Indo-US Relations: Time For Reassessment

06 Aug, 1999    ·   236

Dr. P. Vijaylakshmi argues that given the 'roller coaster' nature of past Indo-US relations, it would be premature to argue about a paradigm shift in US policy

The debate on the Indo-Pak Kargil conflict has raised several questions. An important one is whether there is a role for the U.S. The last two months have seen a number of U.S. policy developments treading difficult terrain. The U.S. government has stated that Pakistan-backed intruders must withdraw from the Indian side of the LoC and that Pakistan must resume the peace dialogue. Rebuffing any mention of "mediatory efforts", the US . maintained that the crisis was Kargil specific and did not involve the entire LoC. For Americans this dispute "frozen in time," and  seems unlikely to be quickly settled. In their perception, an "even-handed" approach that did not require any specific attention by the U.S. At best Kashmir only compels sporadic interest but   remains largely in the specialist domain. However, the May 1998 nuclear tests in Pokharan and Chagai jolted this indifference.



When Kargil exploded in May 1999, the realisation accrued that it could spark a full scale war. Prime Minister Sharif's hurriedly arranged meeting with President Clinton during the conflcit and the Sharif-Clinton joint statement were preceded by the U.S. and the G-8 nations demand upon Pakistan to withdraw from the Indian side of the LoC. Internationally, fears of the crisis unravelling and going out of control led to many voices favouring timely intervention. Future summits will probably discuss this possibility of assertive action in Kashmir , despite India 's opposition. While the U.S. has not outlined any peace proposals, the promise of "personal attention" by President Clinton allowed Prime Minister Sharif to hail this as his success in "internationalizing" the Kashmir issue by drawing the U.S. into a mediatory role.



The American viewpoint however was, made crystal clear,  no mediatory role, no carrots, and no wider application of the "respect the LoC" message. However, in appreciation of the irreconciled  situation between India and Pakistan and their nuclear status, the US has enhanced its role, whilst it have desisted from laying down conditions, apart from that of withdrawal.



The legislative branch played on important part in the overall US foreign policy on South Asia , has become more involved in the oversight of foreign affairs, and is exercising its influence through the House and Senate Committees on Foreign Affairs. They have supported the Indian view. Over the past years, they have passed resolutions, conducted hearings on the role of India in South Asia and bilateral on relations between India and the U.S. They have acknowledged the integrity of Indian claims, linked the Taliban factor with Pakistani politics, and urged the U.S. to change its policy towards India . More importantly, the administration has been warned to avoid being dragged into an "interventionist" mode this would please Pakistan but set up India ’s back. They have also opposed helping any country that encourages terrorism. The administration's position on the Taliban illustrates this resolve.



After what the The New York Times called "a timely intervention" by President Clinton in a "seemingly intractable dispute of religion, ethnicity and borders," it remains to be seen whether any real qualitative change  will ensue in Indo-US relations. For starters,  there is considerable progress in reassessing US-India policy within the wider context of South Asia . Given the 'roller coaster' nature of past Indo-US relations, it would be premature to argue about a paradigm shift in US policy. However, the failure of U.S. nuclear non-proliferation goals in the region and the linkage between Afghan mercenaries/militants and Kashmiris in the conflict has re-opened the possibility of a U.S. assertive role in the region. A major implication for India is the opportunity to engage with the U.S. constructively, without remaining stuck in the old negative relationship.



The present U.S. Congressional support to India means that domestic factors in the United States will have considerable influence in shaping its South Asia policy. There is a change in the US Congress's trinity of negative concerns, namely human rights and dissidence,  proliferation of WMD,  and  trade barriers/non-access to markets. This means the "even-handed" approach has given way to focussed attention on India 's potential. Given this context, there is a greater opportunity for both India and the US to improve their post-Cold War relationship.