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Engage India on terrorism, Kashmir: US expert

October 29, 2009

WASHINGTON – The US and India must agree on three vital security issues to ensure that their relations continue to deepen – terrorism, Kashmir, and the balance of power in Asia – a leading US South Asia expert has suggested.

“Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s forthcoming state visit to Washington offers the Obama administration a splendid opportunity to engage on these issues,” writes Ashley J. Tellis, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

President Barack Obama could “also focus on the US priorities of climate change, non-proliferation, and economic and defence cooperation”, writes Tellis in a policy brief in the run up to Manmohan Singh’s first upcoming state visit Nov 24.

“The success and durability of the partnership between India and the US will depend on it,” he said, noting that “US-India relations are off to a strong start under President Obama following an unprecedented strengthening during the Bush administration”.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton scored high points on her visit to India in July, emphasizing economic and social development, and making a number of symbolic gestures to reaffirm India’s importance to the Obama administration, he noted.

“But relations can only advance so far unless India is assured of US support on its major security challenges,” said Tellis, who was intimately involved in negotiating the civil nuclear agreement with India as an adviser to the Bush administration.

The US must cooperate with India in addressing the challenge of terrorism, and redouble its efforts to ensure the cooperation of the Pakistani military, Tellis stated.

Noting that “Pakistan uses US counter-terrorism aid to combat terrorists who threaten mainly its own security, ignoring those who target Afghanistan and India”, he said: “India – and the Indian public, especially – is increasingly frustrated that Washington’s policy has failed to show results.”

On Kashmir, the Bush administration’s hands-off approach was critical to bringing both sides to the negotiating table with realistic expectations, Tellis said, cautioning that “talk of intervention by the Obama administration could deepen Pakistani recalcitrance, disrupt US-India relations, and set back the peace process”.

The regional balance of power, he said, is critical to sustaining India’s current nuclear posture and deterrent capabilities. “A private, high-level dialogue between India and the United States would assure New Delhi that Washington values a balanced regional approach.”

It will also assure India “that US financial dependence on China will not unduly limit the necessity for preserving the appropriate strategic balance in Asia”, Tellis said.

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