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Terrorism Concerns on U.S.-India Agenda

Author: Jayshree Bajoria
July 20, 2011

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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in India for the second round of the U.S.-India Strategic dialogue, discussed a laundry list of issues, from defense, trade, and civil nuclear cooperation, to women's empowerment, education, and innovation. But coming on the heels of three bomb blasts in Mumbai on July 13, counterterrorism also featured as a top agenda item. Clinton pledged greater cooperation on counterterrorism efforts, and the United States signed an agreement to increase the sharing of information on cybersecurity and terrorism (TheHill).

While the Indian government has not yet named any group in the recent Mumbai attacks and most Indian news reports suggest the involvement of a home-grown terrorist group (IANS), concerns about threats from Pakistan-based militant groups to India's security loom large. Clinton acknowledged the common threat of terrorism faced by India and the United States and said a long-term relationship with Pakistan is based on understanding that the United States would not tolerate it as a base for terrorists. India and the United States also share common interests in ensuring a stable Afghanistan free of terrorist safe havens.

Clinton's statement comes at a time of deteriorating relations between the United States and Pakistan, with Washington withholding $800 million in aid to the Pakistani military (BBC) and growing anti-Americanism in Pakistan over the May 2 U.S. raid on Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, as well as CIA-operated drone attacks. David Rothkopf of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace argues that Clinton's speech was "essentially the announcement of an alliance against Pakistan (FP)."

One result of the downward slide in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship is that as Washington loses its leverage over Islamabad, New Delhi loses its ability to use U.S. leverage to influence Pakistan, says CFR's Senior Fellow for South Asia, Daniel Markey. And in the case of another terrorist attack in India from a Pakistan-based group that compels India to take direct action against Pakistan, "Washington's capacity to urge restraint on both sides" will be limited, says Markey. For now, India and Pakistan have decided to continue with the peace talks that broke down following the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai but have resumed in recent months.

With the impending withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, India is increasingly concerned about what the Afghan end state will look like once international troops leave. India is a significant player in Afghanistan, pouring in millions of dollars in aid with the aim of preventing the return of Taliban rule and the use of Afghanistan as a safe haven for anti-India terror groups. While Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh publicly expressed support for an Afghan peace plan of reconciliation with Taliban insurgents earlier this year, ambiguity over reconciliation talks and the possibility of a Pakistan-brokered endgame between hard-line elements of the Taliban and the Afghan government continue to raise concerns in India.

India expert Sumit Ganguly argues that given India's strategic interest in preventing a resurgence of Taliban in Afghanistan, it should be allowed to train Afghan security forces (FP) and "Washington should prod it to assume that burden." India hasn't reached any consensus on whether it should engage more forcefully in Afghanistan. The U.S. government too, writes Josh Rogin on Foreign Policy.com, remains "internally divided between those who want to see more Indian activity in Afghanistan and those who are concerned that increased Indian involvement there endangers U.S.-Pakistan cooperation." S. Amer Latif of the Center for Strategic and International Studies says the United States and India should institute a formal bilateral dialogue on Afghanistan (IBT) that "would ensure both sides are talking about the full range of their respective engagement."

Additional Analysis:

Teresita L. Schaffer, a nonresident senior fellow at Brookings Institution, recommends three issues on which the United States and India should focus to make the partnership truly strategic, including a free-trade agreement.

Background:

In a new report, Human Rights Watch urged Clinton to raise with India the country's excessive restrictions on civil society; infringements on freedom of expression; and the need to protect the rights of women, Dalits, and other vulnerable groups.

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