NATIONAL

Hillary's leadership call to India not aimed at Pakistan

The United States Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton's, call during her July visit for India to take up the leadership role in the Asia Pacific region set off a furore in Pakistan. But government sources here say Ms. Clinton's discussions here had nothing to do with Pakistan.

They were aimed in the near term at persuading India to join hands with the U.S. in securing outlying island countries such as Maldives and Mauritius, besides working together in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. In the long term, Washington is aspiring for a closer maritime partnership with the Indian Navy in the South China Sea, the Straits of Malacca and finally the Pacific Ocean.

The reason why Ms. Clinton publicly articulated what had been said to her Indian interlocutors behind closed doors could be because the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is still not in acquiescence with the direction contemplated by the Ministry for External Affairs, said other government sources.

The MoD has tended to drag its feet about a U.S. proposal to involve the Indian military in a counter-terrorism grid in its maritime vicinity. It feels such a move could needlessly aggravate Chinese concerns about New Delhi being used by Washington in creating a military balance in the seas in the region. The MoD has also not favoured a joint counter-terrorism task force on the high seas for the same reason.

Officials, while playing down the concerns expressed by Pakistan, invited a closer look at Ms. Clinton's speech on July 20 in Chennai, which led to a spirited response from the Islamabad-Rawalpindi political leadership and security\strategic community. “There is no better place to discuss India's leadership in the region to its east than here in Chennai....India straddling the waters from the Indian to the Pacific Ocean is, with us, a steward of these waterways. We are both deeply invested in shaping the future of the region that they connect.

In all of these areas, India's leadership will help to shape positively the future of the Asia Pacific,” she had observed.

The accompanying U.S. team was clear in its intention behind Ms. Clinton's exhortation for India to take up a leadership role. India, the State Department team felt, should work with the U.S. and its region's maritime allies to create a military balance with China in the future. They described the Chinese naval expansion as “frightening” and feared that it could reach a stage where Beijing might begin indulging in coercive diplomacy.

The U.S. officials also referred to the “alarming” tendency by China of asserting claims to territory in the maritime rim below some members of the Association of South East Asian Nations. In this context, they sought Indian assistance because the Indian Ocean — “a vital transit ocean” — has emerged as an area of “weakness” for the U.S.

A section of the Indian leadership is amenable to the idea of closely collaborating with the U.S. because maritime security cooperation “suits us.” One of its spin offs would be faster mobilising capacity for the Indian Navy. New Delhi's attempt to extricate its citizens from the recent Arab hotspots of Libya and Egypt was described by other official sources as “pathetic.”

The other section wants India to maintain a strategic distance by not getting too closely drawn in this unfolding game plan. It is open to maintaining a level of interaction that helps get high end sensor technologies of various hues from the U.S. as India has done by purchasing weapon locating radars to maritime surveillance planes from American companies. With the inability to evacuate Indians at a quick enough pace from Libya, plans are also afoot to purchase another Trenton class (the first one has been renamed Vikramaditya) troop assault ship as well as consider offers for ships being made by the U.S.-U.K. alliance.

While India considers the right policy mix for this U.S. offer, officials point out that Pakistan, publicly the most offended country by Ms. Clinton's statement, was nowhere in consideration.

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