What India seeks from America

New Delhi needs to be assured that cooperation with Washington on various issues will be beneficial.

Gulf News

An American presidential visit to India is not an everyday event. George W. Bush is only the fifth US president to visit India. It is his first visit to this country.

It is true that during the Cold War, the United States and India were far from each other. India was the founding member of the Non Aligned Movement. But official status notwithstanding, India was close to the Soviet Union, which was its main military supplier.

Washington was close to Pakistan and had strategically enhanced its cooperation with Islamabad after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

The break-up of the Soviet Union changed all that. Moscow had little to give to India. Besides, New Delhi, challenged by Chinese economic growth, opened up its state-controlled economy. India become a sought-after destination for foreign investors, including the US.

After having conducted five nuclear tests in 1998, India tried to improve its relations with Washington. In 2001, Indian leaders hoped that Washington's focus in its war on terror would break its alliance with Islamabad.

However, due to Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf's decision to get involved in the war on terror, the US reaffirmed its alliance with Pakistan instead of breaking it.

Then, India at least hoped to get US support for its bid for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council. But such a move was impossible, mainly due to US opposition to a reform of the UN.

New Delhi and Washington, nevertheless, have common interests. India tends to present itself as the world's largest democracy, thereby becoming a natural partner to the US which considers itself the beacon of democracy.

Big player

The Indian economy is surging ahead. India is a big player in the field of information technology and many Indians are fluent in English. The Indian diaspora in the US is politically active.

After Indonesia, India has the largest Muslim population in the world. And India is one of the few countries in which the US is perceived positively. According to Pew Research Centre polls, 71 per cent of Indians have a positive perception of US policy.

Though India was formerly a non-aligned state, and one of the main advocates of the Palestinian cause, it now has strong military ties with Israel.

New Delhi would be delighted to have access to US nuclear technology. Bush doesn't oppose the US having cooperation on the nuclear issue with India, but New Delhi is not a signatory to the nuclear non proliferation treaty. It would be difficult to convince the US Congress to give a green light to new agreements in this field.

India might wonder if its cooperation with the US is as beneficial as it expected. Nothing on a Security Council permanent seat, not much on Pakistan, and perhaps nothing on the nuclear issue a disappointing result could backfire.

India wants to be the sixth great power in the world. If getting closer to Washington is useless in this respect, opponents of the new political outlook could become more vocal. Besides, India needs energy. This is one of the reasons it does not want to break with Iran.

And India may be reluctant to serve as a counterweight to China for the US. India and China are regional rivals. India is upset with the preference given by the West to China. But whatever the Indian resentment on this subject, it does not want to be used by someone else. India has its own agenda, even on China.

Dr Pascal Boniface is the founder and director of IRIS (Institut de Relations Internationales et Stratégiques). He has published or edited more than 40 books dealing with international relations, nuclear deterrence and disarmament, European security and French international policy.