Presidential terms are a marathon of effort, but the Obama
administration has started with a full sprint. Between the financial
crisis and events in Afghanistan, Iran, Russia, and elsewhere, it's
had to. But in rushing ahead to confront one crisis after another,
it risks forgetting an crucial friend: India.
At a time when so much of the broader Middle East and South Asia
is in disarray, it may be tempting to put India - an ally and friend
of the United States - on the back burner. But it is precisely
because India is a friend and ally, and because of the severity of
regional and global problems, that the US needs to nurture this
relationship. If President Obama is to achieve many of his ambitious
foreign-policy objectives, he will need to forge an even stronger
relationship with India - and that will take work.
As things stand, however, Washington's bandwidth for India seems
to be overwhelmed by concerns about its neighbors to the west,
Afghanistan and Pakistan.
That's understandable. As a candidate, Mr. Obama made clear that
more attention and resources needed to be paid to Afghanistan; and
on this there is broad consensus not just within the United States,
but with friends and allies, and with the Afghans themselves.
After taking office, both he and Secretary of State Hillary
Rodham Clinton very quickly affirmed that events in Afghanistan and
in Pakistan are, for the moment, resolutely tied together. And so
came the appointment of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, one of
America's strongest negotiators and diplomats, to be the special
envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Afghanistan and Pakistan have been tied together - they're now
known as AfPak - and elevated as a priority at the Defense
Department, too. As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said in his
testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee Jan. 27,
Afghanistan is the "top military overseas priority."
Meanwhile, at the National Security Council (NSC), word has it
that portfolios are in flux, and geographic responsibilities may
shift to reflect the US Combatant Commands. If this holds true,
AfPak would be lumped together with Middle East affairs - and India
would fall into a Pacific/East Asian category.
Why does this matter?
Because if the State Department, Pentagon, and NSC all come to
see AfPak as the central issue in South Asia - while moving India
into another realm entirely - then Washington will have severed a
crucial regional link, one it desperately needs. …