Can India have a strategic partnership with the United States? (Re-issue(Article)

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New Delhi: July 27 (ANI): A strategic relationship or better still a strategic partnership with the world's only super power-the United States-would help India and give a push to its growth and development.

It would be a partnership between two democracies of the world. China owes its dominant economic position in the world of today to the huge investments made by US companies in that country.

A desire for friendship with the United States has occupied the mind of countless Indians. India remembers the support given by the people of that country to the cause of Indian independence.

Many a freedom fighter, including the lion of Punjab, Lala Lajpat Rai, have recorded their appreciation when they were in the US during that period.

India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru visited the US soon after the country became free.

Truman was President then. Mrs. Indira Gandhi accompanied Nehru. That visit was a great success.

The ignorance about India in the US at the time was such that Truman is said to have recorded his surprise at the fact that this "Communist" sympathiser is speaking more about democracy and of the values that the US cherishes. There was standing applause for Nehru as he addressed the joint session of the US Congress. Nehru convincingly conveyed to the US that India is committed to democracy.

Despite all efforts, friendship with the US eluded India during the Cold War years. US policy makers continued to harbour the suspicion that India was a fellow traveller, if not a Communist nation in spite of the fact that Chester Bowles, a brilliant US Ambassador to India, wrote that Nehru perhaps had more Communists in jail than any other country.

US foreign policy has all along been guided by the objective of "what is in the best interests of America"? If Nehru's India was not going to join the US in its Cold War against the Soviet bloc, then clearly India was not a friend.

Nehru was the greatest Prime Minister that a new nation could have at the start of its long journey towards emancipation. Nehru was not going to get young India embroiled in the ill-conceived Cold War. He chose a path of independent foreign policy that had been enshrined during the country's fight for freedom.

To Nehru, India's strategic interests were paramount. To him, an independent foreign policy did not mean neutrality. He was, however, not able to convince a sceptical Washington. For them, Pakistan, which joined the defence pact, was more of a friend.

Pakistan used its membership to further its objectives in Jammu and Kashmir. The military rulers or "cold warriors" of Pakistan starting with Field Marshal Ayub Khan, ensured that India and Pakistan never came close. They were hopeful that Pakistan's closeness to Western countries would help in the annexation of Jammu and Kashmir.

A nation should never forget history and its past experiences. Those who forget history live to rue the day. At the height of Cold War in 1971, Pakistan was possibly going to take a turn toward democracy. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's Awami League had won an outright majority in Parliament.

The Pakistan Army ensured that the Sheikh did not become Prime Minister. The US continued to support Pakistan's military rulers.

Following the military crackdown in East Pakistan, over ten million refugees took shelter in India. The US did not stop the Pakistan Army from what it was doing in the East. Washington's lofty commitment to democracy never supported Sheikh Mujibur Rehman to become the Prime Minister of Pakistan.

President Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger continued to support the military rulers of Pakistan during the crackdown in the eastern wing. When war broke out between Pakistan and India, Nixon ordered the US Seventh Fleet to confront India. Unfortunately, the Pakistan Army surrendered even before this fleet could enter Indian waters. This author was covering the war in East Pakistan when the Seventh Fleet was menacingly rushing towards the Bay of Bengal.

By a strange coincidence, some years later, I met Sidney Sobers who was number two at the US Mission in Pakistan in 1970 and later a Charge d'Affaire in that country. I asked him as to why the Pakistan Army did not put up a fight against the Indians in the difficult riverine delta terrain of East Pakistan? A candid response was given to my queries.

According to Sobers, the US military attaches in Islamabad visited several forward areas in Pakistan before the Indo-Pak war broke out. They realised that the terrain in East Pakistan was tough and, with a hostile local population, there was no way that the Pakistan Army could put up a fight.

The expectation of the Pakistani commanders in the East was that Pakistan would be able to capture Amritsar and some territories in the West. Pakistan could then bargain with India that it would not vacate Amritsar unless the Indians moved out of East Pakistan. This is what Sidney Sobers told me.

It was the failure of the Pakistan Army in the western sector that forced Nixon to move the Seventh Fleet, but it was too late. The Pakistan Army in the East had already surrendered.

From Sobers statement, it became clear to me that the US had been fully involved on the side of Pakistan in that war. There should be reports and information available in the archives of India's External Affairs Ministry to the goings on of that time. Let those not be forgotten.

The United States policy vis-à-vis South Asia has not changed. When questioned during her recent visit to New Delhi, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave credit to her husband (Bill Clinton) for developing good relations with India.

During Clinton's first term (1992-1996), this author carried a message of friendship from then Foreign Minister Inder Kumar Gujral to be conveyed through Robin Raphael, who was then Under Secretary of State for South Asia.

I had an hour-long interview with Robin Raphael and she gave a measured reply to Gujral's message of friendship. In the course of my TV interview, I was left aghast on learning the fact that the US was more than actively involved in supporting the activities of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The Taliban could never have reached Kabul if the US had not given it tacit support. The Clinton administration failed to even decry the blowing up of the Baamiyan Buddhas by the Taliban.

Whatever Hillary Clinton may claim, the simple fact is that the Clinton administration during its first term was not friendly towards India. If anything, Robin Raphael was hostile towards India. The lady is today said to be working as a lobbyist for Pakistan.

We need to learn from China on how to exploit the US. The US may have won its Cold War against the Soviet Union, but as far as China is concerned, it has been protecting its own strategic interests and emerged as an economic power that might threaten US supremacy one day.

Even today, Pakistan hopes to use the United States and China in its quest to annex Kashmir. But China is wary in its response as it has trouble spots in Tibet and Sinkiang.

Can the US Secretary of State dare to tell the Chinese to talk with the Dalai Lama and settle the issue of Tibet? She, however, has patronisingly advised India that Kashmir should figure in Indo-Pak dialogue. Is this the kind of strategic relationship that we are seeking with the United States?

It is high time that those negotiating this strategic partnership with the United States inform us as to what President Obama means when he considers India as being important to his Afghan-Pakistan policy? India has its own strategic interests not just in Afghanistan, but also in Central Asia as well. These cannot be sacrificed at the altar of an Indo-US strategic partnership.

The desire of an articulate American-Indian community to achieve such a partnership between India and the US is understandable. We also have a political-bureaucratic nexus in New Delhi that is blind to India's interests. The objective of a strategic partnership is laudable, but its contours need to be clearly explained to the people of India.

India needs to guard itself from being sucked into a crisis not of its making. We have a fine defence force, our economy is growing, but we are still far from achieving the goals of a developed nation.

The US is seeking a strategic partnership with India but it has not yet supported India's right to be in the UN Security Council.

One may as well ask what is this 'Strategic Partnership' all about? By Prem Prakash (ANI)

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