiltrates neighbouring countries with a view to spread itself, can often backfire.
Quick enough to notice the disappointment within India, Washington, a day after the joint press conference, joined New Delhi in emphasizing the "absolute imperative" to bring to justice the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks. It further accentuated the need for "resolute and credible steps" to eliminate "safe havens" in Pakistan and Afghanistan which undermine the security and stability of the world.
The many shared values such as democracy, pluralism, tolerance, openness, and respect for fundamental freedoms and human rights, make both countries ‘natural partners’ who recognize terrorism as one of the biggest threats to world security. The recent visit has been an occasion for both countries to reaffirm their determination to fight evil in all its forms. However the delayed response from the US and its constant avoidance of confronting Pakistan on the terrorist activities against India, raises questions about the authenticity of Obama’s assurance of being India’s best friend.