News / Asia

US Diplomat Visits India in Attempt to Repair Frayed Ties

US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Nisha Biswal speaks during a media briefing in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Feb. 1, 2014.
US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Nisha Biswal speaks during a media briefing in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Feb. 1, 2014.
Anjana Pasricha
A senior American official is visiting India to normalize ties frayed by the arrest of an Indian diplomat nearly three months ago. But it may not be easy for the two democracies to bridge differences that have erupted over diplomatic and trade issues.
The message U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Nisha Biswal brings to New Delhi is that Washington wants to move past the differences sparked by the detention of an Indian diplomat in New York in December.
The arrest plunged bilateral ties to their lowest point in 15 years and put several visits by American officials, including Biswal on hold. A deal that allowed the diplomat to return to India failed to fully heal the ruptures.    
As Biswal landed Tuesday in Bangalore for the rescheduled visit, she wrote in an Indian newspaper that the partnership “has real challenges to overcome.”
But with India headed for elections, there are doubts whether the American official’s visit will achieve that objective.
Bharat Karnad with the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi says the recent rift  exposed the deeper problems that afflict the India-U.S. relationship, which he says is in the doldrums.
“New Delhi has become quite mindful of the differences that are still out there and which Washington has not addressed, so it is going to be a hard slog for Biswal to make any leeway in her interactions," noted Karnad. " The Obama administration in saying let’s push the reset button, that’s being a little facile. That does not help in getting our interests in alignment as it were.”
From Bangalore, Biswal heads to New Delhi where she will meet senior Indian officials for talks ranging from security to economic cooperation.    
Biswal is calling on India to provide stronger patent protection and create a more open environment to boost commercial exchanges.
Trade is another issue that is straining ties. New Delhi is angry over a recent U.S. threat of sanctions over what it believes is weak intellectual protection in India. From solar panels to pharmaceuticals to airlines, both countries have clashed in recent weeks, with some problems headed to the World Trade Organization.
Indicating that New Delhi is in no mood for conciliation, Trade Minister Anand Sharma Tuesday accused the U.S. of excessive trade protectionism and said that India would not agree to tougher rules on protecting intellectual property.
Analysts say New Delhi is prepared for a showdown with the U.S. on trade issues.
“Pressurization like that in a big country like India, it tends to put the back up, so one cannot really expect it to get results. I think persuasion is the only thing,” said Anwarul Hoda, an expert on trade policy with the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations in New Delhi.
In Bangalore, Biswal announced that the U.S. Agency for International Aid will provide $ 2.7 million to promote renewable energy projects in India.
Political analysts say the growing differences on trade and diplomatic issues have put the spotlight on the faultlines in a relationship that has been billed as a “strategic partnership”, but has failed to live up to that expectation.

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Comment Sorting
by: JKF2 from: GREAT NORTH (Canada)
March 04, 2014 11:44 AM
These incidents, that caused the serious disruption, the worse one was the strip search of a female diplomat, will have a very long term negative effect on relations. The context and political background, in India, was in deep stages of social and political turmoil, with massive manifestations ongoing against the sexual abuse of Indian women; the size of the protests, in many cities, including New Delhi, had grown to 100,000s+ of citizens; the current gvmt was acussed, by the opposition and many activists/community leaders, that the gvmt had failed in its duty to protect Indian women.

At the height of the internal crisis wrt women, the strip search of the diplomat occurred. In this context one can project that it will take years to repair the relationship. The case was made worse, by the ignorance and self delusion, that this was the way that diplomats should be treated = no different than any other US residing person. To this day, those that carried out the act self justify themselves. At a critical strategic stage in Asia, relating to negative stability events taking place around the China Sea, and beyond, the last thing the US needs is to alienate a potential strategic partner, given the rapidly waning influence of the US globally, this is a bad situation.

The worse of it, is the fact that the situation for US businesses will also be dire. Lots of very large economic agreements/contracts are down the drain, and so is US influence. It took almost 40 yrs to repair the US/India relationship, to a very progressive coperative level, only to be destroyed in one senseles/tactless incident. If the relationship is not fixed, in my estimate, it is the biggest strategic partnership/foreign policy failure of the current administration. In any case, diplomats should not be treated just like any one, and unless there is clear evidence of them having weapons/explosives/drugs on them, a more sensitive approach is required, especially of women diplomats, in certain cultures such transgressions will have extremely bad consequences.. And when such screw ups occur fix the problem, and vocalize its fix.

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