New Asian Order & Nepal

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During the Cold War Indo-U.S. relations were not as close and broad as they seem today. India’s active role in the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries was an irritant in bilateral relationship. Considering Indian position in different UN resolutions which concurred more with stand taken by the non-aligned countries, the various U.S. administrations treated India less respectfully. The strategic partnership that exists between the two countries now was unthinkable. Then in the U.S. prism India used to be no more different from other poor developing countries.

The dismantling of the Berlin Wall in November, 1989 followed by sweeping Indian economic reforms  in 1991 contributed to the deepening of relations between India and the U.S. The credit of bringing transformation in the Indian economy goes to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was at that time Finance Minister. His timely and bold step to liberalize India’s economy which until then was very weak gave a jump start to economic growth. Since then India is achieving an impressive annual economic growth rates prompting even Goldman Sachs to forecast that she may become one of the top five world economies by 2016.

There are compelling reasons for this prediction as evidenced by the treatment meted out to India by the international community. India is already a member of G-5 (Brazil, China, India, Mexico, South Africa). It is a member of G-20 including all the emerging economies plus the highly industrialized nations. Moreover, as one of the members of BRIC (Brazil, China, India, Russia), it has established its growing stake in global economic matters. The gradual and consistent rise of the Indian economy has led the U.S. to revise its policies vis-à-vis India that has markedly enhanced the latter’s strategic importance.

Growing bonhomie in Indo-US relations will bolster India’s aspirations for global ascent. U.S. President Clinton started the cultivation of strategic partnership with India and his successor George W. Bush further cemented that relationship by signing the 2008 Indo-U.S. Civilian Nuclear Cooperation Agreement. In India there was domestic political opposition too. Prakash Karat, the Indian communist leader said in 2007 that as a result of the above agreement, “India would be into a strategic tie-up which will have a long-lasting impact on India’s foreign policy and strategic autonomy”.

However, the proponents of the deal contend that it has ended India’s nuclear isolation and permitted the conduct of civil nuclear trade with the U.S. This would have been unimaginable before Cold War’s demise as opined by Evan A. Feigenbaum. According to him the U.S. was treating India until 1991 as a regional power in South Asia with negligible international weight. India’s weak and protected economy was not globally integrated and thus had very little influence in world market.

With liberalized economy the trade flows between the U.S. and India increased dramatically. In his 2010 Foreign Affairs article, entitled “ India’s Rise and America’s Interests “ Evan A. Feigenbaum writes that two-way trade more than doubled during the period of 2004-08 from just under $ 30 billion-$ 66 billion making India one of the U.S.’s fastest growing commercial partners.

Indo-U.S. relations received a boost in November, 2010 when president Obama charmed the Indian elites through his address to the Indian parliament saying, “In Asia and around the world, India is not simply emerging, India has emerged”. More importantly, Obama endorsed India’s bid to join the world’s most exclusive club i.e. the UN Security Council as a permanent member. Indian quest for global leadership gets bolstered by U.S.’s explicit support for permanent membership of the UN Security Council. All current five permanent members of the Security Council possess veto rights.

But India’s geographical legitimacy to obtain such seat has become questionable with more oppositional voices from the region. Her neighbor and strategic rival Pakistan has been opposing its campaign at the UN. No less vocal was Pakistan’s former Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi who said in November, 2010 “U.S.’s unilateral support for India’s Security Council membership could affect peace and stability of the region”. Worryingly, he declared that Pakistan and China would have unanimous stand against India’s Security Council bid. Undeniably, a veto-wielding member’s objection makes an amendment in the UN Charter impossible.

This clearly reflects the dilemma in South Asia where fast developing friendliness between India and the U.S. is seen as an attempt to craft a new Asian order. In this prospective new Asian order India is supposed to counterbalance the rise of China with the American collaboration. In the most recent years Indo-U.S. relations have become multi-dimensional covering political, military and diplomatic aspects. Hence, small wonder that India’s military conducts exercises with America’s more than with any other country in the world. In fact the U.S. sits on the cusp of becoming India’s largest foreign exporter of military equipment. India also believes that strengthened relations with the U.S. will facilitate its rise as a major power.

In the meantime Indian policy makers look perplexed at seeing U.S. officials devoting increasing time and energy to cultivating the U.S.-China relationship. It is worrisome that recent developments in Sino-U.S. relations have ignited an internal debate in India that she should revisit her nuclear policy. The world at large and the neighborhood, in particular, remain scary about any possible expansion of India’s nuclear ambitions at a time when South Asia has already become a nuclearized region.

How early a new Asian order with China exercising no overweening power fashioned by growing Indo-U.S. strategic partnership will be in place is difficult to predict. Nonetheless, any such new order may have implications on Nepal situated as she is between China and India. Therefore, she has to deal very carefully cultivating a balanced relationship with her immediate neighbors earning their trust, which woefully does not seem to be the case.

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