US-India Strategic Dialogue: Hostage to Order Book Syndrome?

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US-India Strategic Dialogue between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and External Affairs Minister S M Krishna is taking place in New Delhi on Tuesday against two backdrops – One fresh Mumbai horror.

The two countries will patch-up in Pakistan-US relations. There is a third and equally significant backdrop and it is the visit of Pakistan Army’s Chief of General Staff Lt General Waheed Arshad to Beijing to further strengthen defence cooperation and strategic relationship with China. So the outcome will be interesting and will be keenly watched.

India and the United States have hit upon the mechanism of strategic dialogue in July 2009 to maintain the momentum of their expanding global strategic partnership and to take stock of the progress in cooperation in as many as 18 sectors besides counter terrorism. The forum is also aimed at consultation on global and regional issues and charting out a short to medium-term road-map of cooperation in priority sectors.

The composition of the delegations shows the importance the two countries attach to the exchanges at the ministerial level and to the fact that discussions would focus attention as much on strategic issues as on defence, energy, climate change, education, health, science and technology.

Hillary’s 25-member delegation includes Director of National Intelligence James Clapper; Assistant to President on Science and Technology John Holdren, Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman and Deputy Secretary, Department of Homeland Security, Jane Lute.

From the Indian side, Deputy-Chairman of Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Prime Minister’s advisor, Sam Potroda, India’s US ambassador designate, Nirupama Rao are a part of the delegation besides the Foreign Secretary Designate Ranjan Mathai, director of Intelligence Bureau, Nehchal Sandhu and Secretaries for Commerce, Home, and Education.

Sandhu and Clapper are expected to make presentations on intelligence sharing and counter-terrorism cooperation. Also, on the developments since the first ever India-US Homeland Security Dialogue that took place in New Delhi on the 26th of May this year.

AF-PAK REGION:TALKS WITH TALIBAN

Both India and the United States have a vested interest in the well-being of Afghanistan and Pakistan – India as the immediate neighbour and the US as the global cop who has made the fight against terrorism his sole mission. Krishna will be interested to listen to the American perceptions of the situation in both countries- firstly because the drawdown of US and NATO forces has begun in Afghanistan and secondly because Washington has allowed the return of normalcy in its ties with Islamabad after conducting a high decibel diplomatic spat involving the CIA and ISI.

Washington’s readiness to live with Rawalpindi for the day is undoubtedly due to the looming China factor. Delhi factors in this reality as also the double-game pattern for the CIA and ISI. What interests it is the negotiations the US has been having with a section of the Afghanistan based Taliban, who are known to be close to the Pakistani establishment. The latest UN sanction’s delist, which came into force at the behest of the US, appear to be a ticket to nowhere, though.

As Rahimullah Yusufzai reported from Peshawar in The News (on July 18), ‘Instead of delisting the real Taliban figures fighting the US-led NATO forces and the Afghan government, the UN Security Council’s Sanctions Committee removed from its blacklist the names of 14 former Taliban officials who have no role to play in peacemaking efforts in Afghanistan.

This is not the first such delist. In the past also, the Security Council delisted several former Taliban members, who were dead, had joined the government of President Hamid Karzai or were no longer active in Afghanistan’s politics and ongoing conflict.

Former Taliban foreign minister Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil and Abdul Salam Zaeef, who served as Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan during Taliban rule, were among those who were delisted last year (2010). These figures are not in the Taliban mainstream headed by Mulla Omar and his Quetta Shura.

Anyhow, the ‘real’ Taliban are not enamoured of these ‘former’ Taliban. And as experience shows, neither the inclusion in or delisting from the blacklist has affected their air travel, bank accounts and arms supplies.

So much so the latest delist’s intended purpose could be no more than offering a talking point for the Pakistan establishment, which has its favourites to play around. CIA and Pentagon are not unaware of the nexus nor are they letting it remain wrapped in a mystery.

Since neither counter terrorism nor negotiations with Taliban of any hue is not a zero sum game, the so- called negotiations will put a premium on peace and development in Afghanistan. American President will have to factor in the truism as he battles with Congress on the economy front and gears up for his second term bid with donations from dubious contributors.

For the Indian side, another issue of concern is NSG moves, particularly its steps that could overtime prevent transfers of uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing (ENR) technologies. External Affairs Minister Krishna will seek a fresh assurance from the visiting Secretary of State that the new guidelines of the Nuclear Suppliers Group will not impinge on Washington’s commitment to implement full civilian nuclear cooperation with India

The American side too would like to be assured that the US companies would have the level playing field as the Indian defence services go around shopping for the latest off the shelf and weapons with technology transfers. For the US and in fact for every country these days, every export order counts and no one would like to be eliminated from the race. But, in a highly competitive environment, price counts besides technological sophistication, delivery schedules and servicing.

NO ORDER BOOK SYNDROME

So much so, defence cooperation cannot and should not become a hostage to the order book syndrome. Because, while the Boeing and Lockheed had lost out in the first round of bidding for the sale of 126 medium-range multi-role combat aircraft, some other American companies have won Indian defence orders worth $8 billion.

Krishna-Clinton strategic dialogue is structured to overcome the limitations of time and space and also to sort out glitches along the way. More over the two countries are not new to dialogue aimed at leap frogging into the future with hope and conviction. This is clear from the fact that there are as many as 25 bilateral mechanisms including Defense Policy Group, High Technology Cooperation Group, Joint Working Group on Counter-terrorism and Homeland Security Dialogue.

The US is India’s largest business partner in terms of both goods and services. In 2010, bilateral trade increased 30 per cent to close on $ 50 billion. Latest data on trade in services is not available but the data for Year 2008 shows it was 38 billion dollars.

Despite President Obama’s periodical cautions about Indian (and Chinese) BPOs, and consequent job losses, India remains the biggest source of software experts for the United States. Every one of these knowledge immigrants is contributing to enriching American power house, literally.

So, if Krishna, who hails from India’s very own Silicon Valley, Bangaluru, talks about American visa regime and its impact on the movement of Indian IT professionals, Hillary Clinton should not be surprised. More so since she got the Indian business House of Tata to set up a hi-tech centre in her erstwhile constituency of New York.

(* this article first appeared on www.poreg.org)