A close call, but Bush would suit South Asia best
By John Chalmers
NEW DELHI, Nov 9 (Reuters) - A year ago George W. Bush tripped up in a surprise pop quiz during a television interview, flunking on the names of India's prime minister and Pakistan's military ruler.
Today, both New Delhi and Islamabad would have reason to cheer if the Republican governor of Texas beats Democrat Al Gore in the U.S. presidential race.
"In overall terms I see continuity in U.S. policy towards India," said former Indian foreign secretary J.N. Dixit. "But Bush could be more responsive to India's concerns."
Analysts said that Bush is likely to bring a fresh approach to South Asia, where U.S. policy has long been stuck in a strait-jacket of concern over rivalry between India and Pakistan, the Kashmir dispute and nuclear proliferation.
Bush is likely to engage with India as a growing regional economic and military presence and as a strategic counterweight to China, keep old ties with Pakistan alive and back off on nuclear issues, especially the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
Indeed, he may scrap the economic sanctions imposed on India and Pakistan after their tit-for-tat nuclear tests of 1998.
And he will probably soft-pedal on the links that outgoing President Bill Clinton insisted on making with labour and environmental issues in trade negotiations.
"Bush's pronouncements suggest that his foreign policy...will be driven by economics whereas Gore is more inclined to link such policy with human rights and environment -- the kind of issues the developing world likes to hear less of," India's Economic Times said.
During the Cold War, India was a leader of the Non-Aligned Movement, which Washington saw as hostile to its interests and sympathetic to the Soviet Union. Pakistan was allied with the United States to stop the Soviet Union expanding southwards.
WARMING RELATIONS WITH INDIA
Relations between New Delhi and Washington have warmed considerably in the past two years, the by-product of a robust engagement aimed at reconciling India's regional security interests with U.S. non-proliferation concerns.
U.S. attitudes towards India are also being moulded by an increasingly influential and politically active community of 1.4 million Indian-Americans, many of whom are involved in the U.S. information technology industry.
The new-found Indo-U.S. friendship was sealed this year when Clinton visited India and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee paid a return visit to Washington.
Based on that, Delhi might have lined up behind Gore as the next best thing to a third Clinton term.
"India will surely miss President Clinton, who worked hard in the final years of his second term to recast Indo-U.S. relations," wrote commentator C. Raja Mohan in The Hindu daily.
But independent analyst Brahma Chellaney argued that Clinton brought no fundamental shift away from traditional U.S. thinking, and he dubbed the improvement in ties "mostly symbolism."
Clinton's presidency saw a deterioration in relations with Pakistan, whose military leader was snubbed with a stopover of just a few hours when Clinton visited the region in March.
Analysts say a Bush administration would be less hostile.
Washington has become increasingly concerned in recent years that the source of anti-U.S. terrorism is shifting from the Middle East to South Asia, notably Afghanistan.
Its worries about the region dovetail with those expressed in India, which accuses Pakistan of sponsoring the decade-old insurgency in the bitterly disputed territory of Kashmir.
TIES WITH PAKISTAN
Bush, like Gore, has not said much publicly about South Asia despite the tense face-off between its nuclear rivals that many fear could boil over into a full-fledged conflict.
But in the first major foreign policy speech of his campaign, he spoke at length about India's promise as a trade and investment partner and as a force for stability and security in Asia -- but then tipped his hat to Pakistan:
"This should not undermine our longstanding relationship with Pakistan, which remains crucial to the peace of the region."
Shireen M. Mazari, director general of the government-funded Institute of Strategic Studies in Pakistan, said a Bush presidency would bring a refreshing change.
"One, because the Clinton administration and the Democratic Party are really biased toward India," she said. "Although people say there is not going to be much difference in the major policy goals...the nuances will definitely alter."
Analysts also said Bush would be less proactive than the Democrats on the Kashmir dispute, which India -- unlike Pakistan -- insists should be resolved with no third-party involvement.
They contrasted Bush's view that the United States should "not be the peacekeepers around the world" with Gore's statement that Washington must "have a sense of mission in the world."
"Bush will be less interventionist on Kashmir," said Dixit. "But he will certainly tell both countries to get their act together and start talking to each other."
The Times of India said that the inward-looking approach suggested by Bush could suit India because it would dilute the United States' military dominance and bolster the role of international institutions such as the United Nations.
"India is in a better position to make its global position felt through these institutions than through bilateral relations with a single superpower," it said.
India's regional strategic importance could also be bolstered if Bush takes a harder line with China, boosting ties with Taiwan and backing a Theatre Missile Defence system in East Asia.
Although the lecturing that Washington unleashed on India and Pakistan after their nuclear tests has subsided, the Clinton administration was still pushing them to sign the CTBT.
Such pressure would end under Bush, who believes the test ban treaty is not the answer to proliferation concerns.
"Mr. Bush's opposition to the treaty could give India more time and space on the issue," said Mohan. "But ironically, if the CTBT was a useful bargaining chip in dealing with a Democratic Administration it may have little value with a Republican one."
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