Sunday, March 05, 2006

U.S. Gives India Applause, Pakistan a Pat on the Back

By SOMINI SENGUPTA
The New York Times
March 5, 2006

NEW DELHI, March 4 — President Bush leaves this region having declared India and Pakistan strategic partners. But his declarations spoke just as loudly of the shifting balance of power in the region, and the world.

It was India that appeared to come out the biggest winner this week. Pakistan walked away with little more than a mild pat on the back after Mr. Bush's visit on Saturday. While buttressing America's alliances in the region, Mr. Bush also took home a formidable political challenge to sell his nuclear deal with India to a skeptical Congress.

India could hardly be more pleased. "IND-US CIVILIZATION," screamed a front-page headline in The Times of India on Saturday, in joyous praise for what President Bush had bestowed on the nation.

Those gifts included a nuclear deal celebrated by Indian officials, elevation as a global leader, and nary a recriminatory word on the troubles in the disputed province of Kashmir. Indian backers of a United States-India partnership were elated.

"I think we have managed to get a rather good deal," a senior Indian official said, unwilling to disclose his name because the full details of the nuclear agreement had yet to be shared with the Indian Parliament. "This is from our point of view, a hard bargain."

In Pakistan, the difference was discerned. "One thing is very clear: The U.S. is keeping India and Pakistan at two different levels," said Hasan Askari Rizvi, an independent political analyst in Lahore. "The kind of multifaceted interaction that exists between India and the United States is not to be seen with reference to Pakistan. For Pakistan, it's a limited and cautious support."

Some members of the United States Congress and analysts have already taken the Bush administration to task for making too many concessions to India, the bête noire of outsourcing in some American circles and a stubborn opponent of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Mr. Bush's test is to persuade Americans that India is worth the bargain.

The balance of costs and benefits has everything to do with India's new place in the world and its rise in the American imagination.

It is the world's largest democracy, seen in some quarters as a potential check on China. It has the world's second-largest population of Muslims. Its engineers and call center workers are embedded in the largest American corporations. Its immigrants in the United States have grown swiftly in number, wealth and influence.

Perhaps most important, India's economy has galloped forward for the last several years: It is poised to post more than 8 percent growth this year and double-digit growth in the years ahead. Its potential market is vast. Mr. Bush exhorted India to open that market further, and in his joint statement with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh he listed "economic prosperity and trade" as the first among several agreements made between the countries. "Economics has featured prominently on this trip," the deputy United States trade representative, Karan Bhatia, said Friday.

But it is the nuclear deal, which commits the United States to supporting India's civilian nuclear program, that will stand as the measure of what was achieved this week.

Pakistan said it expected Mr. Bush at least to press India harder for a solution to their territorial dispute over Kashmir in exchange for the nuclear favor granted to India.

But despite Pakistani demands for equal nuclear status with India, the White House maintained that the scandal surrounding the Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan and his illegal nuclear peddling made no such deal possible anytime soon.

There was only a passing public reference to Kashmir — and that too only to urge the leaders of both India and Pakistan to work it out between themselves.

What Pakistan got instead was affirmation of its standing as a vital ally in the war on terrorism and what many here will interpret as modest blessing of President Pervez Musharraf's brand of democracy, despite Mr. Bush's nudge to conduct transparent elections next year.

Likewise, Indian officials point out that strategic ties with Washington can help India achieve its aspirations on the world stage — chief among them, ending the country's nuclear isolation in the world and yielding the legitimacy it has long sought as a nuclear weapons state.

Mushahid Hussain, a member of the Pakistani Parliament and close to General Musharraf, said at least the new strategic partnership between Pakistan and the United States should yield a "a peace dividend" for South Asia.

To please two lovers is by nature an impossible task, and in this instance, Mr. Bush did not leave South Asia without leaving a trail of ambivalence — and even outright anger — in both countries.

And while both India and Pakistan may be grateful in receiving what support Washington has to offer, it was not clear that either nation could embrace all that Mr. Bush expected of his new friends. In India, for starters, Mr. Bush's message of crusading for democracy worldwide raised eyebrows. "As a global power, India has an historic duty to support democracy around the world," is what he told the invitation-only audience here at Purana Qila, a fort, on Friday. He used the word "democracy" 16 times in his speech.

Ashok K. Mehta, a retired general who writes about India's foreign policy, pointed out that India was not in the habit of spreading democracy, not even in its own neighborhood. "We would like countries to uphold democratic values but we will not thrust that down their throats," is how Mr. Mehta put it, on his way out of the Bush address.

Indeed, Mr. Bush's list of rogue states — he mentioned Myanmar, Cuba and Syria in his final speech in New Delhi — are all among India's friends. Then there was the explicit reference to Iran, as a country ruled by a clerical minority. India has a longstanding and vital relationship with Iran. "In a world where the Bush administration is perceived in a not very positive light, India is going to have a challenge in structuring its other relationships," said Sundeep Waslekar of the Strategic Foresight Group. "This challenge will be most demonstrated in how we manage our relationship with Iran."

But India is already marching ahead with deepening its engagement with the military junta that rules natural gas-rich Myanmar, formerly Burma. It has bid, with China, on an oilfield in Syria. Fidel Castro — and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela — are regarded here as friends, even if they are not held in the same esteem in the United States. Sachin Pilot, a member of Parliament, put it neatly, "We agree to disagree."

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