New Delhi a Tough Nut to Crack for Washington

Unlike the US, where governments are usually noisy while articulating their worldview, for the bureaucracy, who runs India’s foreign policy from the rooms in New Delhi’s south block, silence in golden. But make no mistake that New Delhi’s usual reluctance to articulate any grand strategy doesn’t necessarily mean that India doesn’t have one. Ever since India embraced globalization in 1991, several of its conventional strategic objectives have kept evolving and the speed of that evolution kept on accumulating momentum simultaneously with India’s growth trajectory, which has accelerated in the recent years.

Albeit surprising, Washington remains blissfully unclear about the goals and objectives of its potential ally. Regardless of the significant advances in Indo-US ties under the presidency of George W Bush and the bipartisan agreement at Washington for supporting India’s rise, it has been hard for the Barack Obama administration to make a big strategic advance. Washington officials dealing with Pakistan and Afghanistan seem to find New Delhi, and particularly the latter’s reluctance to extend any concession whatsoever as regards Kashmir that could presumably encourage Islamabad to cooperate more with Kabul, part of the problem.

Besides, US negotiators on issues of trade and climate change, often find the infamous prickliness of the now ancient non-aligned India alive and kicking. Pentagon, obviously, is frustrated in its failure to forge a partnership with New Delhi which resists cooperation in US terms. However, US strategists can take a heart; should Washington afford to be patient, tolerate an extended courtship and to top its all, adopt a long-term view on its relationship with New Delhi, it’s expected to find much likeness about the latter’s foreign policy.

The problem with India’s top strategists isn’t that they are usually not keen enough to strike a grand bargain with the US. It’s all about negotiating equitable terms. It’s also about carrying the baggage of a bureaucracy and political elite that are inordinately slow in adapting to new imperatives of a more muscular partnership with Washington. However, engagement with Washington has been New Delhi’s topmost foreign policy priority over the last 15 years.

India’s proximity to USSR during Nehruvian times, had made Washington skeptical about its relations with New Delhi. The whole Congress brass was recognized across the world to have a socialist bias and US never attached seriousness to its relationship with India for obvious reasons. It rather chose to side with Pakistan, the only other power of any significance in the strategically important South Asia. It has even been reported that a US frigate was stationed in the Bay of Bengal during the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war to react on behalf of Islamabad, should New Delhi declare war against Pakistan.

India had substantially modified its foreign policy after the fall of USSR in 1992. It was quick to realize that ties with the US were the need of the hour. However, it never discarded its non-aligned policies completely. It still has not. And in there, Washington finds New Delhi a tough nut to crack and diametrically opposite to Islamabad, Kabul or even Dhaka.

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