November 18, 2009 / 9:47 PM / in 9 years

ANALYSIS-U.S. weighs India ties over Pakistan fears

* Uneasy Pakistan faces growing U.S.-India relationship

* Both sides fret over Afghanistan conflict

* India increasingly has global, not regional, profile

By Andrew Quinn

WASHINGTON, Nov 18 (Reuters) - When U.S. President Barack Obama welcomes India’s prime minister on a visit to Washington next week, there will be one nervous onlooker: Pakistan.

With Obama and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ready to flesh out a new partnership between the two giant democracies, Pakistan may find its status as the oldest U.S. ally in South Asia threatened by India’s newfound political and economic heft in Washington.

"Few relationships will matter more to the course of human events in the 21st Century than the partnership between India and the United States," U.S. Undersecretary of State for political affairs, William Burns, told a seminar on Wednesday.

"A rising India is essential to the peaceful and prosperous world that the United States seeks."

Rich U.S. praise for India is likely to go down badly in Islamabad, which has seen its longtime rivalry with New Delhi given fresh focus by the U.S-led war in Afghanistan, where each side fears the other may gain an upper hand.

Political analysts agree that Pakistan is an important, if increasingly shaky, asset in the U.S.-led global campaign against Islamic extremism.

But they also say that for Washington, long-term interests with India may trump the uneasy current alliance with Pakistan’s civilian and military leaders.

"Nobody talks about a (U.N.) Security Council seat for Pakistan, nobody talks about Pakistan as influencing the course of economic and financial events around the world. India’s choices matter," said Evan Feigenbaum, a former senior State Department official now at the Council on Foreign Relations.

"For the United States intellectually but also operationally it is high time to think about India as not just a South Asian power," he said at a conference.


In public, U.S. officials are determinedly neutral on the state of relations with India and Pakistan, calling both relationships healthy, important — and unrelated.

"We all share an interest in stability and peace between India and Pakistan. We all know the stakes," Burns said.

But local concerns are clear. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on a recent fence-mending visit to Pakistan, was repeatedly hit with charges that Washington already "tilted" toward India, reflecting decades of mistrust.

Hindu-majority India and Islamic Pakistan have fought three wars since independence in 1947, two over Muslim-majority Kashmir which both sides claim.

India accuses Pakistan of supporting a two-decades-long insurgency in Indian-ruled Kashmir, which has killed at least 47,000 people. Islamabad denies the charge.

Suspicions sharpened after the 2008 militant attack in Mumbai, which killed 166 people and was widely blamed in India on shadowy forces in the Pakistani intelligence and military establishment.

Raja Mohan, a professor of South Asian studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said India’s fears over another Mumbai-style attack underscored a widespread feeling in New Delhi that Washington was too soft on Pakistan — in part out of fear of alienating its military.

"There is an in-built veto that has been created without even Pakistan having to assert it. The veto is in Washington itself," he said.

But Pakistan’s charges that India is arming Baluch rebels and using Indian consulates in Afghanistan for anti-Pakistan activities also get short shrift, other analysts say.

"When the United States says it does not have information on this, they are not actually looking. India is our new friend and we don’t want to know what they are doing," said Christine Fair, an India expert at Georgetown University.

Despite Pakistani misgivings, U.S. officials have welcomed India’s involvement in Afghanistan, where it has already pumped some $1.2 billion in development aid.

"They have people on the ground building roads and have done an excellent job," one senior U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "We think they are playing a very helpful role in Afghanistan."

Theresita Schaffer, who heads the South Asia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Singh’s visit might help the United States find a way to open a three-way discussion on the India-Pakistan relationship without sparking fresh fear and suspicion.

"We need to figure out a way to do this," Schaffer said. "Part of the tool kit we need for that is an increased habit with India of talking about different parts of the world — so that this becomes in some sense a normal thing to do." (Additional reporting by Sue Pleming; editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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