Bush's journey to India
Washington and New Delhi see benefits in a new relationship
NEW DELHI--Where, in a world rife with anti-Americanism, can you find most people owning up to warm feelings for the Bush administration? One of those few places is here, in the South Asian giant of India, where President Bush arrives this week to mark rapidly warming relations between the world's oldest democracy and the world's largest.
A recent poll found that nearly 3 out of 4 Indians hold a favorable impression of the United States, solid base for the visiting president. "I like Bush," volunteers a young Indian riding a train bound for the capital, New Delhi, from his home in Agra, best known for the famed Taj Mahal. Adds Mohandas Pai, chief financial officer for Infosys Technologies, one of India's IT whiz companies in the southern city of Bangalore, "He's good for the world. He's the only person who can stop the spread of al Qaeda." Predictably, India's still-strong leftist parties are planning anti-Bush protests, and some ultranationalists also oppose closer ties with Washington. But the government here seems determined to produce happy images for the Bush visit.
The president's stops in New Delhi and the developing high-tech center of Hyderabad will underscore a remarkable turnaround in the once prickly relationship. In the Cold War days, Indian governments viewed the United States as a bully that propped up archrival Pakistan; American leaders were angered by India's pro-Soviet tilt as a leader of the so-called nonaligned movement. India's nuclear test blasts in 1974 and again in 1998 ran afoul of U.S. nonproliferation laws, leading, for a time, to sanctions and to this day to a ban on nuclear trade. But the mood has come nearly full circle. The Bush administration is now engaged in an audacious bit of geopolitical engineering: Its goal, a senior administration official said last year, "is to help India become a major world power in the 21st century. We understand fully the implications, including military implications, of that statement."
Despite enormous problems with poverty, infrastructure, and corruption, signs of India's rise can't be ignored. The economy is projected to double in size in a decade, growth fueled by continuing reforms and privatization. Indian companies are buying rights to foreign oil fields and acquiring computer and steel firms in the United States. Its IT sector is growing at 15 percent a year. India is the No. 1 arms buyer in the developing world, last year eclipsing China and Saudi Arabia, and its active armed forces rank No. 3 in size, behind China and the United States. Its population, already about 1.1 billion, will surpass China's within decades. And Washington gets it. Says Nicholas Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs, "I think if you look at American foreign policy worldwide, the greatest change you will see in the next three or four years is a new American focus on South Asia, particularly in establishing a closer strategic partnership with India."
Deadline. Already, this is reflected in a broad set of initiatives on trade and investment, energy, democracy promotion, space exploration, HIV/AIDS, agriculture and science, and defense. Last week, Burns flew here to try to rescue what is supposed to be the centerpiece of the Bush trip: a breakthrough deal on civilian nuclear cooperation. Indian officials reported progress in the talks, though it was unclear whether key obstacles had been resolved. Washington's terms for lifting trade restrictions on nuclear technology would require India to separate civilian from military facilities and accept international nonproliferation inspections. India's powerful nuclear establishment, however, has dragged its heels out of fear that its nuclear arsenal--believed to amount to 30 to 100 weapons--will be constrained from further growth. India, which touts its record of never having transferred nuclear know-how to others, is keen on shedding its status as a nuclear pariah--and on getting badly needed access to nuclear fuel and new technology. The deal "effectively means recognizing India as a nuclear power," says Sanjaya Baru, spokesman for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.