Doubting Delhi

Washington is discussing whether India is ready for a serious relationship

As Barack Obama readies for the second term of his presidency, many key decision-makers in his administration who promoted the bilateral relationship with India in the last four years are about to depart.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who enthusiastically led the Obama administration's engagement with India, will step down soon. Her designated successor, Senator John Kerry, unfortunately, has been dubbed by some analysts as being less than warm towards India and "soft on Pakistan".

Such preemptive labelling is not of much help in the conduct of India's diplomacy. Yet, there is no denying the concerns in Delhi that America might offer too many concessions to the Pakistan army and the Taliban as it prepares to end its combat role in Afghanistan by 2014.

Within the State Department, India has had a very supportive South Asia bureau led by Assistant Secretary Robert Blake, who might be moving on. Blake and many of the deputies had served in Delhi earlier, understood India's concerns and rooted for a strong partnership.

Kurt Campbell, currently assistant secretary of state for East Asia, was at the forefront of a bold effort to compel the US establishment to see Delhi from the perspective of Asian balance of power rather than India's quarrels with Pakistan. Campbell too is said to be leaving the administration.

There will also be a change of guard at the Pentagon, where the current Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta and his deputy Ash Carter have sought to lift the current US restrictions on defence collaboration with India.

In both Washington and Delhi, personnel are often policy. While Delhi should prepare itself for the current round of changes in the US government, its real concern should be about an argument that has gained some traction in Washington's policy community. Put simply, the proposition is that the prospects for a partnership with India were "oversold" in Washington by the Bush administration. The argument has four parts.

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