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India Welcomes US Power - 2002-02-21

Many nations have expressed concern about expanding U.S. power in the world since the September 11 terror attacks, but not India. It welcomes the United States as a counter weight to what it considers Islamic extremism and Chinese expansionism.

India recently came close to another war with Pakistan. It also fears China's ambitions in Asia. For those reasons, says Brahma Chellaney of the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi, India wants closer relations with the United States and a substantial U.S. presence in the region.

"We have a very different kind of thinking in Washington, which is propelling the U.S.-India relationship forward. The two countries are exploring areas of strategic cooperation. The contours of a strategic partnership are emerging," he said. "This is very disquieting for China because the Asian strategic scene has altered very rapidly since September 11 with the United States strengthening its strategic role from Central Asia to Southeast Asia."

With Russia and Japan weakened, says Mr. Chellaney, China is stronger and threatening to the status quo. The United States is needed to right the balance in Asia.

That presence will be largely maritime, says Inder Malhotra, a former editor of The Times of India and now a leading newspaper columnist who is speaking against a background of birds in a garden in New Delhi.

"If the U.S. Navy is going to be in waters close to both Pakistan and India, and if the Indian navy and the U.S. Navy are going to engage in a long term cooperation, as they should in my view, to make sure of the safety of the sea lanes, they need a lot of support from the coast," he said. "They need R&R. And they need, above all, the Indian navy to escort the traffic from the straits of Hormuz to the Moluccan straits in the east."

Mr. Malhotra says there is still some residual anti-Americanism In India and concern over what appears to be excessive U.S. praise of Pakistani President Musharraf. But in general, the feeling is the United States is needed - its capital, its technology, its protection - as never before.

And needed to fight spreading Islamist extremism, says Mr. Chellaney. "You can crush the al-Qaeda. You can crush the Taleban, as the United States has done," he said. "But how do you uproot a mindset, a culture? It is a very difficult challenge for the international community."

Mr. Chellaney thinks the extremists are only temporarily subdued. If in three or four months, the United States is distracted by some crisis elsewhere in the world, they will resume their terrorism.

But in meeting this challenge, India should not overreact, cautions Ravi Nair, executive director of the South Asia Human Rights Documentation Center. He believes civil rights have already eroded in the war on terrorism.

"You cannot fight terrorism by taking up undemocratic methods," he said. "You only strengthen the ideological underpinnings of terrorism by that. You can only destroy them by showing you have a moral and ethical standard much higher than theirs."

Mr. Nair says India's democracy must continue to set limits on the methods of warfare against terrorism.