- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 19, 2006

During his visit to India earlier this year, President Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh established a framework for closer U.S.-India ties, a centerpiece of which — a civilian nuclear accord — received congressional approval on Dec. 9 and was signed by Mr. Bush on Monday. The deal on the whole is meritorious in its own right, but it is also a building block of what is becoming an increasingly important relationship for the United States. In economic terms, the Indian juggernaut has shown great resilience, with annual growth around 8-9 percent. Politically, Indian officials understand the value of democratic governance, and India has already shown itself as a force for promoting democracy in its small, politically unstable neighbor Nepal.

Although India has not yet achieved the status of a world power, its potential reaches beyond South Asian hegemony. Because of its location, India can be a key player in terms of its strategic and economic importance to both the Middle East and Southeast Asia. As the world’s largest democracy, and with a foundation of shared values with the United States, India’s leadership in both regions makes it an important ally. Standing animosity between India and Pakistan makes it difficult to embrace one without alienating the other, but the Bush administration has managed the feat of strengthening relations with both simultaneously. India shares a strong interest in the stability of Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan, a region that is still a hotbed of Islamist extremism.

This burgeoning influence will reach increasingly into Asia as well. Close ties with India, as well as Japan, may help at least hedge against, if not contain, a rising China. The United States faces the challenge of a changing geopolitical dynamic marked by Chinese military rivalry in the Pacific — and China’s “string of pearls” strategy of increased presence along the sea lanes to the Middle East and Africa. India sees China as a long-term rival, and perhaps because of that it also sees Japan as an increasingly important and increasingly natural ally. A strong alliance between New Delhi, Tokyo and Washington may be essential to maintaining a balance of power in the Pacific that is to America’s liking.

It’s clearly in U.S. interests to see India continue to develop as both a strategic and an economic power, and the signing of the nuclear cooperation accord is a good effort to facilitate that growth.

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