By any standards,2010 would be remembered as a watershed year in Indo-US ties,when President Barack Obama paid his maiden visit to India and endorsed his country’s “indispensable partner” for a permanent UNSC berth,recognising New Delhi’s emergence on the world stage.
Building on the progress made over the last two decades during the two previous presidencies of Bill Clinton and George W Bush,the Obama administration,as it had promised,took the relationship to a new level.
2010 will not only be remembered as a year when sixth ever US President visited India,the third consecutive one,but also a year when Obama endorsed India for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council; thus formally taking note of emergence of India on the world stage.
“This is my first trip to India,but this will be my longest visit to another country since becoming President.
And that’s because I believe that the relationship between the US and India will be one of the defining and indispensable partnerships of the 21st century,” Obama had said during the US-India Business Council and Entrepreneurship Summit in Mumbai in November.
During the year,the two countries also came closer on the issue of Afghanistan. Post 9/11,India and the US have been working independently in Afghanistan; but this year saw more convergence of views on the war-torn country.
In fact,during Obama’s India visit,the two sides agreed to identify projects which they can do together. It looks like the first such project would be in the agriculture sector.
Even though,the trust deficit between the two countries on the issue of Pakistan remained – albeit a bit less the US,towards the end of the year,appeared to be more closer to the Indian argument that the key to terrorism in the region lies in Pakistan and some elements in its establishment.
This was reflected in various statements coming out from the top officials of the Obama Administration,asking Pakistan to do more in the war against terrorism.
The Obama administration also did not buy the Pakistani argument that resolution of the Kashmir issue was key to the success in the war against terrorism.
Despite repeated assertions – and even demands if some news reports are to be believed – at the highest level in Pakistani leadership,including by Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi,the Obama Administration refused to offer its services of mediation between India and Pakistan on the Kashmir issue.
In the South Asian neighborhood,be it Sri Lanka,Bangladesh or Nepal,the two countries increased their area of cooperation. And to the surprise of many,the US and India this year started a sub-dialogue on South East Asia.
At least two rounds of such dialogue were held this year,which many experts believe is an effort to check the increasing influence of China in the region. However,both India and the US have denied this.
On Myanmar,the US this year appeared towing the Indian policy of engagement with the military leaders.
Cooperation in counter-terrorism is one area where India and the US have quietly made tremendous stride this year which,in fact,started late last year during the State visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Washington.
Post-Mumbai attacks,the access given to David Coleman Headley,a key plotter of the strikes,is something visible to the public in the open,but intelligence and security agencies of the two countries have established institutional mechanismof cooperation.
Defence ties were further strengthened as US Defence Secretary Robert Gates visited India flowed by a return visit by Defence Minister A K Antony here.
India also placed multi-billion-dollar orders for buying defence equipment from the US,giving a big boost to its economy through creation of thousands of jobs.
When all the ordered aircraft are delivered,India will have the second largest C-17 fleet in the world behind the US.
During the year,the US also announced removal of Indian space and defence entities from the Commerce Department’s Entity List as India aligns its export controls with global standards. This was one of the key irritants in the relationship between the two countries.
Besides endorsing New Delhi for a permanent position in the UN Security Council,the US this year announced its decision to support India’s full membership in four multilateral export control regimes — Nuclear Suppliers Group,Missile Technology Control Regime,Australia Group and Wassenaar Arrangement.
The two countries took further steps towards the implementation of their civilian nuclear deal,even though there are few issues that remained to be shorted out. The US has expressed its concerns over certain provisions of India’s nuclear liability bill.
Amidst all this good news,the business sector and economic relations — which have so far been the flag bearer of the relationship between the two countries for decades emerged as the bitter point for the fast strengthening ties between the two countries.
Even though the Obama visit resulted in several big business deals,the US companies,which played a key role in the passage of the civilian nuclear bill,expressed dissatisfaction over the nuclear liability bill.
Very often,they expressed their frustration over the development as they had not been able to get the business.
Indian companies,on the other hand,forcefully raised their voice against anti-outsourcing and restrictive measures being implemented by the US.
Indian firms termed as unjustified and discriminatory a legislation passed by the Congress to fund the Mexico border protection measures by increasing fee on H-1B and L1 visas.
Similarly they were up in arms against Ohio’s anti-outsourcing regulations.
Now the two countries were working to ensure that these irritants in relationship are removed.
Towards the end of the year,the pat down of Indian Ambassador Meera Shankar at a domestic airport in the US and unauthorised release of State Department cables,including those on India,by WikiLeaks seemed to have some impact on the otherwise positive relationship between the two countries.
However,after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent phone call to Minister of External Affairs S M Krishna,it now appears the relationship is mature enough to face these challenges and march ahead.
“The Secretary and Minister agreed that the unauthorised release of classified cables would not affect cooperation between India and the United States,” State Department spokesman P J Crowley said.
The talks between the two leaders also laid the ground wok for the relationship in next year.
Krishna invited Clinton to visit India for the second round of the Strategic Dialogue,dates for which will be decided later.