Wednesday, May 4, 2011

US-Indian Relations in the Post-bin Laden World

This morning's FT reports that Osama bin Laden's neighbors in Abbottabad knew his house contained highly conservative residents, among them both Afghan refugees and Arabic-speakers. Moreover, locals knew that the house's residents bought food in large quantities at a time, had a taste for foreign beverages, burned all their trash and refused to allow their servants to hold second jobs with other employers. How did this not raise red flags? One neighbor, Jehangir Khan, reports that security in the area is heavy: “People are frequently asked to produce their national identity cards.” The case that Pakistan's intelligence is incompetent or complicit grows ever stronger.

Meanwhile, the discovery of Osama bin Laden deep in Pakistan, far from the Afghan border, is likely not only to sour US-Pakistani relations, but also - by extension - to strengthen US-Indian relations. Relations between the world's two largest democracies, though sometimes rocky (as in the case of India's recent rejection of US fighter planes), have general been positive in themselves; complications have primarily arisen from US support to Pakistan. If (or when) that support tapers off, US relations with India will likely continue to improve.

So where might we expect, or hope, for future US-Indian cooperation? Four areas come to mind:

  • Anti-piracy operations. We have already seen the Indian Navy take strong actions against Somali pirates. Likewise, the Indian Navy is already active in the Strait of Malacca. The US takes keen interest in the freedom of the seas, particularly in these two regions. Look for growing collaboration between US and Indian forces here.

  • Burma. The US has long tried to isolate the Burmese military junta, but a shift in US strategy and signs of possible change in the regime mean we can expect greater engagement in the future. India, by virtue of its border with Burma, has historically taken a more pragmatic approach to the Burmese junta. As American and Indian views converge, expect greater diplomatic and development cooperation.

  • Terrorism. India's single greatest terrorist enemy is Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), whose primary aim is to drive India out of Kashmir. While the US is more interested in al-Qaeda, particularly Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), LeT is connected to the international network of Islamic terrorists, and thus the US and India have a common interest in fighting these forces. That Pakistan's ISI has often been a link in this chain complicates US-Indian cooperation, but if American ties to Pakistan decline, the door is opened for greater counterterrorism coordination.

  • Africa. India has strong ties to Africa, particularly with such important nations as Ethiopia, Nigeria and South Africa. Given its historic participation in the Non-Aligned Movement, India enjoys a degree of trust on the African continent which is rarely afforded to the United States. India will be careful to safeguard that status, but the US would do well to support Indian efforts, as a means of aiding African development and as a counterweight to Chinese penetration of Africa. The US presence in UN peacekeeping operations is currently all but non-existent. With the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, however, expect US involvement in peacekeeping to rise somewhat in the coming years. Much of this will be in Africa, where India already participates in peacekeeping missions in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan and Côte d'Ivoire.
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