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'Furthering Indo-China ties shouldn't undo Indo-US ties'

By Aziz Haniffa
November 23, 2009 17:24 IST
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United States Congressman Ed Royce, a ranking Republican on the influential US House Foreign Affairs Committee, has warned the Obama administration against undoing all the hard work of the Bush administration in developing closer ties with India, by coveting China at the expense of New Delhi.

Royce will be among the eight lawmakers of the House leadership who will meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday. He and his wife Marie will also attend the State dinner at the White House hosted by the Obamas for Dr Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur on Tuesday.

Royce, the erstwhile co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, said he could understand the concerns in New Delhi over Obama's recent trip to China and the joint US-India joint statement issued by the American president and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao.

The joint statement was perceived as seemingly mooting a role for China in resolving the India-Pakistan dispute.

Royce, who had met Dr Singh earlier this year in New Delhi, said, "The Indian government watched and monitored the president's recent trip to Asia with a great deal of interest because there is concern that this administration is turning more and more towards China at the expense of its relationship with India."

He acknowledged that the relationship between US and China was important, but argued that "furthering them shouldn't undo the hard work of previous administrations to being India and the US closer together."

The Obama administration has tried to assure India by saying that too much is being read into the joint statement in New Delhi, particularly the misperception that the US has bestowed a monitoring role for Beijing.

Royce added that the Obama administration has to make it clear that it is sensitive to India's complaints about the terrorism fomented from Pakistani territory by jihadi groups. The US has to indicate its willingness to condition aid to Islamabad and if necessary, cut off the massive US economic and military largesse to Pakistan, if it doesn't rein in these terrorist groups and completely shut down terror outfits like Laskhar-e-Tayiba.

He predicted that besides the overall question of economic cooperation and nailing down the residuals vis-a-vis the India-US civilian nuclear deal, "the most important issue facing the India-US partnership is going to be a discussion on counter-terrorism and the relationship with Pakistan."

But he added, "On the Pakistan front, there is growing awareness here in the United States that we share a common enemy. It is often said that we are both large democracies, but what's often missed, and it is becoming increasingly obvious, is this common bond of a common enemy."

"I would define it as the 9/11 Commission identified it," Royce said, "and that was with the words, 'Islamist terrorism.' It is Islamist ideology that's spreading across South Asia with the teaching of jihad and the teaching of jihad has to be stamped out."

"The Lashkar," he added, "was once an organisation that focused solely on India, but now it is a global threat to all and as you and I have talked about this, they were even training in Virginia and now all the way to Chicago," with the arrests of Pakistan-American David Coleman Headley and Pakistan-Canadian Tahawwur Hussain Rana.

"It has truly become a worldwide phenomenon," he said. "So, what is clear is that Pakistan and South Asia are at a crossroads. Pakistanis have to make a fundamental decision to turn their backs on the culture of jihad."

"It is clear now that if they don't, the future of their country and the region and the security across the world would be in peril, and there has to be a discussion of this," Royce argued, and bemoaned, "because as we begin this debate, the current administration was not in favour of conditioning aid to Pakistan."

He pointed out that along with Democratic Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Congressman Howard Berman, he had been one of the original co-sponsors of the legislation on aid to Pakistan, which conditioned the massive $1.5 billion annually over five years for Islamabad to combat terrorism and not indulge in nuclear proliferation.

However, the Obama administration came down hard on this bill and along with Senator John F Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, removed all of these conditions in the final bill.

"We have to stay focused on the fact that the Pakistani government has got to fight proliferation and terrorism or the aid ends," Royce said. "That means no more A Q Khans, no more Mumbai attacks, limits on sales of F-16s. We have got to stop being played by the Pakistani government."

The nine-term lawmaker, who managed the debate on the Indo-US nuclear deal in the House when the Republicans were in the majority, said, "This agreement has almost crossed the finish line. There is not much left to sort out. But the president of the United States must determine and certify to Congress that New Delhi's International Atomic Energy Agency's safeguards have entered into force."

"For those of us who worked long and hard and made trips to India on this, this last step has to be achieved," he reiterated.

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC