The US decision to supply the top-of- the-model F-18 aircraft to India, with a license to manufacture in India, civilian nuclear energy and cooperation in the field of space technology could not have been made on the basis of any military calculations, but for strategic reasons.
Defence analyst Uday Bhaskar says, the US decision "is a positive development" in the long run, and India "should not be carried away" by the Bush administration's decision to arm Pakistan with F-16s.
Military and strategic relations between the two nations saw an upswing after strained relations following India going nuclear in May 1998. The American sanctions against India at best could have had some salutary impact, but India managed to pull out, owing to its inherent economic strength.
Washington had to ease its own sanctions and repair relations, which began with a visit by the then President Bill Clinton in March 2000 followed by lifting of sanctions on purchases of high- tech military hardware. The decision to lift sanctions on high- tech equipment could have been driven more by compulsions from domestic armament industry and to break into a forte which until now was served by India's cold war ally Russia.
The military inventory in India had all through been procured from Russia and there have been historical reasons for it. New Delhi was more concerned about the reliability quotient than any other factor. In fact the Su-30 fighters India has procured from Russia is generally regarded as technologically superior to-of- the-line aircraft. During Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's visit to Delhi on March 16, she had impressed upon Indian leaders that the US wishes to be "a reliable defence partner with India".
Bush Administration has matched its decision to sell F-16 fighter crafts to Pakistan, which was stalled due to Islamabad's nuke programme, with an offer to sell a similar or more advanced plane for India to balance the power equation in the Indian subcontinent. The US has now conveyed that it has also approved participation of US defense companies in the bidding for "Multi Role Combat Aircraft" in India.
The offer of civilian nuclear energy, which was made during the visit of the Secretary Rice, seems to be driven by the US reservation for India-Iran gas project. New Delhi has welcomed the decision describing that it "reflects an understanding of India's growing energy requirements. However, the parameters of the offer are still not clear.
India's current technological needs are taken care of by Russia, which is supplying four nuclear power reactors for the Koodankulam Atomic Power Project in Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu.
"We expect further substantive discussion within the ambit of the Indo-US Energy Dialogue, which is proposed to be set up shortly," said Navtej Sarna, Spokesman of the External Affairs Ministry in New Delhi at a past-midnight briefing last night.
Uday Bhaskar said the US responses to the broad range of issues discussed with Secretary Rice by Indian interlocutors indicate that the Bush 2 team is determined to take forward the content in the bi-lateral relationship that had been hinted at in the first term of the Bush administration.
He said there is a deeper strategic underpinning between the two countries notwithstanding the divergences that were expressed over issues such as Iran and the sale of F-16 aircraft to Pakistan.
"Whether it is the fundamental support to equitable democracy as a principle or the need to manage the emerging nuclear challenges and find a modus vivendi to the energy domain, there is a shared interest that binds India and the USA" said Bhaskar.