Hillary Clinton was India’s friend, but John Kerry is soft on Pakistan

New York: Hillary Clinton will be missed by India as she makes room for Senator John Kerry to replace her as secretary of state for President Barack Obama’s second term.

Clinton, who is famously workaholic, is making good on a 2011 promise to herself to slow down after 20 years of being on the high wire of American politics. Over the last two decades, Clinton has worked full tilt as First Lady, New York senator, aspiring presidential candidate and finally the top US diplomat

Kerry has tried to mend the Obama administration’s frayed relationship with Pakistan. Reuters

Clinton has worked hard to transform US diplomacy on the nuts-and-coffee level and has dealt with foreign upheaval not seen since the fall of the Soviet Union. Clinton’s signature initiative as America’s top diplomat is what has become known as the Obama administration’s “pivot to Asia.”

America’s Asia pivot, which entails strengthening of strategic, economic and security ties in the Asia-pacific region, comes as China has unsettled its neighbours by renewed tensions over competing sovereignty claims in the South China Sea and with the expansion of its navy and improvements in missile capabilities.

While the US was bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, China had the headroom to expand its influence in the region with allies like North Korea, Pakistan, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. Rising China has spurred Clinton to consolidate America’s ties with regional powers like India, Japan, Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines in a policy pivot towards Asia.

There are many reasons Clinton will be missed, not the least because she maturely accepted that India and the US will not see eye-to-eye on all issues, nor will their interests always concur. Yet, she has always been a good friend to India and ensured the relationship is not cantankerous.

According to Indian diplomats, Clinton understood the glue that bound India and Iran which other Washington elites found so hard to fathom! She managed to tamp down unnecessary concern in Washington about India’s proximity to Iran. Instead of being an alarmist she saw India’s traditional ties with Iran as part of India’s smart eco-diplomacy.

In fact in October last year, Clinton gave a major address, where she urged Washington to learn from India and Brazil and make its economic interests central to its foreign policy to remain a global leader.

The US has already displayed a willingness to operate unilaterally in Pakistan, as with the raid that killed Osama bin Laden and the attacks by
Drones against Haqqani network leaders. Clinton has consistently prodded Pakistan on terrorist havens and stuck to delivering a tough message. She has been against giving Pakistan any “blank check.”

In May this year, Pakistan went into a full-blown sulk after Clinton stood next to India’s former external affairs minister S.M Krishna and pressed Pakistan to do more to stamp out homegrown terrorism. They were livid at her charge that Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri is hiding in Pakistan (Osama bin Laden style). The symbolism of Clinton’s stay at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai, the site of the vicious terrorist attack, was also not lost on multiple audiences in India.

Other than pointedly using Clinton’s India visit to berate Pakistan, the Americans withheld between $1.18 billion and $3 billion of promised military aid — the exact figure depending on which side is speaking.

India could draw comfort from the fact that the Obama administration would not allow US weapons sales and other military aid to Pakistan until Clinton certified that Pakistan's military was working to undermine al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Sadly, Clinton’s replacement, Senator Kerry has a completely different attitude towards Pakistan.

Backed by Kerry, US aid to Pakistan is already flowing. The Obama administration has reportedly sent to the Congress on December 7, Pakistan's tab for a $688 million payment that constitutes Islamabad's bill for deploying its troops and providing infrastructural support to the US in its war in Afghanistan.

“Pakistan has powerful supporters in Washington who have pressed for ladling out US tax dollars in the belief that America needs to remain invested in the country, none more than Senator John Kerry, President Obama's putative secretary of state,” reported the Times of India on December 19.

In 2009, Kerry was the co-author of the so-called Kerry-Lugar-Berman law which authorized a five-year $7.5 billion payout to Pakistan subject to a slew of conditions.

Kerry has tried to mend the Obama administration’s frayed relationship with Pakistan. Most notably, he traveled to Pakistan after relations had been set back by a series of incidents, including the raid that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

During Clinton’s tenure, the secretary found ways to reach an agreement with India on the vexed issue of end-user agreements on weapons sales. Now two major American aerospace firms, Lockheed Martin and Boeing, will be able to compete with European suppliers without any hindrance.

In a related vein, the US, after lengthy negotiations, will now also permit India's space program to purchase and use key American components in its launches. This agreement reached by Clinton removes yet another barrier to critical technology transfers. Access to such technologies could give India's civilian and military space efforts a significant boost.

Clinton has previously denied that she will pursue another run at the presidency in 2016 though not all her supporters are convinced or ready to let her to go.

Clinton’s punishing pace over the last four years has made her the most traveled secretary of state in US history. Since becoming secretary of state in 2009, America’s rock-star diplomat has logged over 351 days on the road, traveled to more than 110 countries and flown in excess of 843,839 miles in her Boeing 757.

Updated Date: Dec 22, 2012 11:16 AM

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