U.S. TROOPS ON FRONT LINE OF EXPANDING INDIA TIES
====By John Lancaster from India - January 25, 2006; A01
Author: ELVIO ARMANDO TUOTO
Foreign soldiers have returned to India more than half a century after independence. But this time, the soldiers' accents are American, not British, and their purpose is not to subdue India but to cultivate it as an ally.
120 U.S. combat troops have come here to train with their Indian counterparts in areas such as counterinsurgency and peacekeeping. The exercise is an example of the striking improvement in relations between the United States and India following decades of Cold War estrangement and more recent tensions stemming from India's nuclear tests in 1998.
Encouraged by the United States, the two governments have signed commercial, scientific and military agreements in the last two years and are negotiating a controversial deal that could permit the sale of civilian nuclear technology to India. The Bush administration is eager to cultivate India as a strategic counterweight to China.
The warming trend is also reflected in the surge of interest in India among U.S. business corporations such as Microsoft, which announced a $1.7 billion investment in the country.
President Bush is scheduled to visit India for the first time in early March at the invitation of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The two countries still have important differences. In particular, India has a long history of warm relations with Iran and is pursuing plans to build a natural gas pipeline from Iran across Pakistan, a move that the Bush administration has warned could trigger sanctions against Indian companies under a U.S. law aimed at isolating Iran's Islamic regime. Indian officials say the project is essential to their country's energy security.
India's reluctance to accept entirely Washington's requests stems in part from the influence of political parties opposed to the Bush administration's policies on Iraq and free trade.
One of the most important tests of the new relationship centers on the agreement signed by Bush and Singh in Washington last July that would give India access to nuclear fuel and reactors to produce electricity. Under the deal, the US would lift a ban on the sale of such technology to India, provided that India opens up its civilian nuclear facilities to international inspections and other safeguards.
India and the United States are already working closely to coordinate policy on regional concerns such as instability in Nepal and Bangladesh.
These good relations emphasize a sharp change from the Cold War, when India was a champion of the Non-Aligned Movement and had close ties to the Soviet Union. Affinities began to improve in the early 1990s following the Soviet collapse and India's initial moves to liberalize its economy. But they nosedived when the United States imposed sanctions in response to India's 1998 nuclear tests.
The Bush administration lifted the sanctions after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and has promoted India as a new global partner, mentioning its vast economic potential and status as the world's largest democracy.
United States has paid special attention to strengthening India's military capabilities.