People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 21

May 31, 2009


Thrilled US Sets

Big Agenda For India


A recent Asia Society Task Force Report, outlining the future course of action for US-India ties, is cheered during celebrations about India’s electoral verdict.


Debasish Chakraborty


THE return of Congress at the centre – that too with a reduced strength of Left in the parliament – has quite clearly bolstered US administration in its pursuit of closer strategic ties with India. It has been reported in the media that the US administration is “thrilled” that Manmohan Singh would not be dependent on the Left support this time around. Indeed, US administration has “big agenda” for India.


The US media and India watchers have tried to explain the victory of Congress in India as an endorsement of stronger Indo-US ties, including the nuclear deal. They argued that the Left parties brought forth the question of foreign policy, particularly the proximity of Manmohan Singh government towards USA as an election issue. The victory of Congress, therefore, is a mandate for advancement of further collaboration with the US.


The first issue is, of course, the operationalisation of the India-US nuclear deal. US assistant secretary of state for South Asia Robert Blake has already gone on record, "The nuclear deal is going well...but there are still a couple of steps that India has to take to implement the agreement." The US now expects the new government to begin the process of enacting a nuclear liability law that facilitates compensation in the event of an accident. US companies will be unable do business in India till New Delhi signs the Convention on Supplementary Compensation treaty.


But the strategic interest is not limited to that extent only. The US administration is particularly interested in mobilising India’s active involvement in its Afghanistan and Pakistan (AfPak) policy. Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, underlined what they thought as India's ‘critical role’. "We can't settle issues like Afghanistan and many other issues without India's full involvement," Holbrooke said recently.


With the advent of Obama administration in US, some observers noted a ‘pause’ in US forward movement towards closer cooperation with India. One of the reasons was the administration’s preoccupation with certain other international interests which needed its immediate attention. Another plausible explanation of this go-slow was India’s election, the outcome of which was truly uncertain. That, however, did not deter US meddling in India’s internal political activities and they in fact tried their best to shape a US-friendly government in New Delhi.





Meanwhile, agenda-setting for future course of action has been done by advisers and think tanks in USA. A new report by the Task Force of Asia Society has drawn considerable attention and discussion in US policy making quarters. The report, ‘Delivering on the Promise: Advancing US Relations with India’ was prepared in January this year with a proclaimed aim to formulate “a bold new strategy for the incoming US administration to pursue deeper collaboration with India on global challenges ranging from security and economic growth to climate change, education, agricultural needs, and HIV/AIDS.”


The Task Force had Steven Cohen of Brookings Institution and Ashley J Tellis of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (who played a very important role in pursuing the nuclear deal) among others as members with Alyssa Ayres of  McLarty Associates being the director. The report noted the growth of US-India ties in recent years and said, “The new relationship rests on a convergence of US and Indian national interests, and never in our history have they been so closely aligned.”


The report suggested two track channels of closer strategic ties —  among the two governments and through broadening ties between private sectors. It suggested a four year course for US strategy concerning India. And the priorities of action, according to the report, should be:


·        To secure India’s leadership in multilateral institutions to provide the US with a constructive partner in global decision making;

·        To expand security cooperation, including a vastly enhanced counterterrorism partnership, expanded consultation on South Asia, stronger maritime cooperation, and new consultation on other key regions of the world;

·        To bring India into greater dialogue on the future of nonproliferation, including the NPT review conference, and new efforts to achieve global nuclear disarmament.  


The report suggested closer security ties in the name of fighting terrorism. It states:  “We (USA) must build a vastly expanded counterterrorism relationship with India along the lines of our CT (counterterrorism) cooperation with the UK, Germany, or Australia. A world-class CT relationship with India would require regular close and trusting engagement, plus information, intelligence, and law enforcement sharing on an unprecedented and reciprocal scale. In the mid-to-long term, we could think of expanding the ‘Five Eyes’ (Canada, US, UK, Australia, and NZ) intelligence-sharing network to an even six with India.” It suggested exchanges of officers across agencies and police forces (such as rotational stints to and from the US National Counterterrorism Center and the Office of the Counterterrorism Coordinator at State with Indian counterparts); the development of network architectures to allow secure exchange (“interoperability”) of classified information; and the institution of new joint paramilitary and law enforcement exercises.





The shift of focus is clearly on internal security sphere with dangerous implication of transgression of independent areas of action. However, US policy makers do not ever forget the non-proliferation agenda while securing the strategic support of India. The Task Force Report , just like the official understanding of US administration, suggests that while implementing remaining components of US -India civil nuclear cooperation agreement and ensuring the promise of civil nuclear trade, US should include India in the 2010 NPT Review Conference. It would be wise for the US to be in ‘exceedingly close touch’ with India as the US reviews its stance on CTBT; encourage India to indefinitely maintain its moratorium on testing. The dominant view in Obama administration is that after civil nuclear agreement with India, it is even more important to intensify consultation with India on non-proliferation. The Task Force suggests that US administration must first implement the present agreement, seeing that pending components which will allow the US private sector nuclear energy companies to participate in India move ahead. Secondly, US should try to pressure and change India’s stand on non-proliferation. India is officially committed to the idea of eliminating nuclear weapons. US should engage India in a dialogue, not most immediately about elimination, but about managing the dangers of nuclear age. As part of India’s contribution, it has already indicated willingness to work toward a multilateral Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty.


The strategic alliance is not restrained on security issues alone. The interests of US big capital determine the other areas. The Task Force report, while appreciating the steps already taken in this regard like US-India CEO Forum, recommends much faster and deeper initiatives in the economic sphere. It suggests expanding cooperation towards economic growth, focusing on financial recovery, trade, and investment. One of the immediate issues is to include India in global efforts to stabilise and revive the crumbling financial system. It is in US interests to conclude a global trading regime, such as Doha Round with mutual support from India. The report goes on to say, “While we work together on the more difficult matter of the global regime, we should be able to conclude a bilateral investment treaty with India, to ensure and protect the growth in US-India investment over the past decade. At heart, we want to set the stage for much greater trade cooperation, including in the future a free trade agreement between India and the US. In addition, we must give a very high priority to continuing public-private consultation on economic matters. We should expand the consultation between the private sector and government in order to best identify and remove obstacles to trade and investment.” (emphasis added)


Among the ‘Track 2’ or Joint Public-Private Partnership agendas the Task Force report suggests a “Second Green Revolution”, the roots of which are already sown in last few years. What is the declared goal?  “A US-India Second Green Revolution initiative could bring together the world’s foremost Indian and American agricultural scientists, venture capitalists, economists, foundations, environmental organisations, and agri-businesses, in addition to wholesalers/retailers and logistics companies which have honed supply chain management. The initiative should address all aspects of the food and agriculture path from farm to market, from tractor to tiffin”.


In short, it envisions a full-fledged penetration of US capital and corporations in Indian agriculture. During the last UPA regime, we have already witnessed an eagerness to change our policies towards that very orientation.


Another area of private participation is secondary and higher education, where, according to the Task Force, “the training requirements for India’s large population exceeds its current capacity, a challenge uniquely suited for linkages with US institutions”.


The Asia Society report has already been discussed by leading advisers of Obama administration. It only reflects the underlying “big agenda” for India.