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'Hype and flattery will define Hillary's visit'

By Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi
July 17, 2009 19:11 IST
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US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives in Mumbai on Friday night. Before leaving Washington, DC, she clarified that this will be a  'no-nonsense, business-like visit'. Clinton said, "Our nations should work together to address common challenges including security, non-proliferation and climate change." Clinton has avoided talking in the language of her prececessor Condoleezza Rice who used to talk of making India a global superpower. 

Here is what the experts have to say about Clinton's visit and the Indo-US bilateral agenda.

M K Bhadrakumar, former diplomat and strategic thinker 

The significance of Clinton's visit lies in the fact that this is the first high level formal diplomatic exchange with the Obama administration. The talks are also taking place when a new government is in place in New Delhi. So, there is clarity on both sides on the kind of foreign policy direction to expect for the next 3-4 years. These talks are very necessary. In past eight years Indo-US relations have touched unprecedented heights. We have seen great dynamism. Intrinsically speaking, Indo-US relations had never been at such a stage in the last 60 years.

How do you take this process forward? 

Evidently it would not be correct to presume that the impulses seen during the Bush era would be the same in the Obama administration. President Obama will have his own agenda, his own priorities. During the hiatus when new governments were taking charge in Washington and New Delhi, there was a shift of momentous proportion in international  politics due to the economic crisis. This has altered the US's priorities. There is a qualitative difference between the previous United Progressive Alliance government and the present dispensation. This time the Congress is free to pursue its policies without the Left's intervention.

I think Hillary Clinton's visit will show the Congress-led government what direction that Indo-US strategic relations will take, he says. A great power like the US does not reset its compass every four years. The compass shows that India is the emerging power. An effective Asian policy of the US will need strong relations with India. I don't think India and the US have any divergent views on fundamentals. The Obama administration has every reason to engage China and make it a stakeholder because of the economic situation. Some thinkers are even talking about a G-2. There is a certain priority emerging in what Obama is doing."

America is not in for strategic relations with India to 'contain China', at this moment. The Afghan theatre is also important for Obama's political future, who would like a second term in office. A defeat in Afghanistan is inconceivable for them. All this adds up to a certain focus on Pakistan, whose role is so important that it has to be in the first circle of US foreign policy concerns. In South Asia. The US's focus will be to not antagonise Pakistan to make gains in Afghanistan.

I don't think Obama is looking at a paradigm to make India the pre-eminent power in the Indian Ocean. America would like to give content to the relationship. There are so many areas where both can work together, like space programme. During her visit, Clinton will like to see that the transfer of high technology is made possible through bilateral agreements. She will see that huge commercial relations are pushed forward. India's weapons system can also be upgraded with US help, if certain hurdles are removed. I think military and defense co-operation will pick up.

But, the Obama administration is not looking for India's partnership to make Pakistan a civilised country. At the same time, I must say we are on the same side on international terrorism. India strongly favours America's presence in Afghanistan, till the forces of militancy are effectively tackled, but India doesn't favour co-opting the Taliban.

Because of ground realties, geographic location and past experiences, India differs from the US on the subject.

Pakistan wants to curb Indian influence in Afghanistan. I think it is very wrong on the part of Hillary Clinton to dictate anything in this matter to India. India has historic ties with Kabul and India's national security has a direct connection to the region. India should be used in capacity-building in Afghanistan.

On the balance, I think, in the Congress-led government there was dynamism and direction in the Indo-US relationship since 2004, and I see a continuation of it.

B Raman, security expert and intelligence analyst 

It will be essentially an "ego-massaging" visit. India's inflated ego was hurt when Clinton first went to China in February and spoke very positively about them. She has already embarked on an exercise to introduce correctives. 

Whatever she might say to please India, the reality is that Pakistan and China are more important to the US at present than India. Pakistan is important for the US to prevent another 9/11 on US soil and tor prevent a catastrophic act of terrorism involving the use of weapons of mass destruction. China is important to aid the US's economic recovery. 

Comparatively, India's utility to the US is limited. At the same time, the US cannot ignore India because of its size, its democracy, its future economic potential and the vigorous Indian-origin community in the US which is politically more active than the Chinese-origin community. We can expect positive statements and gestures from her, but one cannot say definitely how sincere they would be. Indians have a weakness for flattery and tend to indulge in wishful thinking. 

We have no culture of strategic-thinking and laser-sharp analysis based on cruel facts and figures. But we have a long-ingrained culture of wishful thinking. All Hillary Clinton has to do is to make a few statements describing India as a great power, praising Mahatma Gandhi, highlighting the impact of Gandhi on Martin Luther King and Barack Obama, India's IT genius etc, Indians will be quite happy for a few months till the next disappointment comes around. 

Americans understand India better than they understand Pakistan and its jihadi hordes. Pakistanis understand the US better than Indians. Hype and flattery will be the defining characteristics of her visit. Indian ego will remain tickled for some months. Ultimately, our people will continue to die at the hands of jihadi terrorists. Pakistan will continue to use terrorism against India to change the status quo in Jammu and Kashmir. Americans will continue to link terrorism with Kashmir. 

Gopal  Krishna, expert on climate change

Hillary Clinton will talk on climate change on Monday with Indian experts. It is evident that the US position on emission cuts is unlikely to finalised before Copenhegan, the statement released by the Major Economies Forum which included both India and China reveals a noticeable change because it is emerging now that developing countries are willing to take "actions whose projected effects on emissions represent a meaningful deviation from business as usual in the mid-term" and as its 2 degrees Celsius goal, implying that they can consider emission caps after 2020.

Amidst a glaring climate crisis, both China and India are working in tandem with their respective national action plans on climate change but their plans as well as the negotiating stance of major economies like the US demonstrates that environmentalism has been hijacked by the corporations who are having a field day with carbon trading, with no space for the environmentalism of the poor.

While talking with Clinton's team, India should note that the US and EU efforts to deal with China and India separately and bilaterally seem to have earned a diplomatic victory for the countries which have an obligation under the Kyoto Protocol. What makes such negotiations unreal and divorced from the people in general and climate victims in particular are that the solution to combat adverse climate change is primarily based on emissions trading and historical and futuristic emission "rights".

While meaningful deviation from business as usual in the global and national political economy usual is a must, policy reversals that would constitute "meaningful deviation" is nowhere in sight.

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Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi