Just back after hearing the US Ambassador to India Richard Verma speak forenoon at the USI. He talked of the two countries being in the “strategic partnership plus zone”. He said “security cooperation and defence” was a “pillar” of this partnership, and referred to the 6 defence co-production projects underway. The interesting thing was to see Verma play off against fmr Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal, chairing the event, who took up a good deal of time allotted Verma, to air his own views that came off as the same old tired whining about US support for Pakistan, and the US doing nothing about Pak-sourced terrorism, about the China-Pak nexus, and so on — the MEA’s default position! To Sibal’s complaint that the US may have global interests, but India’s concerns are with the “immediate neighbourhood” with two unfriendly states Pakistan and China, the personable Verma responded with the classic put-down Washington has been perfecting for some 15 years now. Firstly, he informed Sibal that his perspective was not shared by the new FS, Jaishankar, and secondly, that in any case “We don’t want history to be a drag on India’s global role”. As an example of the global Indian role he talked of air and sea lifting of stranded Indians and other foreigners from Yemen on Indian assets. But he also said something troubling that the US approved of India seeking to “rise within the post-second world war order”. That — right there — is why India, as I have always maintained “aims low, hits lower”, unlike China that wants to reshape the global order on its terms. Two very different paradigms!
But Verma’s take on India’s Pak-fixation reminded me of Robert Blackwill at a ceremony at the Roosevelt House to bid goodbye to his adviser Ashley Tellis, complaining that while Washington would like to de-hyphenate India and Pakistan, India won’t permit it! That no matter what the issue at hand or what the forum, it was always the Indian side that brought the discussion back to Pakistan, implying that New Delhi seemed uneasy with the de-hyphenation that the US was trying to affect in its policies!
As regards US military aid and assistance to Pakistan — the usual reason for Indian squawking, Verma said that as per the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act, it was “narrowly tailored” to prevent Pakistan from becoming a failed state, and to enhance that country’s counter-terrorism capability, though he did grant that there could be differences on how narrow the tailoring was! [Attack helos, anyone!]
He revealed that a few days back, the CVN USS Carl Vinson was anchored off Kochi, and he went on board with a team of Indian Navy aviators for a briefing by an US Admiral (didn’t say who) or what the IN officers discussed with the Americans.
As far as US investment capital inflows, he pointed to systemic impediments and recalled a Hotelier wishing to put up a hotel considering India and Singapore as the two possible sites. The hotelier informed Verma that while 80 permits were reqd to start a hotel in India, only six were needed in S’pore. This by way of stressing that CEOs and investors look primarily at “ease of doing business”, little else, and why India is a “difficult sell” to American business. But it’d help he said if India agreed to an Investment Treaty to inspire confidence in the US industry and corporate circles that in case of disputes these will be adjudicated fairly. He hinted that India was dragging its feet on such a treaty. Verma also said that such a treaty would not ensure that our economic relations will be “dispute free but that we can compartment the next dispute that comes along” so as to not hurt the otherwise high-flying bilateral ties.