Indo-US Relations: Past, Present and Future

10 Apr, 2002    ·   722

Report of the IPCS seminar held on 15 March 2002

Speaker: Amb. Dennis Kux



In the past, Indo-US relations were overshadowed by Cold War politics. The Indo-Soviet friendship and the US-Pak alliance were the two major irritants. Though ‘aid relations’ prevailed during 1950s and 1960s, New Delhi and Washington saw each other on opposite sides of the fence during this period. However, Presidents Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were in favour of maintaining good relations with India . Recently  declassified papers show that Kennedy was more greatly interested in India than Pakistan . The Sino-Indian dispute in 1962 brought about enhanced bilateral cooperation between the two countries. But the 1965 Indo-Pak War undid everything; Washington lost interest in the region. Though President Carter showed some interest, the Afghan war witnessed US political support tilting again towards Islamabad . Reagan literally wrote off India . Later, in the mid-1980s the US strategy was to wean India away from the Soviet Union . Dramatic turn occurred in the 1990s—the Cold War was terminated with the disintegration of the Soviet Union and US-Pak relations nosedived, because of the latter’s clandestine nuclear programme.



Presently Indo-US relations are improving leading to several official visits. Though there is the burden of history, the US is no longer looked upon as “interventionist” by India . One reason could be the presence of non-Congress governments in New Delhi . India is viewed as the largest democracy and emerging economic power, despite its numerous domestic problems. It is also seen as a reliable and potential partner in Asia if US relations sour with China . The Bush regime has “rediscovered” India . The Indian Americans’ role is significant in boosting India ’s image in the US from a ‘land of the poor’ to the ‘country of brains’. NRIs are especially admired for their contributions to information technology. They are better organized than before through the India Caucus, which now includes 130 members of the House of Representatives.



There is much apprehension in India over the new US-Pak “alliance” after September 11 and a possible reverting to the Cold War years. Despite the return of cordiality towards Pakistan , the US needs India . This is evident from the commencement of high level military-to-military contacts, no objection to the PHALCON radar system being procured from Israel , and optimism on obtaining the GE-404 engines and P3C Orion maritime surveillance aircraft. Scores of mutual visits across the board is proof of improving relations. One has to understand that US interests in Pakistan is basically to prevent it from failing.



Thus the future is full of optimism. There is a common focus on combating terrorism, especially cyber terrorism. There are no major strategic issues dividing the two countries; above all, there is a strong desire to move ahead in improving bilateral relations.  At the economic level, there is a possibility of more trade and investment flows. But, it is for India to tap the potential. Cooperation in the non-military nuclear energy sphere is another greenfield area. At the same time, the US , for its part, should be cautious on two fronts:



1. Military supplies to Pakistan .



2. Kashmir issue.






·                     Democracy is certainly an important common structural factor for cooperation. Common political systems make relations easier; they are less likely to trip. It is precisely because of this factor that Indian Americans could adapt easily to living in the US




·                     There are many solutions floating in the air on solving the Kashmir dispute. Andora type of solution is preferable in the given circumstances where Kashmir could be given autonomous status free from the control of both India and Pakistan . The US will run into problems if it gets involved in the Kashmir issue. It cannot influence India or Pakistan , but it can play a behind the scenes role.




·                     It is important to have a military dialogue at the professional level. It is India which is refusing to encourage this.




·                     One cannot deny that the US has a role to influence Pakistan . If US could prevail on Musharraf curtail extremism, it will help the whole region. 




·                     India is not comfortable with the US in regard to defence purchases; it takes a long time to deliver them with many strings attached. On the other hand, experience of working with Russia has been comfortable. 




·                     As far as support to India ’s candidature to the permanent membership of the UN Security Council is concerned, the process is very intricate. The solution has to be global but Washington should support New Delhi ’s case.