US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton hoped to cement gains in ties with emerging global power India when she flew to New Delhi yesterday, while heading off new frictions with fragile US ally Pakistan.
Clinton’s two-day trip to India, her second as secretary of state, follows US President Barack Obama’s visit in November last year and underscores Washington’s growing bonds with the world’s second-most populous country and its US$1.6 trillion economy.
Clinton will meet Indian leaders for a US-India “strategic dialogue” session, regular meetings designed to get officials from both sides working more closely together, and comes nearly a week after a deadly triple bomb attack on India’s financial hub of Mumbai.
She will then move on to Chennai, the eastern port city which has become a hub for US trade and investment, including a major auto engine plant for Ford Motor Co.
US officials say Clinton’s trip will demonstrate the breadth of cooperation — which ranges from expanding military and intelligence work to educational exchanges and nuclear and other high-tech energy projects.
However, the pending US drawdown of forces in Afghanistan and Indian relations with Pakistan will both be in focus as Indian security fears grow following Wednesday’s attacks on Mumbai.
US officials and political analysts say that Clinton will urge India to stay the course and not raise tension, concerned that any overreaction by New Delhi could upset an already fragile US relationship with Islamabad.
“She will encourage India to do all it can to engage Pakistan, to find areas where they might be able to break down some of their barriers and build some kind of confidence in each other,” said Karl Inderfurth, a former senior Department of State official under the administration of former US president Bill Clinton and now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
It will not be an easy sell — although analysts say India itself is increasingly worried over the stability of its neighbor and has its own reasons for moving cautiously.
No one has claimed responsibility for last week’s Mumbai blasts, the worst such attack since -Pakistan-based militants struck India’s financial hub in 2008, killing 166 people and raising tensions with Islamabad.
Indian police have questioned members of a home-grown militant group, taking some of the -immediate heat off Pakistan.
However, both New Delhi and Washington suspect that elements of the Pakistani establishment might not be fully on board with the US-led fight against Islamic militants, doubts underscored in May when US forces killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a compound not far from Islamabad without telling the government in advance.
“The Indians see the United States as finally waking up to the problem of Pakistan, and they will not want to interject themselves into that process,” said Ashley Tellis, an India expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
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