The end of the Cold War in 1990s left the United States as the lone super power. This new reality brought a reappraisal of the Indo-US relations. New opportunities came up to bring India and US close.
Military-military contacts commenced; American investments started pouring in; and Indian skilled professionals in communication and information technology projected India to US in a positive light.
President Clinton paid a hugely successful visit to India in 2000. On political front terrorism, non-prolification have been major issues. One of the turning points of Indo-US relations in recent years was the American role in the Kargil crisis in 1999.
India viewed President Bill J Clinton’s role during the 1999 Kargil crisis in persuading Pakistan to withdraw its troops from the Indian side of the Line of Control (LOC) in Kashmir as an important milestone.
India tried to impress the importance of fighting the menace of terrorism, by highlighting Pakistan’s role in Jammu and Kashmir. But the United States did not show much interest in acting against terrorism till the US cities (New York and Washington) were struck in a big way on 11th September 2001. India offered full cooperation to the US in counter terrorism compaign.
However our plea to US that Pakistan’s support to Taliban in Afghanistan, and Jehadists in Kashmir made it the ‘epicentre’ of international terrorism fell on deaf ears.
The US needed Pakistan more than India to contact Al-Qaeda terrorists. So US distinguished ‘good’ terrorists and bad terrorists. They extended sympathy when terrorists attacted Kashmir Assembly and India’s Parliament in October and December 2001 respectively.
Anxious to enlist allies in the war against terrorism, USA reverted to Cold War partnership with Pakistan. Once highly critical of the military regime in Pakistan run by General Pervez Musharraf, Washington now welcomed Musharraf as a full-fledged partner in the international coalition against terrorism.
The Bush administration lifted the sanctions against Pakistan, pledged to provide generous assistance and gave the Musharraf government a legitimacy it had never before enjoyed.
India legitimately feared that Washington would tilt toward Islamabad once more. USA was alarmed that events might go out of control. To show New Delhi that it took seriously India’s accusations about Pakistan’s collusion in these attacks, the administration of President George Bush placed the two Pakistan-based groups, India thought responsible for the attacks on the US list of terrorist organizations.
While not publicly accepting India’s claim that the Pakistani government itself was involved in terrorist activities, Washington’s words and actions clearly implied that Islamabad could and must do more to crack down on terrorism.
US besides countries like Canada, helped India established nuclear power stations in 1963. But the cooperation came under a cloud in 1970s, because of India’s peaceful nuclear explosion at Pokhran in 1974 and India’s refusal to sign nuclear non-prolification treaty.
In 1978, the US Congress passed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act in 1978. This law stipulated that uranium could be exported to those countries which allow all their nuclear plants to be inspected and safeguarded by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
It must not be forgotten that non-proliferation has been a steadfast goal of the US. And major differences between the two countries over nuclear issues persisted. The US hoped that India would sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) of 1996, but India did not.
When it detonated five nuclear bombs in May 1998 again at Pokhran and declared itself a nuclear weapons state, the US imposed military and economic sanctions.
Bilateral relations seemed to have reached a new low, but India stood its ground. For two years, a number of discussions between Jaswant Singh, then Foreign Minister of India and Strobe Talbott, the US deputy secretary of state were held.
Not since the early 1960s had the two countries engaged each other in such a serious and sustained fashion. These discussions transformed the bilateral relationship to a large extent. In 1999 US Congress lifted some of the sanctions against India.
This was the first among many such subsequent instances of easing of sanctions by Congress. Recently, there is a growing awareness in the US to recognize India as a responsible country with nuclear weapons.
With India opening up its economy in the 1990s, investment by American companies rather than the aid came to be looked up as more important. The role of the young Indians in the Information Technology (IT), i.e. computer hardware and software industry added a new dimension to the trade between India and the US.
Further, those IT professionals who settled down in the US became the most successful single ethnic group there. They helped create a different image of India in America.