Calcutta, Nov. 27: There is a “big story” unfolding between India and the US that, American ambassador Robert D. Blackwill regrets, lies buried under diplomatic and political debates over Pakistan, Kashmir and cross-border terrorism. Describing the long-term prospects for the emerging relationship as “extremely positive”, he wished this was discussed and debated more in this country.
“I’m a diplomatic historian and I’d say if you look at diplomatic history, you may not find a turnaround as great as this in such a short time,” Blackwill, a former Harvard professor, told The Telegraph during a conversation here this morning. It’s a turnaround which, in his opinion, is going to become more and more important in the next decades.
He appreciated India’s concern over cross-border terrorism, which he thought was “absolutely natural for a democracy”. He would also like to assure India that the international war on terrorism cannot be won if India continues to face it. “We are working hard to do whatever we can to try and end terrorism against India,” he said to address the complaint that the US was not doing enough to pressure Pakistan to stop cross-border terrorism.
But the “other big story” of new partnerships — “major historical phenomenon” — should engage greater attention without diminishing the concerns over terrorism. It is the phenomenon of the rise of India as a great power and its closer and closer association with the US on strategic purposes.
The process that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and President George W. Bush began together broke new grounds that bureaucracies could not have foreseen. “Bureaucracies do today what they did yesterday and they’ll do tomorrow what they do today.” It was the two leaders who succeeded in “driving down” the bureaucracies into this new concept of bilateral relationship.
And Blackwill was convinced that this new partnership was based on democratic values and vital national interests of both countries. “Those are the foundations of this strategic collaboration,” he said. The two countries may still differ on specific issues, but “we do differ sometimes with our allies”.
The US ambassador later elaborated on different aspects of the “transforming” India-US relationship over the past 20 months at a long presentation during a meeting organised by the Indian Chamber of Commerce.
The latest breakthroughs on American defence sales to India, according to him, now put India in a category with the US treaty allies such as South Korea and Japan. “The past political disconnects that hamstrung American defence sales to India are fading away.”
One area that is still the “missing piece” of the bilateral relationship, he remarked in his speech, was economic ties. The solution lay in setting new standards of productivity and reaching them to the larger sections of the population as well as the government, he said, quoting US treasury secretary Paul O’Neill’s remarks in Delhi last week.