Americans see relationship with India going nowhere, blame ‘Brezhnev-era' bureaucracy

Some Indian political parties might think New Delhi has sold out to the Americans, but the view from Washington, as revealed in diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks, is that the U.S. is not getting full value for its money in its “strategic partnership” with India.

The cables showed American officials as complaining that the UPA government was “frustratingly cautious'' in its approach to India-U.S. relations. There were references to “irritants'' that needed to be “fixed”; and to “difficulties” in getting full cooperation from India on issues such as intelligence-sharing that Americans regard as being critical to the “strategic partnership.”

The Indian bureaucracy came in for a scathing attack. It was accused by one senior American diplomat of suffering from “Brezhnev-era controls'' and of behaving as though it was “still fighting the Cold War.”

A cable dated January 14, 2008 (137238; secret), from David Mulford, U.S. Ambassador to New Delhi, said: “We note that under the NDA government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee it was easier to meet Indian officials and get business done, even in the paranoid Ministry of Home Affairs, but the Congress government has reverted to type, indulging in the sorts of Brezhnev-era controls on its people of which Indira Gandhi would have approved. The Nehru dynasty needs to become more like the Tata dynasty.”

It said problems in India-U.S. relations were “multiplying and festering'' as a result of a lack of effort to resolve them. This had “started to make people question the strategic partnership.”

“Since the U.S. and India are partners in building an important strategic relationship, we either should not be having these kinds of petty problems, or, if they do come up, we should work together positively to resolve them immediately. This is not happening. Instead, these problems are multiplying and festering.''

Reporting a meeting between Mr. Mulford and Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon, the cable said: “The Ambassador told Foreign Secretary Menon January 11 that a range of bilateral problems has started to make people question the strategic partnership that both sides seek, and wonder why the USG has encountered such difficulty when it has done so much to try to bring India into the global nonproliferation mainstream.”

A cable dated January 3, 2009 (185604: secret) from Ambassador in Islamabad Anne Patterson expressed “concern” at reports that India planned to release information from its investigation into the Mumbai attacks “next week'' to all countries that lost citizens.

“We believe it is premature for the Indians to be considering a broad dissemination of information on the attack until the investigation has been completed. In this regard, we note that the FBI has just presented a long list of information it is still seeking from the Indians to advance its own investigation,” the cable said.

The Indian decision, it argued, would “undermine essential law enforcement efforts and forestall further Indo-Pak cooperation.”

“Our goal is not only to bring the perpetrators of this attack to justice, but also to begin a dialogue that will reduce tensions between India and Pakistan,'' it added.

Several communications referred to a “trust deficit'' in India-U.S. relations because of the “perception'' in India that America was not doing enough to prevent Pakistan-inspired terror attacks on India.

According to a cable from the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi dated December 15, 2006 (89649: secret), S. Jai Shankar, Joint Secretary (Americas) “complained” during a meeting that the U.S. alliance with Pakistan should not make it “ignore Pakistan-origin terrorism in India.”

“He argued that working with Pakistan and helping India fight terror are not mutually exclusive and requested that the U.S. ‘figure out your relationship' with Pakistan and then determine how you can help India,'' the cable said.

Dr. Jai Shankar is reported as having said that the Indian public scepticism over America's role on security issues was not “entirely unrelated to government perceptions” and that “we need to address this.”

“He lamented that the chronic inability to talk frankly about terrorism dragged down other areas of collaboration,” the cable said.

(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks.)