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Delhi should be nuanced in its response to US-Pakistan dialogue....

Written by The Indian Express |
March 27, 2010 2:18:07 am

As Washington and Islamabad reaffirm their commitment to a “wide-ranging,long-term and substantive strategic partnership”,New Delhi must resist the temptation to protest. The UPA government must carefully assess the results from the just concluded strategic dialogue in Washington between the US and Pakistan. But India has no reason to be neuralgic about US-Pakistan ties. India’s relations with the US are too deep and wide-ranging today for Delhi to make them a hostage to the current unseemly and ultimately unsustainable political bargaining between Washington and Islamabad. Having objected repeatedly to the hyphenation of American relations with India and Pakistan,it would be self-defeating for Delhi to do the same.

A close reading of the joint statement issued in Washington on Thursday suggests that the optics of the strategic dialogue have been more impressive than the results. There is no doubt that the Obama administration,so dependent on the Pakistan army for making a success of American intervention in Afghanistan,wants to make nice. General Ashfaq Kayani has put up a price for the services he can render. The gap between the two positions could either expand or shrink depending on the ground realities in Afghanistan and Obama’s political calculus for re-election in 2012.

One concrete result from the Washington talks is the imminent American arms transfers to Pakistan — including the F-16 fighter aircraft. Any objection from Delhi that the US arms to Pakistan would change the military balance of power with India would be laughable,especially since our own ministry of defence seems unable to spend money on buying arms. Any Indian retaliation to downgrade military cooperation with the US would be welcomed by Pakistan and its friends in Washington who believe that under the Bush administration the Pentagon had tilted too much in favour of India. In any case,India’s problem is not that American arms will tilt the South Asian military balance in favour of Pakistan. What should bother India is the real possibility that America’s embrace of General Kayani will embolden his army to step up support for anti-India terror groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba. Delhi must make it clear that if Washington cannot persuade Kayani to shut down the LeT,India will be under no compulsion to show military restraint. Delhi must also convey to Washington that if the US accepts Pak primacy in Afghanistan,India will be free to turn to other powers,including Iran,to stop Kayani from turning southern and eastern Afghanistan into a base for violent extremism.

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