- The Washington Times - Monday, March 20, 2006

“India and America have built a strategic partnership based upon common values,” President Bush announced in a press conference with the Indian prime minister during a recent trip to India. More important than common values, however, the two countries have common objectives, which include, as Mr. Bush noted, mutual security concerns and economic interests, which have spurred the burgeoning relationship. The centerpieces of the U.S. strategic partnership with India are nuclear proliferation and economic policy, each of which will be the subject of a subsequent editorial.

India is a key geopolitical ally for the United States in the post-Cold War strategic dynamic in Asia and in the war on terror. For the past two decades, India has been one of the fastest growing countries — a trend likely to continue. Economic interests have provided the largest incentive for India to shun isolation and develop closer ties with the United States, and India derives much of its influence in Asia from its continued prosperity.

While tremendously important for the future of India, that development brings a negative consequence as well — India’s need for energy — that cannot be overlooked. To satisfy its increased need for imported oil and natural gas, India has looked to, among other places, Iran. While Washington has worked to isolate Tehran, India signed a $40 billion deal for a supply of liquefied natural gas — a move that raises some concerns about India’s potential support for U.S. policy against Iran.

Based on its experiences in the Kashmir region, India is no stranger to militant terrorism. More recently, however, it has come to feel the threat of islamist terrorism, sparking a strong interest in aiding the U.S. antiterrorism efforts. So prevalent is the threat of Islamist fundamentalism in India that, in an op-ed in The Washington Post, Henry Kissinger wrote that “the outcome of the American struggle against terrorism involves Indian long-term security fundamentally.”

As Pakistan’s role in combating terrorism is crucial to the success of the war on terror, Washington needs to follow a delicate path in terms of engaging both countries independently against terrorism, and not allowing U.S. support for India to marginalize Pakistan. And despite the promising outlook for the peace negotiations, which have overcome violent setbacks, many failed attempts have shown that the tensions between India and Pakistan are not easily resolved. Washington needs to work diplomatically to ensure both India and Pakistan are committed to a resolution of the dispute over Kashmir.

Closer relations with India won’t necessarily dampen U.S. relations with China. India sees China as its main rival in the long term, and China is certainly wary of India, but each country is pragmatic enough in its foreign policy to realize that a hostile relationship benefits neither. Increased trade between the two countries and a declared interest in solving the long-standing border dispute suggest much improvement in Sino-Indian relations since India’s nuclear testing in 1998. For the United States, India can provide a countervailing force to balance China’s hegemony in Asia. Other U.S. allies, including Japan, which has not recovered from its economic slump, are still valuable, but no longer sufficient in this regard.

Led by trade, India’s influence has spread into East Asia as well. India should no longer be thought of as sandwiched between East Asia and the Middle East, but as a major player with strategic and economic importance to both.

To preserve the strong partnership, the Bush administration needs to promote sustained economic growth in India and a peaceful and lasting resolution with Pakistan in Kashmir. The world’s largest democracy can be a strong ally and a valued trading partner if the Bush administration continues to work to shape the relationship the way it has in the past year. Now is the time to capitalize on the many things that India and the United States have in common and bring India closer to the Western powers.

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