India-US relations: 'The rupture is certainly real and quite

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Old 17-Feb-2014
Post India-US relations: 'The rupture is certainly real and quite

Aziz Haniffa
'The Khobragade affair has left bruised personal feelings on both sides.'

'The manner in which the younger cohort in the Indian Foreign Service was able to drive New Delhi's policy response to this problem -- as if India's national interest did not matter -- was simply startling.'

'Never before have I seen a diplomatic crisis in US-Indian relations, or for that matter a crisis involving India and any other country, driven by bureaucratic trade unionism, where the political leadership was simply missing in action.'

Ashley J Tellis, one of the foremost strategic experts on US-India relations, accesses the fallout of the diplomatic spat, in conversation with Rediff.com's Aziz Haniffa.

Ashley J Tellis, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington, DC-based think-tank, and the driving force behind its South Asia programme, believes the negative fallout from the United States-India diplomatic spat that followed Dr Devyani Khobragade's arrest is not only "real," but quite "tragic."

Dr Tellis has nearly three decades experience of following US-India relations and being a protagonist in the push for a US-India strategic partnership. He served as senior adviser to then US ambassador Robert D Blackwill at the US embassy in New Delhi. He also served on the National Security Council staff as special assistant to the President and senior director for strategic planning and Southwest Asia.

He is the author of India's Emerging Nuclear Posture and co-author of Interpreting China's Grand Strategy: Past, Present, and Future. He is also the research director of the Strategic Asia programme at the National Bureau of Asian Research and co-editor of the programme's 10 most recent annual volumes. He is frequently called to testify before the United States Congress.

How deep is the US-India rupture? Can it be healed in the near term?

The rupture is certainly real and quite tragic. Unlike problems arising from policy differences, which can be negotiated and resolved somewhat dispassionately, the Khobragade affair has left bruised personal feelings on both sides.

We often assume that diplomats are moved solely by concerns about the national interest. But, in truth, how they are treated makes a difference to the enthusiasm they muster in carrying out their duties.

Both sides are obviously trying to put the incident behind them, but it will take time. And the repair is not helped by the fact that both countries are terribly inward looking at this point in time.

Have you ever seen such a major diplomatic spat?

Lest we forget, there was a very difficult moment in the bilateral partnership after India's 1998 nuclear tests. The US then had imposed sanctions on India and the mood was dominated by great acrimony, at the highest levels in Washington, towards New Delhi's actions.

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