India's value: A state visit showcases important relations

Written by Susan Mannella on .

The state visit of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should put U.S.-Indian relations firmly back on track.

There has never been a question of India's importance to modern U.S. foreign policy. Consider first the size of the country, the best part of a subcontinent with a population of well over a billion and growing.

Another factor is more recent, the growing importance of America's trade and investment relationship with India. Some of it has become a joke -- a personal computer plays bad jokes on its user and the service call is answered in Bangalore. Some of it is less amusing. The outsourcing of American production of goods and services to India has contributed to rising unemployment in the United States.

A third element that heightens the importance of the relationship, particularly to a politician like President Barack Obama whose ratings are skidding, is there are now an estimated 2 million Indians or Americans of Indian origin in the United States. They vote. An Indian American was elected governor of Louisiana. They use money in politics to pursue their interests to the point that Indian-American groups' influence in Washington is approaching that of other better-known lobbying forces.

India also lies in a strategic region. The United States needs Pakistan in its effort to bring matters in Afghanistan under some semblance of control. India and Pakistan are sworn enemies. Thus, anything the United States does to improve its relationship with Pakistan -- like providing billions in aid -- will provoke Indian resentment. One of the reasons Pakistan may be reluctant to take action against the Taliban in Afghanistan and some of its own border regions is that it could suspect India might make an alienated Taliban India's friend.

Finally, there is the bigger picture. China and India, the two Asian behemoths, are natural rivals for influence. Mr. Obama's much-chronicled visit to China therefore had to be followed by action profferring comparable prestige to India.

Mr. Singh's trip to the United States, the first state visit hosted by President Obama, was necessary and seems to have served the purpose admirably. Washington's meat-eaters could ponder these thoughts after they ate the White House vegetarian dinner Tuesday night.


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