India comes to the table

The first official state dinner proposes new power distribution in Asia.

by Uttam Das

The recent U.S. tour of Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh has marked a new dimension in the diplomatic relation between the two countries. The gala reception in the White House in honor of Singh and his spouse drew much attention. It was President Barack ObamaâÄôs first official state dinner. The New York Times described the evening as a âÄúpotent mix of politics, diplomacy and glamour.âÄù Singh also described his attendance at the gala event as âÄúa unique experience.âÄù In his reception speech, Obama, who paid a visit to China weeks back, welcomed âÄúIndiaâÄôs leadership role in helping to shape the rise of a stable, peaceful and prosperous Asia.âÄù Obama observed that India would play a âÄúpivotal roleâÄù in meeting future challenges in the world, and U.S. ties to India will be the defining partnership of the 21st century. The White House said the event promised âÄúto be a celebration of President ObamaâÄôs deep respect for India and its people, setting the tone for a long-lasting relationship between the nations.âÄù However, there is a lot to calculate from SinghâÄôs visit to the United States, and the visit has implications not only for India but for the geographic region as a whole. Given IndiaâÄôs position as the worldâÄôs largest democracy, Obama rightly hopes to âÄúkeep faith in common values.âÄù He understands the importance of âÄúspeaking out and standing up for the rights and dignity to which all human beings are entitled, and showing that nations that respect the rights and aspirations of their people are ultimately more stable, more secure and more successful.âÄù However, the president should know that there are challenges ahead. That is why he urged for the partnership with India. Some analysts and commentators have already identified areas of priority in U.S. relations with India. Ashley J. Tellis of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace considers two events as pressing matters for Indo-American relations: the 2008 terror attack in Mumbai and the ongoing financial crisis. According to Tellis, the Mumbai attacks, reportedly planned and operated by Pakistani terrorists, have thrust India into the vulnerable roll of a global terror target. That is why there is a need for shared drives against terrorism, as well as a need to address the potential for crisis to rapidly escalate in the region. With regard to the economic meltdown, the emerging global response showed how India can be a key part of the solution through leadership in global bodies like the G20. Tellis predicted that in coming days, matters related to India in major foreign policy issues may confront U.S. interests. That is why he underscored the need for a broad-based, close relationship between the countries. He observed that if U.S. and India make an effective partnership, they would be able to âÄúsolve complex global challenges, achieve security in the critical south Asian region, reestablish stability in the global economy and overcome the threat of violent Islamic radicalism, which has taken root across the region and in India.âÄù South Asia, which is home to well over one-fifth of worldâÄôs population, has also been increasingly plagued by the threat of terrorism. Apart from traditional vices of poverty, illiteracy, natural calamities and climate change in south Asia are corruption, political instability and a lack of good governance and respect for human rights. However, India is blessed with exceptions, including its long-lasting democratic institutions and vibrant civil society. The balance of power in south Asia and Asia is also rapidly shifting. It is evident that both India and U.S. share common objectives in this regard, like a prosperous, peaceful, democratic and free Asia. IndiaâÄôs prosperity depends on a geopolitical environment where its security and autonomy are not threatened by any outside power. In this regard, India has two traditional enemies: Pakistan and China. India also has its own problems of militancy in the Kashmir and northeastern territories. Analysts conclude that India, by its own means, could contain the threat posed by Pakistan; however, they are skeptical about threat from China. According to Tellis, that is why India needs the support of U.S. to preserve the balance of power and order in Asia until it feels it can protect its own interests independently. The Asia Society Task Force of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace observed that the new relationship between the countries rests on a convergence of mutual interests. However, it is energizing that the agendas of India and U.S. have never been so closely aligned. The Task Force has indentified some areas for immediate focus: economic stability, expanded trade, the environment and climate change, innovation, nuclear nonproliferation, public health, sustainability and terrorism. Referring to Obama, Singh rightly said, âÄúYour journey to the White House has captured the imaginations of millions [and] millions of Indians.âÄù However, to achieve any realistic and beneficial outcome from this growing dialogue between the countries, both need to set up short-term and long-term goals founded upon mutual interests and trust. Uttam Das welcomes comments at [email protected].