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Opinion

India: America's indispensable ally

Washington will need New Delhi's cooperation on a host of critical issues, so the Obama administration must not risk neglecting the relationship.

By Xenia Dormandy / March 11, 2009



Cambridge, Mass.

Presidential terms are a marathon of effort, but the Obama administration has started with a full sprint. Between the financial crisis and events in Afghanistan, Iran, Russia, and elsewhere, it's had to. But in rushing ahead to confront one crisis after another, it risks forgetting an crucial friend: India.

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At a time when so much of the broader Middle East and South Asia is in disarray, it may be tempting to put India – an ally and friend of the United States – on the back burner. But it is precisely because India is a friend and ally, and because of the severity of regional and global problems, that the US needs to nurture this relationship. If President Obama is to achieve many of his ambitious foreign-policy objectives, he will need to forge an even stronger relationship with India – and that will take work.

As things stand, however, Washington's bandwidth for India seems to be overwhelmed by concerns about its neighbors to the west, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

That's understandable. As a candidate, Mr. Obama made clear that more attention and resources needed to be paid to Afghanistan; and on this there is broad consensus not just within the United States, but with friends and allies, and with the Afghans themselves.

After taking office, both he and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton very quickly affirmed that events in Afghanistan and in Pakistan are, for the moment, resolutely tied together. And so came the appointment of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, one of America's strongest negotiators and diplomats, to be the special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Afghanistan and Pakistan have been tied together – they're now known as AfPak – and elevated as a priority at the Defense Department, too. As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said in his testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee Jan. 27, Afghanistan is the "top military overseas priority."

Meanwhile, at the National Security Council (NSC), word has it that portfolios are in flux, and geographic responsibilities may shift to reflect the US Combatant Commands. If this holds true, AfPak would be lumped together with Middle East affairs – and India would fall into a Pacific/East Asian category.

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