Tricky footwork

As the American relationship with Pakistan deepens – changing almost by the month in its various facets – so does its relationship with India. We are a key ally in the American fight against what it perceives as a terrorist threat – a perception shared by many western nations – but India comes with no such luggage. India is a key component of the American Asia strategy, a potential market for its goods and a stable democracy. For its part India has moved swiftly in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban government, and outside the largely Pakhtun southeast of that country has a very substantial stake in it including ‘influence’ at every level of governance. We are not seen either as stable or as a good business prospect for American exporters or entrepreneurs, but neither can we be sidelined in the way that the US has pushed us into the regional margins in the past. The paradox of our internal and external difficulties is that we have increased in value to America – which brings no comfort to the Indians.President Obama is shortly to visit our neighbour. One might have expected that he would drop in here as he was in the back garden, but instead has opted to bypass us in favour of a dedicated visit in 2011 and a reciprocal call at the White House for President Zardari at a later date. By doing so he avoids upsetting the ever-touchy Indians who might have been offended at a back-to-back visit by the US president to both nations; but gives the impression of reinforcing our own status. This may be a geopolitical illusion because outside the purely strategic and military spheres there is little that America needs or wants from us – we are not so much allies as unequal partners in an arranged marriage of necessity that neither side wanted to stump up the dowry for. Tensions currently run high between ourselves and the Americans – the raid into our territory and the death of our service personnel followed by our blocking of the NATO aid route – but may be lessening again as the recent tripartite meeting between ourselves, the US and the Afghans appears to have been conducted in a positive atmosphere. America may never be a true ‘friend’ in the sense that most would understand. The relationship between us is always going to be transactional and sometimes coercive. It is up to us to use what strengths we have to get the most – as in the best deal – we can get out of them before the currents of geopolitics sweep us all in different directions – Thenews