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Strain on natural allies

New Delhi, April 11: Indo-American ties appear to have suffered a blow from the “ill-timed” resolution Parliament passed criticising the US military action against Iraq.

Indications show Delhi may now find it difficult to be considered Washington’s “natural ally” and, consequently, to prevent Pakistan from moving closer to the Bush administration.

Worse still, Delhi’s chances of bagging significant contracts in post-Saddam Iraq appear to have been jeopardised. South Block had hoped the new Iraqi regime would be asked to favour Indian companies once reconstruction began.

Moreover, the Saddam Hussein government owes Indian companies more than $1 billion for services rendered in the past.

The parliamentary resolution “deploring” the American action was passed on the very day coalition troops marched into Baghdad and the Saddam regime yielded without resistance.

For Washington, what has been a rude shock is Delhi’s decision to pass the resolution after keeping quiet for more than a month, and just when the worldwide criticism of the US had significantly ebbed.

The Bush administration has argued in private that the Indian resolution was not even matched by most Islamic nations and the Arab world.

When several state capitals came out strongly against the US policy, India’s response had been muted. One reason was the eagerness to safeguard Indian interests, particularly in a post-Saddam Iraq where Delhi hoped to bag major contracts. The other reason was to ensure Pakistan did not get the upper hand on Kashmir.

But disappointed with Washington’s insistence on its familiar policy towards Pakistan even after the Nadimarg killings, Delhi decided to blow hot on the US.

Delhi’s biggest loss has been its alienation of the “neo conservatives” in the US administration such as Vice-President Dick Cheney, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who have been India’s staunchest supporters so far.

The triumvirate had played a key role in getting Washington to look at Delhi as a “natural ally”. But after the resolution, they have stepped back to let the state department determine the US’ South Asia policy. In the coming days then, Washington can be expected to push for resumption of the stalled Indo-Pak dialogue.

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