WASHINGTON: India and the US, the world’s oldest and most populous democracies, have put the recent past of drift and plateauing behind to open a new bright chapter in their relationship by launching a new investment initiative to multiply their trade five-fold, enhancing security cooperation and expanding the global compass of their strategic partnership from Afghanistan to Africa.
Piercing through the thicket of diplomatic clichés, the US pitched itself as a lead partner in India’s quest for smart cities and world class infrastructure.
India’s Prime Minister Narandra Modi and US President Barack Obama held all-encompassing talks for more than an hour and a half in Washington DC September 30, with the US shedding its ambivalence and pledging unstinting support for “India’s rise as a responsible, influential world power.”
The big takeaway from the first summit meeting between the leaders of the world’s largest democracies was the forceful assertion on the part of the two leaders to forge a more vibrant and enduring partnership pivoted around a transformative knowledge partnership and deploying cutting-edge technologies to address all-too-real problems facing millions of people cutting across the rural-urban divide. This was reflected in the new twin mantras of WASH and GYAN. These new acronyms reflect the joint resolve of the two strategic partners to wash anew the India-US relationship by leveraging core competencies in the field of knowledge industries.
The decisions taken on September 30 may well prove historic and transformational even if half of these targets are accomplished. These included: I) The US will be India’s lead partner in developing infrastructure and smart cities. The US will be proactively assisting India in developing smart cities in Ajmer, Vishakhapatnam and Allahabad II) The setting up of an Indo-US Investment Initiative could well be a game-changer if the two sides stick to their stated intention of development and financing of infrastructure. This step should ensure the flow of billions of American dollars into India’s seemingly insatiable appetite for infrastructure and help multiply their bilateral trade to $500 billion in the not-too-distant future III) The Urban India Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Alliance (WASH) is a pioneering initiative that will prove a catalyst in realizing the Indian leader’s vision of 500 Cities National Urban Development Mission and Clean India campaign. IV) Global Initiative for Academic Networks (GIAN, which means knowledge in Hindi) is another pioneering initiative that is in sync with Prime Minister Modi’s overarching vision of preparing young Indians for the 21st century jobs through new partnerships to share technology and expertise and global standards for skill development in India.
Besides these life-changing initiatives, the two leaders sought to forge a genuinely global partnership by enhancing cooperation across the arc of the globe, ranging from Afghanistan to Africa. Scaling up counter-terror cooperation figured prominently in the talks, and was reflected in the joint statement. In a clear message to Pakistan to stop sponsorship and patronage of terror, the joint statement mentioned for the first time the joint resolve to thwart the infamous D-Company (a shorthand for the notorious gangster Dawood Ibrahim, the alleged mastermind of the 1993 Mumbai carnage). “The leaders reaffirmed their deep concern over the continued threat posed by terrorism, most recently highlighted by the dangers presented by the ISIL, and underlined the need for continued comprehensive global efforts to combat and defeat terrorism. The leaders stressed the need for joint and concerted efforts, including the dismantling of safe havens for terrorist and criminal networks, to disrupt all financial and tactical support for networks such as Al Qaeda, Lashkar-e Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, the D-Company, and the Haqqanis,” said the joint statement.
“They reiterated their call for Pakistan to bring the perpetrators of the November 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai to justice,” said the statement.
In an oblique critique to China’s assertiveness in the region, the two leaders discussed Beijing’s abrasive postures in the South China Sea which adversely impacted freedom of navigation and the security of the global commons.
“The leaders expressed concern about rising tensions over maritime territorial disputes, and affirmed the importance of safeguarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and over flight throughout the region, especially in the South China Sea,” said the joint statement.
“The Prime Minister and President called on all parties to avoid the use, or threat of use, of force in advancing their claims. The two leaders urged the concerned parties to pursue resolution of their territorial and maritime disputes through all peaceful means, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.”
Whatever the sceptics may say, what emanated was a clear recognition by the US that India under the leadership of Mr Modi was an eminently desirable partner and that both sides can have more win-win outcomes if they cooperate proactively and are sensitive to each other’s concerns. This was reflected in President Obama reaffirming his support for a reformed UN Security Council with India as a permanent member.
At the end of it all, the good news is that the prolonged stagnation in the India-US ties seen under the last months of the Manmohan Singh government seems to be over, paving the way for opening a new hopeful chapter in this mutually empowering relationship. Not that there will be grand fireworks on the way; speculation about the next big thing in the India-US saga is a feel-good fantasy. This note of pragmatism should also be welcomed by realists – India and the US have got real about addressing all-too-real issues and enormous opportunities that lie in closer collaboration. Chalein Saath Saath, Forward together, they go – this is the new mantra blending idealism and pragmatism that could help fructify the potential of the defining partnership of the 21st century.
(Manish Chand is Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network, www.indiawrites.org, a portal and e-journal focused on international affairs and the India Story)
- Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.
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