Why Should India and the United States Cooperate?
The question, in my opinion, is not why the two countries should cooperate. Rather, it is one of whether India and the United States can afford not to cooperate on counterterrorism.
My response to this question is simple. It is necessary for two main reasons. First, do not ask who will be affected by terrorism; know that you will be. It is true that terrorism ultimately affects everyone, but it is especially true for open and pluralistic nations, such as India and the United States, that follow a secular and democratic system of governance and accommodate political dissent. These nations constitute a vulnerable “special community.”
Second, to tackle and subdue terrorism in its allotropic modifications, there is a need to share knowledge and experience in different phases, ranging from detection to deterrence and destruction of terrorist organizations.
PARAMETERS FOR INDO-U.S. STRATEGIC COOPERATION
What parameters should be considered in an effort to establish strategic cooperation between India and the United States on counterterrorism? Do these conditions exist today?
To my mind, the first parameter is the convergence of perceptions about terrorism and terrorist organizations. This convergence need not be full or absolute, but at a minimum, core perceptions should be fully shared. Thereafter, the extent to which cooperation takes place and the way it takes place will depend on the degree of shared perceptions.
The second parameter is mutual benefit. It would be very useful to have mutually agreed-upon “benefit metrics.” These would be used to assess the utility of the cooperation and for its persuasive defense. If cooperation is a one-way street and benefits only one party, then its future is unlikely to be very strong.
Third, if cooperation is considered vital and of mutual benefit, it needs to be
safeguarded from unilateral termination by the United States because of extraneous considerations. Recent Indo-U.S. history is replete with examples of unilateral action by the United States, and it would be imprudent not to draw lessons from these examples. A successful global strategy against terrorism requires stability and the continuity of cooperative efforts that are bilateral, regional, and multilateral. If cooperation is ever halted through mutual consent, both parties will have residual responsibilities, such as the nondisclosure of shared data, information, and technology to third parties.
Terrorism is becoming more high tech than in the past. Correspondingly, more contemporary tools, techniques, and systems have to be developed and deployed to combat terrorism. These need to be sold to Indian agencies as part of a normal transaction between the two governments. This would be the fourth parameter, and one that has a strong bearing on the theme of this seminar.
It is necessary to mention that strategic cooperation in counterterrorism would be just one element, albeit new and relevant, in bilateral affairs. It is inevitable therefore, that progress in this area of cooperation would be reviewed in the overall context of bilateral ties between the two nations. The fifth parameter is the idea that cooperation should not be held hostage to the overall state of bilateral relations. Bilateral relations have witnessed highs and lows in the last 50 years, and this is inevitable.
A FIRST-ORDER PARAMETER FIT
Assuming that these parameters are adequate for a first-order assessment, what is the degree of compatibility between India and the United States?
Regarding the first parameter of shared perceptions, there is some convergence, especially after the attacks of September 11, 2001. Nonetheless, the level of convergence does not appear to be enough. The United States has raised counterterrorism to the level of a new “exclusivist religion” and has singled out al Qaeda as its target. India, on the other hand, is more bothered by militant tanzeems organizations operating from across the border in Jammu and Kashmir and, occasionally, from other countries. Contacts between al Qaeda and tanzeems in India do not appear to be strong, although Osama bin Laden has mentioned Kashmir along with Palestine and Chechnya in several vague statements.
India does not, and ought not, consider Muslims, in India and abroad, to be terrorists. India also refrains from U.S.-style racial or religious profiling because of its undesirable effect on the country’s composite polity and culture. Indeed, until September 11, 2001, scarred the homeland and psyche, U.S. appreciation of, and sensitivity to, terrorist incidents in other countries was weak. Further, U.S. geopolitics and the short-sighted highlighting of fundamentalist-extremist groups such as the Taliban have generated very valid cynicism in India. Dragon seeds were sown in the subcontinent by the United States, but their second- and third-order consequences were ignored. The irony of U.S. support to General Musharraf, a man who tries to stay in favor with both sides, is not lost in India. The priorities of India and the United States, therefore, appear to be quite different, even now.
U.S. policy is strongly perceived by Muslim nations, at the elite and mass levels, as one of singling out Islam. The fact is that many South Asian and Southeast Asian
countries have significant Muslim populations. Muslims in these countries practice a milder and more accommodative version of Islam than is practiced by their counterparts in countries in the Persian Gulf and West Asia. It may be conceded that there is a fringe element of militant extremists in some South and Southeast Asian countries that deserves to be handled carefully, as it has in the past. It must also be conceded, in the same breath, that fringe groups exist in Christianity, Judaism, and some other religions as well. Perhaps the degree of intolerant behavior by these groups is lower, but they indisputably exist. Here again, India and the United States have some points of divergence both in form and in content. These may get in the way of full-fledged strategic cooperation.
Against this background, it may be unrealistic to hope for a higher level of convergence in perceptions between India and the United States. The fit is not tight, it is loose.
In the Indian context, the second parameter of mutual benefit also appears to be a loose fit. In the tidal wave of sympathy after September 11, 2001, many countries, including India, shared an unprecedented amount of normally classified data and information with the United States. There have been indications, if not intimations, that the benefit from this was one-sided and in favor of the United States. Correspondingly, there is reason to believe that the magnitude and direction of information sharing between the United States and other countries have decreased in the post-September 11, 2001, period. This may be due in part to inertia caused by the massive overhaul of the U.S. bureaucracy, its institutional infirmities, and its procedures, but only partly.
Concerning the third parameter, suffice it to say that the United States as a collective entity ought to make up its mind. This is difficult in the best of circumstances, given the nature of its politics, congressional oversight, activist lobbies, bureaucratic infighting, and an overactive media with its own short-term interests. Sometimes, the priorities of presidential administrations shift. When agreements between the United States and other countries are terminated, one constituency or another is blamed, sometimes quite conveniently. This leads to avoidable erosion of international confidence in bilateral arrangements with the United States. There is a clear and present danger in the reliability of the United States. This problem can be addressed only in and by the United States. Strategic cooperation between the United States and India would, thus, depend on U.S. reliability and credibility.
Regarding the fourth parameter, it is possible and permissible to envision two-way advanced technology and system flows (also referred to as high-tech commerce) between India and the United States in research and development, technology development, prototype evaluation, and free-flow production that are mutually beneficial. However, the legacy of U.S. laws and regulations do not inspire confidence that such science and technology cooperation for counterterrorism would bear fruit.
The fifth parameter is the pursuit of common goals in an area that could be encouraged by both countries, as worked out by professionals of a community in India and the United States at an unofficial level. These professionals could quantify how the cooperative efforts are mutually beneficial, and this may be acknowledged by government officials up to a point. Inevitably, others will step in who have the responsibility of calibrating these cooperative efforts within the overall context of bilateral relations. This calibration involves birds of passage in the diplomatic establishment and the political apparatus in both countries. Realistically, progress in