It is too early to determine the real impact of the visit of the deputy prime minister, Mr L.K. Advani, to the United States of America on relations between India and the US. But it is clear that Mr Advani’s visit has given a fresh momentum to bilateral ties. Whether this tempo can be sustained will now depend on critical decisions that will be made by New Delhi and Washington in the next few weeks. By itself, however, Mr Advani’s American trip was a considerable success. Mr Advani was accorded the protocol normally reserved for high-level visitors from countries that are viewed as close allies of the US. The deputy prime minister met almost all the top officials of the Republican administration. This included meetings with the US attorney general, Mr John Ashcroft, the defence secretary, Mr Donald Rumsfeld, the national security advisor, Ms Condoleezza Rice, and the secretary for homeland security, Mr Tom Ridge. In addition, Mr George W. Bush “dropped in” during Mr Advani’s meeting with Ms Rice, and stayed on for about half an hour. In recent years, there has been no Indian minister who has been provided this kind of access. The reasons for this unprecedented American warmth and hospitality are clear. Washington obviously believes that Mr Advani could become the centre of Indian decision-making on major policy issues after the next general election, notwithstanding the domestic controversy.
Moreover, there are critical issues on which Washington is currently seeking Indian support, and Mr Advani is viewed as a leader whose cooperation is essential to ensure the government of India’s acquiescence. Three issues seem to have dominated Mr Advani’s talks with members of the Bush administration. First, and most critical was the issue of terrorism, global and regional. On this issue, the meeting with Mr Ashcroft was particularly significant since the subject of terrorism falls within the attorney general’s office. Mr Advani is believed to have discussed the bilateral agreement on counter-terrorism and the importance of implementing the mutual legal assistance treaty and extradition with Mr Ashcroft. The second issue seems to have been New Delhi’s relationship with Islamabad. Finally, of course, was the question of India sending troops for the stabilization and reconstruction of Iraq.
While some convergence on these issues may have been arrived at during Mr Advani’s visit, much will depend on the next few weeks. A Pentagon team will arrive in India this week to assuage Indian concerns about sending troops to Iraq. The joint working group on terrorism and the defence planning group are also meeting within the next few weeks to translate policy agreements into reality. It also remains to be seen what emerges from Mr Pervez Musharraf’s meeting with Mr Bush at Camp David later this month. In other words, the real success of Mr Advani’s trip will be known only after some length of time.