Pakistan likely to figure high in Clinton's first India visit

The neighboring countries agreed Thursday to work together on terrorism despite stalled peace talks. US secretary of state arrives Friday.

By , Correspondent

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives in India for a five-day visit Friday, keen to shore up relations between the United States and this fast emerging economic power.

The trip comes after a much anticipated meeting between India and Pakistan's prime ministers Thursday.

On her first visit to the country as top US diplomat, Secretary Clinton will fly to Mumbai, where she will meet victims of last November's terrorist attacks. She will then travel to the capital, New Delhi, for talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the new foreign minister, SM Krishna.

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Speaking in Washington last week, Clinton said she hoped India and the US would "be cooperating and working together across the broadest range of concerns that our two governments have ever engaged on."

India and the US have been brought closer together by a landmark nuclear cooperation deal agreed by the two countries in 2005 and finalized last year. Indeed, many believe that the deal is the most significant feature of India's foreign policy over the past decade.

"There will be a strong symbolic component to this visit, with Clinton reassuring India that [President] Obama wants to pursue the kind of special relationship with India that [former US president] George Bush did," says Commodore Uday Bhaskar, a New Delhi-based strategic analyst. "It's very important to reiterate these things or people get antsy."

Seeking more cooperation

In detail, the talks are expected to cover a number of areas in which the US is seeking India's cooperation.

Speaking at the US India Business Council recently, Clinton alluded to "four platforms of cooperation – global security, human development, economic activity, science and technology."

Trade between the US and India doubled between 2004 and 2008 to $43.4 billion, according to the US Census Bureau.

But the relationship isn't all sunshine. On June 26, the US House of Representatives passed a clean energy bill imposing trade penalties on countries that reject emission caps – like India.

On July 7, Mr. Singh said rather pointedly that fighting global warming was the "historic responsibility" of developed countries.

Nudging India closer to Pakistan

India's relationship with its neighbor and nuclear rival Pakistan is also likely to be near the top of Clinton's agenda, says Mr. Bhaskar.

The US is anxious for India and Pakistan to resume a five-year peace process that was suspended by India after the Mumbai terrorist attacks, which India linked to a Pakistan-based group, Lashkar-e-Taiba. If tensions are eased on Pakistan's eastern border with India, the US administration believes, Pakistan can focus on fighting Taliban militants on its western border with Afghanistan.

Timothy Roemer, who has been appointed the new US ambassador to India, has said he will work to improve relations between the two countries.

While Pakistan, which has denied any involvement in the attacks by state agencies and says it will prosecute militants suspected of involvement, has been pushing for new talks, Singh has insisted it must first show it is serious about taking action against terrorists.

Some Indian analysts believe that, having come back to power in May's general elections, Singh will soften the hard line he adopted toward Pakistan before polls.

Indeed, Thursday, India and Pakistan said that ongoing dialogue was the only way forward and that they would work together to fight terrorism. The statement was issued after Singh and his Pakistani counterpart, Yousef Raza Gilani, met on the sidelines of a multinational conference in Egypt for "cordial and constructive" talks.

Their joint statement said that action on terrorism should not be linked to the status of peace talks.

If the relationship between the India and Pakistan comes up during Clinton's visit, and if the US does not demonstrate that it takes the terrorist threat to India seriously, "there will have to be more agreeing to disagree, unfortunately," says Bhaskar.

From India, Clinton will travel to Thailand. Officials have said her Asia trip will not include Pakistan or Afghanistan, where US soldiers are battling the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

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