India, US Relations Enter New Era of Cooperation

By Suryamurthy Ramachandran | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

New Delhi ( - As the Iron Curtain crumbled, the Berlin wall collapsed, the Cold War ended and the world entered the new millennium, a new relationship between two estranged democracies, India and the United States, developed.

The Cold War foes transformed themselves from estranged democracies into engaged democracies as the explosion of information technology revealed how much the two countries had in common.

The year 2000 was undoubtedly the most significant phase in the relationship, especially for New Delhi as President Bill Clinton visited the land of mystic beauty and software professionals in March.

This was followed by a return visit by the Indian Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, to Washington in September. It marked the first time since India's independence in 1947 that such high level reciprocal visits took place.

In describing the new relations between Washington and New Delhi, Clinton said he was leaving Indo-U.S. relations "in the best possible shape for my successor, so that he can pick up the ball and run with it."

Vajpayee said "the new warmth and vibrancy that has been introduced into Indo-U.S. relations has popular support across the political spectrum in both our countries."

Karl Inderfurth, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State of South Asian Affairs, has aptly described the dramatic changes.

"After years of not really understanding each other, of taking into account the views of each other, this year we have found ourselves converging on a number of important issues in ways that we have never done in the past," Inderfurth said.

Relations between the India and the U.S. soured after India's 1998 nuclear testing. Washington mounted pressure on India to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and invoked sanctions.

The strategic dialogue has continued since then, with the countries narrowing their differences.

"The old sensitivities, and we know what they are, are receding and we are beginning to have a greater confidence in what we have to say to each other. But that does not mean that we will agree on every issue and we should not expect to," Inderfurth said.

"Over the next several years, we will be testing the proposition that by expanding our relationship to encompass a broad-based agenda, we will be better able to narrow our differences on those issues that have proved difficult for us in the past like non-proliferation." Inderfurth added.

While America's relations with New Delhi improved, its ties with Cold War ally Pakistan soured. Tensions are the result of the bloodless military coup by General Pervez Musharraf and Islamabad's links to the Taliban militia, which has provided a safe house for terror suspect Osama bin Laden.

With a crumbling economy and fundamentalist forces rising in Pakistan, Washington has found India a better strategic partner in South Asia.

"The U.S. will assume a more impartial position on the Kashmir dispute (between India and Pakistan) but it will be more assertive in pressuring Pakistan to cooperate with the West to counter international terrorism and narco-terrorism," according to former Indian diplomat J N Dixit.

The U.S. played a significant role in preventing a nuclear war during the Kargil conflict, when India and Pakistan, both nuclear equipped, engaged in a conflict in the snow-capped peaks. India and Pakistan have fought three wars, twice over Kashmir in the last 50 years.

Clinton may have had little to do directly with the economy and information technology, on which rests America's new relations with India. But no one has done more to advertise India's ingenuity than Clinton did during his widely televised working holiday in India.

"Steady seven percent growth rate and India's nuclear capability in the new world order forced Washington to re-frame its South Asian policy," foreign policy analyst Ram Mohan said.

India's economy is expected to be the world's fourth largest two decades from now and the country's software professionals have created a niche for themselves.

There are over 750 Indian firms in the Silicon Valley alone, including e-mail service company Hotmail, which was later purchased by Microsoft Corporation from entrepreneur Sabeer Bhatia for $400 million.

Later in the year, the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate passed legislation allowing an increase of 195,000 H1-B visas annually and about 600,000 visas over the next three years.

India accounts for over 40 percent of the present annual quota of 115,000 H-1B visas issued.

Under the H-1B visa program, foreign workers with special skills are allowed to work in the United States for three years, and since the visa can be renewed once, the workers often end up staying for six years.

The two nations should now move for closer ties in a systematic and committed relationship. It was during Clinton's second term that the new world order started falling into place. And America went seriously to work on its new role as the sole superpower and super cop.

Clinton himself has projected his vision of the world in the 21st century.

"The 21st century world is going to be about more than great power politics. That means we can't just think about East Asia and Europe. We need a systematic, committed, long-term relationship with our neighbors in Latin America and the Caribbean, with South Asia -- next to China the most populous place on earth -- and with Africa, where 800 million people live."