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Are India-US relations turning sour over F-16 deal, Russian oil purchase?

China, however, is pushing both the countries together


External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar during his ten-day visit to the US in late September said the ties between the two countries are “in good place''. His counterpart, the secretary of state, Antony Blinken said the partnership is “simply one of the most consequential in the world”. Despite these endorsements, there are suggestions that the spark is certainly a little less intense. 

So, is the honeymoon between India and America over? Jaishankar's trip may have been a chance to stress the importance of the relationship, but the US's assistance to the F-16s to Pakistan is certainly a sore point with India. And India buying oil from Russia is a “sensitive'' point for America.

“It is a sensitive point,'' asserted Tim Roemer, former US member of Congress and former US ambassador to India, speaking at the ML Sondhi Institute for Asia Pacific Affairs and Kalinga International Foundation panel discussion in Delhi on “US Mid-term elections and their impact on India-US relations''. He, however, added the “health of the relationship is in managing the differences.''

This is not the first time that India and the US have not seen eye-to-eye on various issues. “I hope the question we ask is how do we work in the long term and help India's transition to a cleaner vibrant democratic economy,'' he said. Russia is an area where the two countries have not been on the same page. But with the Ukraine war—and the US's engagement—this tussle is only likely to become more fraught. Especially because the public opinion in America is unsympathetic to India's stance on buying cheaper oil from Russia, even though Jaishankar claimed the oil prices were breaking India's back. 

“All politics is now national,'' Roemer said.

India, however, is equally sensitive about Pakistan. And the continued US assistance of 450 million dollars to Pakistan on the F16s has certainly led to much heartburn in India. While Blinken insisted that the assistance was to bolster “its capability to deal with terrorist threats emanating from Pakistan for the region”, Jaishankar chose to call it out. In a private function with Indian diaspora, the external affairs minister said, “You’re not fooling anybody by saying these things,” referring to the F-16 assistance package being given to Pakistan ostensibly for counter-terrorism reasons. 

What helps bolster India's argument was that President Joe Biden, at a recent function, referred to Pakistan as “one of the most dangerous nations in the world”, citing the country’s nuclear weapons arsenal, which is “without any cohesion”.

So, what message does it send to India? “I think it is in India's interest that the US keeps checking in to Pakistan,'' he said. 

The two countries agreeing to disagree on various points, however, was possibly an indication of the strength of the relationship, argued Roemer. “China is pushing India and America together,'' he said.


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