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A Friend For More Than A War

A Friend For More Than A War

Author: Bill Richardson
Publication: The Los Angeles Times,
Date: November 9, 2001

With each passing day, the U.S. military action in Afghanistan puts greater focus on America's allies in South Asia. In the war against terrorism we're now waging in the region, the U.S. finds itself with friends of necessity, friends of convenience and friends who share mutual long-term economic, social and political goals.

When Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee talks with President Bush today, we should bear in mind that friends born of immediate necessity may disappear once the danger passes, but friendships based on shared respect for democratic institutions and traditions will endure.

As the world's largest democracy, India is a model of freedom and stability in an area not known for either. In a way, the country mirrors our own melting pot. With few exceptions, more than 1 billion Indians coexist peacefully in a nation of numerous languages, religions and ethnic ties. As we go about reinforcing old alliances and establishing new ones in South Asia and elsewhere, we must make certain that India is not forgotten or taken for granted. We must also recognize that a strong India, supported by the U.S., will be better able to deal with Pakistan regarding the disputed region of Kashmir, which is critical to regional stability.

Bush clearly recognized the importance of India's relationship with the U.S. when he recently waived sanctions that were put in place against the nation in 1998 to deter nuclear weapons testing. Secretary of State Colin Powell went a step further when he agreed to add two anti-Indian terrorist groups to the State Department's official list of foreign terrorist organizations, putting them in the same basket as Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network. Further progress is expected in today's meetings, when the president confers with Vajpayee on a number of issues, including the war on terrorism and new military cooperation.

India is an important ally in this fight. The prime minister has offered the use of India's airspace for overflights and will make the country's ports available for refueling U.S. warships. At the same time, he has echoed Bush's assurances that this is not a war against Muslims but rather a fight against those who conduct evil acts in the name of Islam. With the largest Muslim minority of any country, India understands this distinction well and knows it must be carefully explained.

India's importance to the U.S. stretches beyond just geopolitical necessity.

The close ties between India and the U.S. include growing economic trade and collaboration. India's economy, the fourth-largest in the world, has been growing for years at an impressive rate of 5% to 6%, with the software industry leading the way. This healthy growth has ratcheted up the country's need for U.S. goods. Indian imports have grown 8% in the last year. Imports from the U.S. alone now approach $4 billion. The U.S. is India's largest investment partner, with total inflow of U.S. direct investment estimated at $2 billion in 1999. Likewise, the U.S. is India's largest market for exports.

A significant number of Indians, nearly 2 million, have emigrated here, making them the fastest-growing group of Asian immigrants in the country--with increasing weight at the ballot box.

In short, India is what we want other nations in that part of the world to look like: secular, peaceful, fiercely democratic and respectful of the rule of law inside and outside its borders. India can be our best political, economic and military ally in the region.

(Bill Richardson was U.S. secretary of Energy and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations)

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