Over Israeli Objections, Washington Proposes "Joint Operations" with New Delhi

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Over Israeli Objections, Washington Proposes "Joint Operations" With New Delhi

Prof. M.M. Ali is a Washington, DC-based consultant and specialist on South Asia.

In a rather elaborate interview with The Washington Post published Aug. 12, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage provided what may be described as a blueprint of proposed American policy toward South and Southeast Asia in the first half of the 21st century. U.S. policy would be based on "greater military planning, joint operations and eventual sharing of weapons technology with New Delhi." India, it seems, may merely have to play the coy bride, because Washington promises to do the rest--from lifting the present sanctions to treating India as "a strategic partner" in the control and management of the Indian Ocean. To this end, a Pentagon spokesman disclosed, India has been granted membership in the exclusive club with whose members the U.S. shares its global strategies and sensitive military thinking.

The Armitage interview obviously represents the State Department's thinking out loud, in order to put countries in the region on notice and to draw reaction from interested nations. The only country that has objected to the proposed policy so far is Israel. The Aug. 13 issue of Ha'aretz reports that the Israeli military establishment reacted sharply to Washington's announcement because it undercuts Tel Aviv's recently contracted deals with India to supply "anti-armor missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles, radar systems, electronic warfare suites, and avionics for combat aircrafts."

It is clear that the U.S. policy outline primarily is aimed at containing China by boosting India's military might and gaining an American military presence in the area, something Delhi has resisted for decades. If Washington undertakes to foot the military cost, as it promises to, and encourages U.S. multinationals to accelerate investment in India, New Delhi can just sit back and relax for at least the next 20 years. It will be interesting to learn, however, what Delhi expects in return.

If history is any guide, there are serious thinkers in Washington who do not trust India as a faithful U.S. ally or a reliable partner. The country's only objective now is to play a role in international affairs commensurate with its physical size. Unfortunately, to date its poverty, less than state-of-the-art military strength, and violations of human rights have prevented it from playing the role of even a regional power. Too, it is doubtful if the U.S.-India agreement on China exceeds Delhi's current assessment of expediency. India is fully aware of the inherent risks in going too far down the road with the U.S. Despite such misgivings, and the bitter failure of America's previous effort to shore up Vietnam as a buffer to China, it appears Washington is willing to play ball with Delhi.

THE RUSSIAN CONTEXT

The Bush administration's present thinking on South and Southeast Asia needs to be viewed in a larger geopolitical context. The Soviet Union may be dead, but Russia is very much alive. President Vladimir Putin not only is uncomfortable with NATO's expanding orbit in Europe, but also has an eye on the possible spillover of Islamist influence from Pakistan and Afghanistan into neighboring Central Asian republics. On the latter issue, Putin may find friends in America as well as in India. Russia can even play the Iran card to contain what it perceives as the "Islamic threat" in Central Asia. Washington and New Delhi would be only too willing to go along with Moscow. It is clear, however, that Putin will not jeopardize his relations with China, or even North Korea, for lesser considerations.

The former Soviet republics of Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, with their sizeable Muslim populations, are all located in the northern neighborhood which includes Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and Kashmir. India has shown that it knows how to play the "Islamic fundamentalism" and "terrorism" cards with both Moscow and Washington. …