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Saturday Feature
Bush and Manmohan play the great game, Indo-US strategic partnership
Enayet Rasul

          It would not matter for India's neigbours if President Bush's just ended trip to India happened to be just one of those ritual exchanges of visits by a head of a government. Long before the US President went to India, analysts have been discussing and speculating on his visit. One such analyst observed that President Bush would be going to India after President Clinton visited that country in 2002. But the Clinton visit was the first by an American President to India in 22 years. Thus, President Bush's going to India so soon after the previous President's visit was indicative of the importance that Washington now puts in its relations with that South Asian country. The analyst went on to say that from now on, probably, a Presidential visit to New Delhi from Washington would take place at least in every four years. So deepened it seemed to him the Indo-US strategic relationship.
The first sign of such a relationship was noted ever since the Republicans won the last US Presidential election. It was notable that when President Clinton visited India, he also visited at that time Pakistan and Bangladesh. The Bangladesh part of his South Asian trip would be longer but for terrorism related concern. That visit by a Democratic party's US President to South Asia was a more balanced one to promote US interests on a regional basis. It was not limited mainly to visiting India . But Bush in his trip to South Asia spent three out of the four days in India and only a day in Pakistan. Bangladesh government tenaciously maintained contacts with the Bush administration for even a brief stopover in Bangladesh by the US President. But the pleadings were turned down. Even the Pakistan part of his South Asia trip looked more like a face-save and not any genuine expression of interest. From spending the greater part of his time in India and signing some major deals with that country, President Bush only underlined how earnestly his administration wants to deepen and broaden its strategic relations with India notwithstanding that this policy may go against the relatively weaker or smaller countries in South Asia.
While in New Delhi, President Bush signed two agreements - one for supporting the peaceful Indian nuclear programme and other for boosting trade between the two countries. The pacts envisage to double bilateral trade between the two countries in about 3 years time. Under the agreement on nuclear cooperation, US government and private companies will be allowed to provide nuclear technologies and fuel to India. The two pacts-apparently-- do not seem to pose a threat to other countries, specially in the region. The agreements are in transparent text and signify a win-win situation for both countries : both countries would be now expected to go for major expansion of export activities in relation to each other and both should gain economically from the same. The cooperation in the nuclear sphere on paper is intended to enable India to produce safe nuclear energy in abundance since it does not produce enough of the conventional fuels. Embracing the agreement, India which is not presently a signatory to the nuclear non proliferation treaty (NPT), would now be under obligation to open its nuclear installations for international inspection which is part of the NPT regime.
What the neighbouring countries have a lot of reasons to worry about are the non transparent understandings that have been reached between the US and Indian leaders. US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice who has had a big role to play in formulating the current US policies towards India, wrote some months ago in an article in the Washington Post that India is going to take its place as one of the five major world powers. Earlier, right after her becoming foreign secretary, she recommended that US policy needs to be guided by the objective of helping India to become a major world power. During her visit to India in last July, Rice created a big stir in Bangladesh by telling her Indian hosts that Bangladesh ought to follow India's directive in its foreign policy and other matters. This raised suspicion in Dhaka as well as other South Asian capitals whether Washington was agreeable to India extending its hegemony over South Asia in exchange of India's friendship and cooperation.
What could that friendship and cooperation be ? Analysts gave their opinion sometime ago that the thrust of the US policy is to build up India as a power strong enough to counter the power and influence of China in Asia and the world. For getting India's strategic cooperation in curbing the rising power of China, the US would be willing to give New Delhi a free hand in South Asia. In other words, it is speculated that the US has no qualms in sacrificing the small countries in South Asia for India to deal with them as it pleases in return for India's cooperation in its greater strategic contest with China.
In this connection, an example comes to mind from the pages of history. It was in 1939 that the foreign minister of Russia, Molotov, met the foreign minister of Nazi Germany, Ribbentrop. Russia and Germany were then at peace and the real reason for the meeting of the two foreign ministers was to redraw the map of Europe which resulted in the extinguishing of the freedom of a free and proud nation in central Europe, Poland. Known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement, the deal allowed for Poland to be carved up into a German and a Russian sphere of influence. Soon afterwards, Russia invaded Poland and took away and annexed a part of it and Germany did the same thing with Poland's western half. This remains an example of how flimsy the concepts of territorial integrity and sovereignty of small countries can be when the big powers decide to throw such considerations to the wind, albeit covertly
Therefore, small countries in the periphery of India have a lot to worry about the budding Indo-US relationships when US seems to be settling for a tilt towards India indicating that its support to New Delhi would not waver no matter how India treats its weaker neighbours. The present US administration contends that India is a responsible and democratic country and that it can be expected to abide by international law. But this democratic and law abiding India had no regard for law or legality as it invaded and annexed the sovereign Indian princely states namely Hyderabad, Junagardh and Kashmir. Later it gobbled up in like fashion the Portugese colony of Goa and the Himalyan kingdom of Sikkim. There has been no signs that India's geopolitical ambitions or imperialistic designs have waned in any manner since then. The restraining influence of the United Nations and, more significantly, the assurance that the US would act like a guardian power to safeguard the interests and sovereignty of small states, was a source of strength for the weaker countries. But the strategic partnership that the US is forging with India, could mean the end of such security assurances.


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