India, the United States and South Asia: potential strains and complications

International relations Defence North America Asia United States of America

After several incidents occurring close together, there is the possibility of strains appearing in India-US relations if the trend is not arrested. It requires a “message” to reach the Indian public, over the heads of their “managed” political leaderships. This could lead to public pressure on the leaders in ways that America does not always understand. One incident concerns reports of the ‘US acquiring a military base in Maldives’, which has been stoutly denied by Washington. Ahead of presidential polls later this year and parliamentary elections in the next, Maldives has since indicated that it cannot approve the US draft and that it’s in no great hurry to conclude it. The other relates to the creation of a congressional caucus in the US on the forgotten “Khalistan issue”, from independent India’s none-too-distant past. A more recent, third episode refers to reports that India is fifth in the rank of countries that US intelligence agencies are hacking the internet services of and eavesdropping on at a global level.

Key points

  • The US is beginning to be seen as not doing enough to support India in the post-Cold War era. Reports emanating from both public and political fora refer to US engagement with individual countries in South Asia, possibly behind the back of India and with indifference to anti-India sentiments in those countries; this could become a cause of strain in India-US relations.
  • The “String of Pearls” theory, which has demonised China in the Indian mind, may have to come in for review. Already, India is revisiting its neighbourhood policy, established in the years immediately after the Cold War, to reassess and reassert its traditional supremacy in the region.
  • A coalition government in India after the poll scheduled for May 2014, could initiate a review of India’s foreign policy and geo-strategic priorities in the short-term, over the head of the two “national parties”, the ruling Congress and the opposition BJP, which seem to have developed some kind of a bipartisan approach on national issues, although that has not always held.
  • Bilateral relations with India offer substantial possibilities for the US, but other possibilities have also opened up for India. Even while continuing with a policy of “cautious optimism” towards each other, India and China seem to be adopting the step-by-step realisation of a calibrated normalisation of bilateral ties, which, however, may take some time to come.
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