Strobe Talbott hands it to India

And this one should bring some discomfort to Mani Shankar Aiyar.

“We Americans do have to recognise that there is at least one awkward and inescapable fact about this whole episode of diplomatic history. And that is that insofar as diplomacy is a contest of wills or a clash of objectives, insofar as it has win-lose or zero-sum aspect to it, India got what it wanted and the United States did not,” said Talbott, currently president of the Brookings Institution, who was the featured luncheon speaker on Thursday at a conference titled ‘US-India Bilateral Cooperation: Taking Stock and Moving Forward’, organised by the Sigur Centre for Asian Studies of the George Washington University.

“The United States fundamentally and persistently disapproved of the BJP’s government’s decision to conduct Pokhran II tests and the last thing we wanted to do in conducting a dialogue with India was in any way to reward them — that is the Indians — for having conducted the tests or to vindicate their decision of having done so.

“And yet, Indians going nuclear, or going nuclear in a declared and unambiguous way in May of 1998, provided an impulse — I would even say the impulse for a diplomatic engagement — that brought relations out of a half-century long rut. And I say that’s a tad awkward for us but we have to simply live with that.

“And to take it further, part of India’s motive in conducting the test was to blast its way into America’s full attention. In other words, to simultaneously stand up to the United States and sit down with the United States and to a very real extent India succeeded in this,” [Rediff]

Related Link: J N Dixit has a very good analysis here of the MNNA fiasco but lets his Congress hat get in the way of his vision. The United States is not about to run away into a sleazy-cozy sinful relationship with Musharraf. Rather, election year short-termism has underlined American policy towards South Asia which has been well exploited by Musharraf. That said, the Congress party must use more of the J N Dixit-style arguments than the Mani Shankar Aiyar-style ones it seems to be relying on.

1 thought on “Strobe Talbott hands it to India”

  1. While I respect Mr. Dixit’s analytic capabilities, I think his conclusions are too alarmist (even excluding the partisan comments aimed against the BJP). For example, I do not think that MNNA status legally obliges America to come to the armed defense of the Pakistanis. Nor do I think that the American government truly ranks Pakistan’s long-range strategic importance to the U.S. as equal to, say, Israel or Japan.

    Mr. Dixit is right, of course, that Pakistan will feel emboldened and adopt a more aggressive posture during the talks. But they will be disabused rather quickly if/when India stands its ground.

    Moreover, the much-talked-about American pressure mystifies me. America actually has very little leverage against India. This is not to deny that America couldn’t take actions deeply damaging to India’s national interest–say, e.g., trade sanctions, formal or informal (via, State Dept. travel ‘warnings’ etc.). All this is to say that American pressure can be brought to bear on India only through the use of rather blunt instruments.

    But all of these would also damage, perhaps rupture, the India-America relationship. That would be truly contrary to the supreme American interest of stability in South Asia. And the Americans, at the least, are not blind to what’s in their national interest.

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