Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh’s official visit to Washington D.C. was hailed as a success by both sides. Though the visit did not culminate in the United States operationalizing the 2005 civilian nuclear deal, the meetings between the two heads of state went a great way towards reaffirming that the United States values this bilateral relationship and calming Indian fears of increased U.S. funding towards Pakistan and U.S. support for a regionally assertive China.
During a meeting at the White House, President Obama hailed the ties between the two countries as “one of the defining relationships” of the 21st century. Indian worries that it was being relegated to the second rank of relationships as the U.S. administration focused on its partnership with Pakistan in the war of terror and that President Obama had neglected India during his recent Asia trip and even implied U.S. backing of Chinese intervention in the Indian-Pakistani discourse on Kashmir were assuaged.
The priority of the relationship was signaled by according India the honor of the Obama administration’s first state visit – a right traditionally reserved for the United States neighboring countries Canada and Mexico. President Obama quoting India’s first Prime Minister Nehru during the state dinner while Prime Minister Singh responded with a quote from Abraham Lincoln reflected the cerebral common ground of these leaders of the world’s two largest democracies.
Beyond the diplomatic niceties, the Obama administration’s statements during the state visit sought to reestablish a prioritized relationship with India after what some have viewed as a neglect of this relationship during President Obama’s term thus far. The private meeting between Prime Minister Singh and President Obama, statements after the meeting, and the Joint Statement on a “Partnership for a Better World” highlighted a deepening cooperation between the two countries in sustainable development, clean energy, health, and education. India’s rising importance in the South Asia region and globally was also underscored by the Joint Statement by both leaders that emphasized the G-20, which now includes India, and called for the reform of international institutions such as the United Nation’s Security Council – implying a reorganization of the institution. The statements for reform of the U.N. Security Council were seen as providing hope to India that such a reform might gain India a seat on the Security Council.
The only area where Indian hopes for the results of the meeting between the two political leaders might have been disappointed concerned the civilian nuclear deal. However, while the finalizing of the civilian nuclear deal did not materialize, statements made by the U.S. administration articulated a commitment to the deal and its finalizing before the expiration of the deal in less than a year.
On the issue of India’s role in South Asia and the strategic partnership between the U.S. and India, the Joint Statement pointed out that the “India-U.S. partnership is indispensable for global peace and security.” It also stated that both countries have common ground in fighting terrorism in South Asia in order to “achieve peace and security for all peoples in the region, not just one country or the other, ” – a clear reference to India’s political rival Pakistan. President Obama’s expression of his gratitude for India’s role in rebuilding Afghanistan implied that he did not share Pakistani fears of the Indian presence in Afghanistan, nor that he shared the view of his General, Stanley McChrystal, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, that India’s growing influence in Afghanistan might “exacerbate” regional tensions. As expected, no enhanced role for India in Afghanistan was announced during the visit. However, Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh’s statements at the Council on Foreign Relations that a Taliban victory in Afghanistan would have catastrophic consequences for the world and for South Asia and the Joint Statement highlighting of the need to eliminate terrorist safe havens in the region pointed to the common ground between the U.S. and India in the Af-Pak region.
Overall, the pledges of cooperation between the United States and India during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Washington D.C. signaled a shift in the relationship between the two countries to one of a redefined and enhanced partnership.