Talk it over
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Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is the Obama adminstration's first state guest, and his visit is expected to clarify a range of niggling doubts about the Indo-US equation. While George W. Bush and Dr Singh decisively inaugurated a new chapter with the nuclear deal, which promised to be only the beginning of a beautiful friendship between two like-minded democracies, was that turnaround for keeps? When Obama was still an unknown quantity during the presidential campaign, he struck a couple of wrong notes with his scare talk about outsourcing, and Democrat mutterings on non-proliferation. In recent months, there has been palpable unease on the Indian side of the equation, as the Obama administration seemed to have simply let go of the India plot. It has tended to use Pakistan as the fulcrum for South Asia, and sees India as one knotty strand in the Afghanistan tangle. Gen McChrystal's report on "increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan" being likely to "exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani countermeasures" hasn't helped, and nor has Obama's recent visit to China, where he seemed to tacitly endorse a mediatory role for China in South Asian affairs. It seemed to suggest that India had simply fallen between two stools — Pakistan and China were urgent priorities for different reasons. Of course, given Obama's complete immersion in his difficult domestic agenda and two battlefronts, this perception is probably more circumstantial than conscious.
Manmohan Singh's visit will be significant in how it manages to convey the congruence of Indian and US interests, India's economic stakes and its participation in security matters — while also pointing out the Indian perception on Afghanistan and Pakistan and where it may depart from the American vision. India must also hammer home the fact that it is invested in maintaining independent and valuable ties with both the US and China.