Brookings India hosted Stephen Hadley, the former National Security Advisor to President George W. Bush from 2005-2009, at a private roundtable discussion on August 3, 2015. The roundtable was attended by key stakeholders from business, government, and think-tanks. The discussion mainly centred around plurilateral relations between India, U.S., Pakistan, and Afghanistan. The issues of upcoming 2016 U.S. presidential elections and the Iran nuclear deal also featured prominently in the discussion.
There was broad agreement that a significant transformation has occurred in both Afghanistan and Pakistan over the last few years in terms of political and security aspects. While the transfer of the security operations from U.S. forces to the local Afghan forces has been deemed successful, the political transition from the Hamid Karzai government to the Unity government, headed by President Ashraf Ghani, has been rocky. The Unity government has not been very effective in proving its governance capabilities with disagreements over political appointments and a deteriorating security situation. This has resulted in an increasing lack of public support for the government. Moreover, the withdrawal of international aid after the U.S. military drawdown has been a major economic concern, resulting in stalling of reconstruction efforts. The Pakistani military’s war on terror in its North Waziristan region has also displaced militant outfits and civilian populations alike, leading to an influx of refugees and militants into Afghanistan and stretching the already thinly spread Afghan resources. Within Pakistan there has been a concerted effort to deal with terrorism after the December 2014 Peshawar attack that killed over 130 school children. The Pakistani establishment has also been urging the Taliban leadership toward a reconciliation process with the Afghan government. There is now an increased awareness of the benefits of regional economic integration for development. Consequently, it was argued that the United States should take advantage of these developments and do more to support the political, economic and security processes in both countries. There also needs to be a combined effort between the U.S., India, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan to resolve outstanding issues and benefit through mutual trade and investment.
With respect to India-U.S. relations, there was a sense that the civil nuclear deal has been successful in transforming relations between the two countries. In Washington the civil-nuclear deal is not considered controversial anymore, unlike a few years ago. The business and security engagement between the two countries has also seen a steady improvement. India now conducts more military exercises with the U.S. than any other country. However, there is still some scope for improvement in the bilateral relationship.
The discussion noted that, despite two summits, there remains a lack of awareness within the U.S. administration about the strategic and economic importance of a rising India. Consequently, both governments need to engage more to understand each other’s interests and policies better.
There was some concern that the ongoing campaign for the 2016 U.S. Presidential elections might have the potential to disrupt the upward trend in bilateral relations. Since U.S.-India relations are not considered to be problematic anymore, they are likely to take a backseat in the new U.S. President’s agenda, who will likely have a host of crises to deal with in the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Asia. Therefore, it was argued, that it is even more important to ensure a concerted effort from other actors, such as business organizations, think-tanks etc., to sustain the upward momentum of bilateral relations.
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