US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hopes to cement gains in ties with emerging global power India as she arrives in New Delhi on Monday but Pakistan is expected to figure extensively in the talks.
Clinton will hold “strategic dialogue” talks with leaders in New Delhi before heading south to Chennai, one of many Indian cities undergoing rapid expansion as the country’s economy opens up to foreign investment.
Her arrival in India late Monday comes after the blasts in Mumbai last week that killed 19 people and injured more than 130 in the latest reminder of the region’s struggle to crack down on terror attacks.
No one has claimed responsibility for the blasts, but relations between India and Pakistan have been undermined in the past by militant strikes in India that the government blames on Pakistan-based groups. US officials say Clinton’s trip will demonstrate the breadth of cooperation — which ranges from expanding military and intelligence work to educational exchanges and nuclear and other hi-tech energy projects.
But the pending US drawdown of forces in Afghanistan and Indian relations with traditional rival Pakistan will both be in focus as Indian security fears grow following Wednesday’s attacks on Mumbai. .
US officials and political analysts say that Clinton will urge India to stay the course and not raise tension, concerned that any overreaction by New Delhi could upset an already fragile US relationship with Islamabad.
“She will encourage India to do all it can to engage Pakistan, to find areas where they might be able to break down some of their barriers and build some kind of confidence in each other,” said Karl Inderfurth, a former senior State Department official under the Clinton administration and now at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
It will not be an easy sell — although analysts say India itself is increasingly worried over the stability of its neighbour and has its own reasons for moving cautiously.
Indian police have questioned members of a home-grown militant group, taking some of the immediate heat off Pakistan.
But both New Delhi and Washington suspect that elements of the Pakistani establishment may not be fully onboard with the US-led fight against Islamic militants, doubts underscored in May when US forces killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a compound not far from Islamabad without telling the government in advance.
Robert Hathaway, director of the Asia programme at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars, said the latest attacks “will inevitably colour Secretary Clinton’s visit.”
Clinton will also put much of the focus on her three-day trip on economic ties, which have been fast improving but which many see as yet to fulfil their potential.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 19th, 2011.
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