When United States Secretary of State John Kerry, who arrives in India on Wednesday evening for a three-day official visit, engages with his Indian interlocutors on Thursday, both sides will inevitably speak in glowing terms how ‘useful’ and ‘substantive’ the engagement was.
But things are a lot more complicated and one should not expect that Kerry is coming with a magic wand to turn around the India-US bilateral relations.
John Kerry in a file photo. AFPJohn Kerry in a file photo. AFP
At the same time, the importance of Kerry’s visit cannot be undermined. It is the first cabinet-level contact of the Obama administration with the new Indian government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Kerry’s job is to identify areas of convergences and divergences with the Modi government and prepare a suitable climate for a big push in Indo-US bilateral ties when Modi meets Obamin Washington in September.
The fifth India-US Strategic Dialogue in New Delhi on 31 July, to be co-chaired by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Kerry, provide an important opportunity for the two sides to size up each other. Similar opportunity will be on hand next month when US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel visits India.
However, all these ministerial visits from the US side should only be seen as league matches and major announcements in Indo-US ties must have to wait until the Modi-Obama meeting, likely to be held on 30 September.
It is time to go beyond the rhetoric and high-decibel statements, particularly from the Americans, signifying nothing. Not too long ago, President Obama had described relations between India and the US as “one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century” and yet the US heaped the worst ever humiliation on an Indian diplomat in New York last year.
Here is sneak peek into what may transpire between Kerry-led American delegation and the Indian government.
First, here is a pithy list of unresolved issues and divergences between the two sides.
From the Indian point of view, these are:
(i) the US visa roadblocks through immigration legislation,
(ii) the highly impartial Senate Bill 744 which treats India-centric IT companies as less than equal to Japanese and European companies and contrary to the justified demands of Indian IT sector for zero to low duties on hardware and software; (iii) removal of local content requirements;
(iv) better intellectual property protection and stronger cyber security and data protection;
(v) prompt and comprehensive action against Pakistan-based India-centric terror outfits that have been operating in broad daylight with patronage from state actors in Pakistan;
(vi) turning off the tap of illicit financing of these Pakistan-based terror outfits;
(vii) access to David Headley for deeper investigations into his role in the November 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai; and
(viii) the snooping issue in view of Snowden’s revelations of the US snooping on BJP leaders, an issue that has gained further traction in view of reports of union minister Nitin Gadkari being spied upon.
From the US viewpoint, the Americans will be seeking the following from the new Indian government: (i) clarifications on the Indian nuclear liability law and what the Modi government can do to protect interests of American companies before they invest in the Indian civil nuclear sector; (ii) whether India can re-consider its refusal to sign a Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) in WTO, though New Delhi would like to know what Washington can bring to the table to break the impasse; (iii) Indian response on disputes over intellectual property rights between Indian and US companies and recent US concerns over several decisions of the Indian Patent Office; (iv) whether New Delhi is willing to further raise ownership limits in foreign investments in the Indian defence sector as the US finds Indian decision to cap foreign investment at 49 percent not attractive enough.
India and the US have much at stake in rebooting their bilateral relationship. Bilateral trade is an important area that holds lot of promise and potential particularly when Indo-US trade has quadrupled from $25 billion in 2006 when George Bush visited India to the present $100 billion and the Americans have been sounding upbeat on increasing it five-fold to $500 billion in near future.
For the US, however, a strong and vibrant relationship with India gains all the more urgency when Washington is looking for strong partners to counter-balance China’s continuing rise and take on Russia as Moscow is wooing Asian powers even as the Americans trying to de-link Russia from European economy.