Although Prime Minister Singh had met President Obama earlier, they did not have the time together needed to take stock of each other and create the basis for a common understanding of the issues which preoccupy our two nations.  The Indian Prime Minister attaches special importance to the relationship with the United States, and he has for the better part of two decades.

  The aim of the visit was not only to develop a relationship with the U.S. President but also to make India, her perspectives and her needs better known in the United States.

India especially wanted to establish its strategic place in American thinking.  India feels exposed to what it sees as pressure from China; it is deeply troubled by events in Pakistan.  The Indian press has reacted strongly to China’s actions in India’s northeast.  Chinese press attacks have fueled tensions.  China’s assertiveness on the world stage and what Indians see as accommodation by the U.S. and other powers leaves India feeling vulnerable.  India wants to make sure that statements made in China during President Obama’s visit were not harmful to India.  In a word, India’s message to the U.S. was simple: be careful you don’t put India in harm’s way.

India also wished to be seen as a partner on the global economic stage.  India has managed to side step many of the ill effects of the global financial meltdown of 2007 and 2008 and has begun its recovery.  It has done so by focusing on its domestic market.  As a member of the G20, it is already a global player.  The Doha Trade Round is important for India, as is the Copenhagen Conference; a full understanding with the U.S. is important to achieving these agreements.  But India’s leaders did not come to Washington with hat in hand.  They came determined to build a relationship of equals.

To what extent were these objectives met?

This was a difficult time to come to Washington.  Lots of things were happening on the domestic and global stage.  Americans were also preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving, their unique national holiday.  Yet, the state visit garnered a lot of attention.  As Vice President Biden stated, “Mr. Prime Minister, you are the only show in town!”  The novelty of the first state visit of the Obama presidency made it a talking point even among ordinary citizens.  Putting India on the American map was a key achievement of the visit.  In short, India made its case and the U.S. heard it.

Regarding civil nuclear cooperation, the relationship will continue.  India has to take actions in parliament to meet the terms of U.S. law and to protect U.S. investors in the nuclear field.  The Prime Minister assured his U.S. interlocutors that progress would be made on all these fronts.

Concerning Afghanistan, President Obama was determined to keep India fully consulted, given the importance of India in the region.  Bear in mind that since the outset of the Obama administration, the two sides have consulted frequently.  While India will maintain a high-level dialogue with the U.S. on Afghanistan, that dialogue is not to Pakistan’s detriment.

Other issues which roil the waters of South Asia came up.  India undoubtedly argued its intention to pursue a dialogue with Pakistan.  It also is certain to have asserted that the U.S. must do all in its power to convince Pakistan to bring an end to cross-border acts of terror.  But India does not want the U.S. to be a “broker” in its relationship with Pakistan.  India believes Islamabad and Delhi are fully up to the task of negotiating peace.

Frank Wisner was the U.S. Ambassador to India from 1994 to 1997.  He is now with Patton and Boggs, a firm that represents Indian interests in the United States.