India and Us

By H. Sterling Burnett & Wess Mitchell

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's visit to Washington in November came at a critical juncture in the Bush administration's war on terrorism. The Taliban, in retreat, is crumbling as a cohesive fighting force. The al Qaeda terrorist network is attempting to escape to the recently friendly confines of Pakistan, bent on continuing their terrorist campaign as roving guerillas. And Arab countries, which never strongly supported air strikes on the terrorist camps in Afghanistan, are calling for an end to the war on terror and a significant role in forming the post-Taliban government in Afghanistan.

In the present environment, the value of a visit to Washington by the leader of India - the world's largest democracy and second-largest Muslim community - is considerable. It highlights the growing importance of India as a world player and partner in the continuing war against international terrorism.

Far from being a reluctant partner, India is a committed U.S. ally. Within a week of the September 11 attacks, India provided the U.S. with intelligence on the locations of more than 120 terrorist training camps in Afghanistan. And in a nationwide address to India's one billion citizens, Vajpayee proclaimed that America's war was India's as well, and offered the U.S. military immediate, unconditional use of several Indian air bases and port facilities.

The importance of India's support for the long-term war on terrorism cannot be overstated. As the war widens and U.S. military planners look beyond Afghanistan, President Bush should give a high priority to cultivating closer ties with India - a democratic state in the very region in which the most serious terrorist threats are based.

Washington's interactions with the Indian government are currently limited by selective sanctions, ridiculously burdening the world's largest democracy with the same stigma of illegitimacy as rogue states like Iraq and Libya. These sanctions are counterproductive, preventing full development of positive U.S.-Indian relations. Immediately ending the selective sanctions would be a wise course of action, from both a geopolitical and economic perspective.

The Bush administration appears to be aware of this fact. Secretary Rumsfeld, in response to a request by India's defense minister that the current ban on the sale of high-tech U.S. weapons to India be repealed, recently hinted that a change in policy is possible, saying that "the status" of the sanctions would soon be discussed. Ending these sanctions would go a long way towards the important goal of forging closer military ties with India.

The importance of establishing close relations with India extends beyond military matters, however. Economically, India's potential as a trading partner is rapidly expanding. By 2025, gross domestic product is expected to exceed that of Germany and France, meaning that India will become the world's fourth-largest economic power. Even with limited sanctions in place, bilateral economic cooperation between the U.S. and India has been accelerating, with U.S. foreign direct investment topping more than $7 billion in 1998. From the standpoint of American foreign policy, accelerated economic liberalization would further cement relations with a stable democracy vital to our geopolitical interests.

Beyond removing sanctions, America could publicly acknowledge the terrorist status of Pakistani-supported groups active in India. Over the past two decades, terrorists have killed 50,000 Indian citizens. Fearful of endangering U.S. air strikes against Afghanistan, American officials have not publicly discussed the terrorist operations within India, since doing so might be interpreted by the Pakistanis as pro-Indian. This policy, while diplomatically shrewd in the short term, ignores reality and risks undermining the larger war on terrorism.

No one seriously doubts that the Pakistani government supports these groups. Only weeks into the bombing campaign, the Pakistani Ministry for Internal Affairs publicly criticized U.S.-led attacks. This came as U.S. officials confirmed that Pakistan clandestinely transfers ammunition and fuel to the Taliban militia. In fact, many of the Taliban's leaders are alumni of religious schools in Pakistan where Osama bin Laden is praised as a hero.

By contrast, long before the September 11 attacks, India and the U.S. were actively cooperating to combat terrorism. Almost one year to the day before the attacks, President Clinton and Prime Minister Vajpayee signed a joint agreement to cooperate on a range of issues, including counter-terrorism. Later that same month, the U.S.- India Joint Working Group on Counter-Terrorism met in New Delhi and agreed to "share experience, exchange information and coordinate approaches and action in joint counter-terrorist activities."

Clearly, there is a vast difference between the Indian and Pakistani positions on fighting terrorism. While General Musharraf should be praised for supporting the U.S.-led coalition thus far, by calling Pakistani support for terrorists in Kashmir what it is - state-sponsored terrorism - President Bush would lend credence to his claim that the U.S. war is against terrorism at large, rather than merely those groups that threaten U.S. interests.

India is committed to defeating terrorism. Unlike other countries in the region that may prove to be temporary and conditional partners, India offers substantive and principled support to the United States. Given India's commitment to the U.S.-led campaign against global terrorism, the Bush administration should acknowledge India as a close ally.