Indo-US Talks With Russia Around

The dialogue demonstrated American appreciation of India's step by step approach to normalization of relations

On the face of it, India and America discussing Pakistan in Moscow seems atypical. But it indicates the fast shifts that are taking place in the scenario that emerged after the pre-emptive strike in Iraq. That change was conspicuous in Wednesday's talks between India's Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha and the US Secretary of State Colin Powell under the friendly gaze of Moscow. The media showered greater attention on the Indo-Pakistan standoff, though there were several other bilateral issues that should have naturally come up in a dialogue between Delhi and Washington.

The stridency of a victor who has dismissed the United Nations and the world at large to attack Iraq was not visible in Powell's approach to talks. Sinha said he found no signs of pressure from the US side on the issue of Indo-Pak relations. This is significant because not long ago Washington was hinting at intervention if Delhi and Islamabad continued with their stalemate. The dialogue demonstrated American appreciation of India's step by step approach to normalization of relations. Powell assured India that he would ask Pakistan to hasten steps to end cross-border terrorist activities.

Pakistan has always been an important determinant in Indo-US relations. Washington has chosen Pakistan as her closest and reliable ally in the region to function as an informal base from where she could oversee both India and China and possibly Central Asia. With powerful enemies on her borders, India needs to match their nuclear muscle. Washington is against India developing ICBMs or other strategic assets. The Bush administration has maneuvered India into scaling down her mobilization on the Pakistan border.

The credit for the thaw in the subcontinent goes to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee who announced a definitive and conclusive peace initiative, raising fresh hopes of a durable engagement between the two countries. His effort also set off a flurry of diplomatic activity aimed at bringing the two feuding sides to the negotiating table. US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage traveled to both Pakistan and India last week. In Delhi, he conceded that India alone could say whether or not Pakistan had taken significant steps to check cross-border terrorism. More significantly, he said he was not an interlocutor. This can be regarded as recognition of the bilateral nature of the Indo-Pak standoff.

At the same time, India's national security adviser Brajesh Mishra was in Washington, meeting Pentagon officials. Significantly, President George Bush dropped in for a 15-minute unscheduled tete-a-tete. Maybe, American diplomacy is showing signs of recovering its earlier balance and jettisoning its unilateral embargo on multilateralism. Washington no more claims the privilege of defining the defining moment. This new scenario has helped to introduce transparency and freedom into the Sinha-Powell dialogue on Russian soil.

Sinha and Powell discussed bilateral relations in the context of increasing co-operation in nuclear, space and hi-tech areas. The meeting between the two dignitaries provides a context for an assessment of the bearing of one set of bilateral relations on another set. The growing relations between Moscow and Delhi are a factor in conditioning the chances of an Indo-US dйtente. The interests of the three countries converge and also diverge. In reality, the ball is in the American court because both Moscow and Delhi are averse to creating and nurturing spheres of influence and interest.

These negotiations are not a cakewalk because India's legitimate desire to build up a defense deterrent capable of keeping at bay regional security threats runs counter to Washington's new nuclear logic. The Iraq war symbolizes not only a breakdown of the old world order based on sovereignty of individual states but also the irrelevance of multinational organizations like the UN, the European Union and the NATO. This new development has diverted the energies of all countries other than the United States into finding ways to check the extension of pre-emptive strikes beyond Iraq.

India needs to devise without loss of time a plan that helps preserve her decision-making independence without at the same time seeming to hurt the United States in any manner. She has to seek friends of similar thinking and compulsions and build enough multinational energy to neutralize the crystallization of a unipolar world. This is where Russia comes into the picture. Indo-Russian relations have stood the test of time and have never experienced a trough. Today, each needs the other more than at any other time.

Therefore, it is natural to expect Paksitan and the United States to figure in the talks between Sinha and Russia's Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. At a different forum, Indo-Russian joint commission on economic, scientific and cultural relations, Sinha and Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov will discuss steps to take bilateral relations to the heights reminiscent of the Indo-Soviet era.

Russia's strategic assets are intact and comparable to those of the United States. India's strength is closely linked to a revival of the old strategic relationship with Moscow. In many ways, their destinies are inseparable. As Subhash Kapila, a defense expert, says, 'India and Russia have many convergences in political, strategic and economic areas. These need to be re-built upon, not as an anti-US front but ensuring a balance of power in the international system. India with its present economic standing could assist Russia in getting over its economic woes with oil-for-food or oil-for-consumer goods or food-for-defense purchases programs. Joint ventures with India in defense R&D and production could increase Russia’s earnings.'

The outcome of Sinha-Powell meeting must be an occasion for India and Russia to rearrange their bilateral relations to yield maximum benefit for both and to lead to the birth of a new strategic think tank to cope with increasing use of military muscle to settle scores, real and imaginary.

Dasu Krishnamoorty
Special for Pravda.Ru
New Delhi

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Author`s name Olga Savka