The quantum of success of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s US visit remains debatable. Distracted by Congress’ coveted heir Rahul Gandhi’s ordinance bombshell and a pejorative ‘dehati aurat’ controversy involving his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif, whether Singh could give his 100 per cent to his career’s most awaited prime ministerial visit is still unclear. Nevertheless, the ice in the way of long -stagnant India-Pakistan dialogue was somewhat broken with both premiers meeting despite a vehement outcry from the opposition BJP in New Delhi, which tried cashing in on the barrage of controversies hitting the PM from home.
Nuclear Liability Clause, another contentious issue pertaining to Indo-US bilateral relations, didn’t move much as no final call was taken during the visit, despite signing of a preliminary contract. However, one sure positive which the government reckons they could bring home from the visit was Indo-US defence cooperation agreement.
Amidst ensuing distrust, controversies, border standoffs and other apprehensions, did the meeting between Manmohan Singh and Nawaz Sharif take place and amidst the same indicators, it passed without being conclusive. While few believe it reaped results and endeared the two premiers to each other irrespective of the brouhaha, others are of the opinion that the meeting didn’t yield much.
One agreement which was zeroed-in on was to reduce violence over their disputed border in Kashmir and bring peace at the Line of Control (LoC). National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon said after the meeting that Singh and Sharif decided to task military officers to ‘find effective means to restore the ceasefire’.
‘Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke of terrorism and the need for effective action on bringing the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks to book and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said that was indeed Pakistan’s intention,’ Menon added.
In an attempt to end a controversy over his purported remarks about Singh, Sharif clarified that he never called the former a ‘village woman’. A major controversy had erupted on Sunday over Sharif purportedly calling Singh a ‘village woman’ with Narendra Modi terming it as the ‘biggest insult’ to the Prime Minister. In all, the meeting between Singh and Sharif didn’t turn out to be as fruitful as expected. According to most foreign affairs analysts, it was Manmohan Singh’s chosen prerogative since he became the prime minister to achieve two targets during his tenure. One was the Indo-US Nuclear Deal and the second was sufficient headway in India-Pakistan relations.
Though he managed to fulfil the first one, almost, the second goal is still far-fetched and seems only an uphill task considering the volatile developments over the past few months.
Nuclear Liability law
Despite the preliminary contract signed between Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) and Westinghouse Electrical Company, the concerns on the nuclear liability law have not gone away.
These will have to be addressed, but for the moment, there is an appearance of agreement between the two sides with signing a preliminary agreement that would pave the way for the final deal.
However, there was no word on the tough nuclear liability clause in the Indian laws over which the US firms had strong objections.
There was a major uproar in New Delhi last week over the agreement because of apprehensions that it entailed bypassing the Civil Nuclear Liability Law in place in the country by waiving the operator’s right to recourse with the supplier.
Despite criticism from opposing factions, this agreement was seen as an achievement by analysts in New Delhi. ‘There were impressions that Indo-US relationship has reached a plateau or that they are drifting apart but the joint statement and defence co-operation has removed all those doubts whatsoever.
The PM’s US visit and the recent visit of US’s Vice President and Secretary of the State has showed that momentum is still there and things are moving in positive direction,’ Chintamani Mahapatra of the School of International Studies of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) told a national daily.
Ajay Darshan Behera of Jamia Millia Islamia said, ‘Those who say that India-US have drifted apart need to understand while pursuing their bilateral relations they were also pursuing separate international concerns.
It needs to be understood that there can be progress or momentum in relationship even if there are not flashy noises or announcements in a bilateral meeting.’
Military and Trade ties
The Government’s take away from the visit was the defence cooperation agreement that took care of a number of the procedural problems dogging the development of military ties. Ultimately, this could result in joint development of weapons systems between India and the US. However, it invited concerns from within the Congress with Human Resource Development (HRD) minister Kapil Sibal raising questions of impact of this agreement on India’s relations with other weaponry giants like Russia and China.
Sibal said, ‘This agreement will have implications for our relations with Russia and China. Russia has occupied the top supplier position for decades, but this could erode that relationship further,’ adding that, ‘The Chinese would be watching this closely too.’
Putting aside such apprehensions, union external affairs minister Salman Khurshid made a comment on India ties with Russia after a tilt towards US and and said, ‘There is no reason to think that this [India-Russia] time-tested historic relationship, that we consider intrinsically valuable and wonderful, may be undermined by anything that can happen in the world.’ Khurshid had left for Moscow soon after coming back from US and met his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov on 3 October.
India’s economic and trade ties with US, however, remained on bit of a low during the visit. On the day the PM landed, while the US Senate passed a resolution welcoming him to the US, at the same time, a group of 14 governors sent a letter to Obama protesting against India. The PM attempted to bridge the gaps during a meeting with US CEOs, but it is clear that India needs to create a better climate for investment, better predictability and transparency.
US officials and leaders, meanwhile, stressed on the success of the visit. Ronen Sen, former ambassador to the US, said, ‘The PM’s meeting with Obama was better than most expectations.’ The India-US relationship has returned to its top billing, having suffered some neglect in the preceding months.To conclude even as Indian and US establishment maintained that the visit was productive, the predicted outcome may have been drowned by extraneous noise.
But there certainly was the feeling that the leaders of other countries looked beyond 2014 Lok Sabha elections in making commitments and nourishing ties with Manmohan Singh.