Afghanistan Elbows into Obama Talk with India's Manmohan Singh

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President Obama and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh used a White House press conference Tuesday to dispel doubts about the direction of a fledgling strategic partnership between the US and India. The two leaders emphasized growing bilateral cooperation in economic, security, climate, and development affairs.

Saying US-India relations "have never been stronger," Mr. Obama emphasized that "the world's two largest democracies" are "natural allies" not just because of a common interest in fighting terrorism and extremism in South Asia, but because of "a range of shared values and ideals."

In his remarks, Mr. Singh focused on the international challenges requiring cooperation from the two powers, from counterterrorism to climate change. The soft-spoken Singh, prime minister since 2004 and architect of India's free-market economic reforms, said he was "satisfied" with the results of his private conversations with the US president.

That message was no doubt meant for the home audience in India, where criticism of the US - and Singh's close alliance with America - flared after Obama's trip last week to Asia. Obama was seen in India (and by some in Washington, as well) as going too far to accommodate China's interests in South Asia - a region in which India has long insisted on being the dominant player.

Afghanistan is a primary example. The current turmoil in Afghanistan has its origins at least partly in a battle for influence there between India and Pakistan.

At the White House, Singh spoke of the "importance of the international engagement in Afghanistan." India worries that Obama would opt for a small commitment at best to Afghanistan and set in motion a precipitous international withdrawal - an event that would likely result in Pakistan being able to reassert greater authority over Afghanistan.

Moreover, like the US, India fears that failure in Afghanistan would allow terrorist groups now based in Pakistan - including Al Qaeda and the staunchly anti-Indian Lashkar-e-Taiba - more scope and freedom to operate.

"The forces of extremism have to be defeated" in Afghanistan, Singh said. …