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Play the new game

Panetta’s visit underlined US’s reconfigured Asia strategy. India must step up to the crease

Written by The Indian Express | Published: June 8, 2012 3:08:29 am

Panetta’s visit underlined US’s reconfigured Asia strategy. India must step up to the crease

US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta came to Delhi amidst America’s growing difficulties with China and Pakistan and brightening prospects for a robust security partnership with India. Over the last few decades,the reverse has been true. The US and China were allies against the Soviet Union in the final decades of the Cold War. Pakistan has long been America’s frontline state in Southwest Asia. India was largely absent from the US strategic calculus in Asia and the little that Washington did with Delhi was about limiting the negative fallout in India from America’s strategic partnerships with China and Pakistan. That was then. Now,confronted with a fiscal crisis at home,Pakistan’s reluctance to shut down terror sanctuaries,and China’s assertiveness in Asia,the US wants a long-term security partnership with India.

Panetta was not in Delhi to push for new arms deals or demand that India sign the so-called “foundational agreements” as a precondition for stronger defence cooperation. His mission was to brief the Indian establishment on the historic changes in America’s Asian strategy after the prolonged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. His message: India can help construct a stable balance of power in the Indian Ocean region and Asia and contribute to the stabilisation of Afghanistan,and the US is eager to play ball.

But the defence ministry appears nervous at the rapid turn of events in Asia. Defence Minister A.K. Antony’s instinct is to duck and delay. As the US and China redefine Asia’s geopolitical landscape,neither of them is asking India to choose. Washington and Beijing are constructing an ambitious defence dialogue of their own and their bilateral ties are far thicker than India’s relations with either the US or China. Nor is the US about to align with India against Pakistan. Delhi is well positioned to leverage the US option to accelerate India’s defence modernisation,elevate its standing in Asia and improve its bargaining power with both Pakistan and China. With Antony at the helm,however,don’t hold your breath.

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