US advised to have stronger ties with India

Washington, March 14 (IANS) Leading South Asia experts have advocated stronger US economic, defence and diplomatic ties with India to improve its own economy and counter China's rise as it prepares to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan next year.

Given regional instability in Central Asia, a stronger alliance with India would strengthen the US economy as it looks to open up new trade markets, they told the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific Wednesday.

The lone Indian-American member of the House, Ami Bera, who is also the top Democrat on the panel discussing America's foreign policy "pivot to Asia", stressed the importance of the US-India relationship to the American economy and to stability in the South Asian region.

"As we look at our future, South Asia becomes increasingly important," said Bera. "A robust trading relationship with India is vital... and creates jobs here at home."

"India is also emerging as a key strategic partner of the United States," he said. "As we begin drawing down our troops from Afghanistan, India and the US share a common interest in promoting regional peace and international security.

"India also has a critical role in holding and maintaining some of the gains we have made and helping to anchor stability in South Asia," Bera said.

If the pivot's strategic goal is to counter the rise of China as a global power, US would do well to nurture economic, defence and diplomatic ties with New Delhi, said Sadanand Dhume, a resident fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

"Simply put, a fast-growing democratic and pluralistic nation of 1.2 billion people acts as an obvious counterweight to any hegemonic ambitions an authoritarian China may hold," he said.

Alerting US to the potentially negative impact of impending withdrawal of US military forces from Afghanistan on US-India relations, Dhume said unlike Washington, "India doesn't have the luxury of simply pivoting away from the badlands of the so-called AfPak region."

"If the US is seen as cutting and running by its Islamist foes, and this results in an upsurge of violence in both Afghanistan and India as in the 1990s, it will reduce trust between Washington and New Delhi," he said.

The US should facilitate India's active involvement in the regional diplomatic architecture, said Heritage Foundation Asian Studies Centre Director Walter Lohman.

But "American policymakers must be realistic about the operational role US-India relations can play in achieving the number one strategic challenge currently facing East Asia - successfully managing China's entry in the political life of the region," he said.

India's overall relationship with East Asia and Washington is complicated, however, by New Delhi's potential economic dependence on China, he said noting, "It is India's largest trading partner, and each has nascent, growing investment interests in the other."

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)

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