2012: Year of bipartisan US support for India

No spectacular movement marked the Indo-US ties in 2012.

Washington: Though no spectacular movement marked the Indo-US ties in 2012, the election year here stood for continuity and consensus over the growing relationship with India, which was described as a "lynchpin" in the new American defence strategy for the Asia Pacific region.

While America gave Barack Obama another four years in the White House, the core policy behind the now strategic level ties with India would hardly have seen a change even if a Republican administration had been sworn in.

Such was the consensus in the American polity over maintaining ties with India that this was one of the very few policy areas Obama and his Republican rival Mitt Romney agreed on during a bitter election battle.

The year saw Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defence Secretary Leon Panetta visit India for high level talks, with the latter describing India as a "lynchpin" for America`s new defence posture in the region where a rising China has changed the dynamics in the past few years.

"India is one of the largest and most dynamic countries in the region and the world, with one of the most capable militaries," Panetta said while noting that the US was developing a new defence strategy.

Even as they engaged in a bitter battle over various foreign policy issues, both Obama and Romney shared a common ground when it came to the US policy of support towards India.

"I think this (India) is an area where we`ve had a lot of, frankly, continuity and bipartisan support. India is an important security partner today," said Michele Flournoy, co-chair of the National Security Advisory Committee of the US President`s `Obama for America` campaign.

However, there was no visible movement on the implementation of the Indo-US civil nuclear deal that was once touted as the game changer in bilateral ties.

America`s first woman ambassador to India, Nancy Powell, acknowledged that concerns of US firms over India`s liability law was an "outstanding issue".

"I think in any democracy we would have a variety of opinions, we have people in the United States who are very concerned about non-proliferation issues, you have issues on liability law and some of the other issues we will continue to work on," she said.

The US also welcomed the opening of FDI in retail sector in India with officials saying the move would bring benefits across the board.

"As Indian officials have pointed out, FDI can create opportunities for small businesses, for farmers, spur investment in infrastructure and bring benefits to consumers as well as lower food prices," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said, pointing out that a number of firms are keen to invest in India.

The US-India Business Council (USIBC) also applauded the allowing of 51 per cent FDI in multi-brand retail sector, saying it will usher much needed investments and expertise into supply chain development that can more efficiently link farmers directly to markets.

This would "minimise loss due to inadequate storage and transportation facilities," said USIBC President Ron Somers.

Towards the end of the year, India was disappointed over a US submission in a court that Pakistan`s intelligence agency ISI be accorded "immunity" in the case related to 26/11 filed by the relatives of victims of Mumbai terror attack.

India raised its concerns with the US State Department after being informed of the US` view, and also asserted that it cannot be that any organisation, State or non-State that sponsors terrorism, enjoys immunity.

The Department of Justice had informed a New York Court last week that the ISI and its two former Director Generals -- Ahmed Shuja Pasha and Nadeem Taj -- enjoy immunity in a case against them filed by American victims of the Mumbai terrorist attack.

While the US has been trying to explain its position that it wants an "honourable exit" from Afghanistan for which Pakistan has an important role to play, India has cautioned the US that going back to its old policy of "appeasement" of Pakistan is neither in the interest of the US, nor in that of the region.

Such a policy might be helpful immediately, but not in the long term, India is believed to have told American officials.

However, the US is understood to have drawn a red line for Pakistan that there should be no terrorist attack emanating from its soil either on America or on India.

The `red line` also includes a decision not to budge on the Kashmir issue; otherwise the US very well understands that it would jeopardise its ties with India.

Apart from their strong differences over Pakistan, the relationship between India and the United States is going strong in the other sectors.

Soon after Obama`s re-election, National Security Advisor, Tom Donilon, told a Washington think-tank that the United States has embraced India`s rise.

In fact, the US wants India to play a more pro-active role in the Asia Pacific region and supports its Look-East Policy.

For the first time, the bilateral trade between the two countries crossed the USD 100 billion mark; and the economic relationship between them is on an upward trajectory.

Clinton made a surprise trip to India just ahead of the India-US Strategic Dialogue in Washington.

The Strategic Dialogue - now an annual feature - has become an accelerator of bilateral relationship, which covers a wide range of issues involving several Cabinet level ministers.

The year also saw several high-profile visits between the two countries, including Panetta`s maiden trip in June which was considered to be a highly successful one.

It is during the trip that Panetta entrusted one of his top officials to work with India to remove bureaucratic hurdles to increase defence trade relationship between the two countries.

In fact, the Defence Secretary said he wants to move from an era of trade to joint collaboration and production.


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