x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

US-India relations matter to the world

Mr Obama may not please everyone but he should recognise that while India is key to US investment - and can help create US jobs - the same calculus makes sense for New Delhi.

The US president Barack Obama's visit to India this week has brought overdue attention to the bonds between the world's most populous democracy and its most prosperous. It has also highlighted a less understood truth: common interests don't always breed common ground.
As Mr Obama's Indian counterparts will no doubt remind him, nagging difficulties plague this important relationship. How they are addressed during this visit and beyond will prove critical to the shape of the next century. Both India and the United States see trade as a logical place to strengthen bonds. As an adviser to the US president told journalists last month, Asia is "fundamental to our export initiative", and "India is a cornerstone of our broader Asia approach".
Mr Obama has chosen to steer clear of Bangalore, where Indian software workers are likely to disagree with an American decision to restrict visas for tech professionals. But Mr Obama should recognise that while India is key to US investment - and can help create US jobs - the same calculus makes sense for New Delhi.
Security concerns will prove more challenging for the two countries. US military leaders had hoped Mr Obama would cajole India to cool its historic tensions with Pakistan. While Mr Obama is not expected to push his New Delhi counterparts too hard or in public on this front, he can urge restraint. Arming Indian troops along the Pakistani border not only ratchets up regional tensions, it also distracts Islamabad from the much more immediate issue of tackling militancy inside Pakistan's borders, which in turn spills into Afghanistan.
Mr Obama is still learning how to navigate this critical relationship, where symbolism and subtlety are as important as substance. Many Indians recall the Bush administration with fondness, whereas mistakes early on in the Obama presidency - vowing to push for peace in Kashmir, for one, which is read as interference - strained ties.
As Mr Obama tours Mumbai this weekend, he won't be able to please everyone, and India and the United States will continue to differ on issues as diverse as climate change, trade, and how to end the war in Afghanistan. But Mr Obama can improve the odds of restoring a substantive relationship, first by expanding commercial ties, and then by exploring broader areas of engagement. Repairing the relationship's obstacles can become opportunities for growth.