Thursday, July 24, 2008

Singh Survived ... Now the Hard Part

Most of the coverage surrounding the confidence vote in India suggested that, having survived an attempt to bring his government down, Prime Minister Singh was now in a much stronger position to resume ratification of the U.S.-India nuclear deal.

But the specter of Iran still looms large. India is promoting a new trade route, that would link Central Asia (and Russia via its Caspian ports), Afghanistan and Iran, in order to get goods (and possibly in the future) energy moving along a new north-south axis. In order to bypass Pakistan, which does not allow for transit of goods along its territory, India is centering operations on the Iranian part of Charbahar, and later this month the new Delaram-Zaranj highway should be completed, which should facilitate truck travel from Central Asia across Afghanistan and then with connections to Charbahar.

There are even some positives for the U.S.--a new trade route that provides an alternative to Central Asia's continuing dependence on Russian export routes; a new alternative to China; another "brick" in the stabilization of Afghanistan by opening up trade and providing fees. But the Iran component is sure to raise eyebrows on Capitol Hill.

It's also not clear whether U.S. lawmakers are in the mood to accept Indian advice and criticism about how Washington has handled the Iran portfolio. Gopalapuram Parthasarathy, India's former high commissioner to Pakistan, editorialized in the Times of India that "the western powers would be well advised to remember that national pride is an integral element of Iranian foreign policies" and then went on to propose that India serve as a third party mediator "between Iran on the one hand and the US and Israel on the other."

Will that find a receptive audience here?

So I think Singh's survival is important, but the underlying challenges to the U.S.-India relationship remain in place.

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