John Kerry always backed a 'central role' for India
By Arun Kumar, Washington, Feb 2 : As Hillary Clinton passed on the baton of America's top diplomat to John Kerry, a question was raised whether his supposed soft corner for Pakistan should be a cause for worry to New Delhi?
Much has been made out of his remarks during his confirmation hearings when he declined to make US aid to Islamabad conditional to the release of Pakistani doctor Shakil Afridi, who helped find Osama bin Laden.
Pakistan has not gotten "credit sufficiently for the fact that they were helpful (in getting bin Laden)," Kerry had argued before taking over as secretary of state, suggesting that "it was their permissiveness in allowing our people to be there that helped us to be able to tie the knots."
Kerry said he intends to raise the issue with Islamabad, but thought it would be unwise to cut assistance given Pakistan's importance as a supply route to Afghanistan particularly after the intended US withdrawal in 2014.
"I am not going to recommend, nor do I think it is wise, for American policy to just cut our assistance. We need to build our relationship with the Pakistanis, not diminish it," he said.
On the other hand, no questions were raised in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about India, reflecting the bipartisan consensus about strengthening ties with New Delhi across administrations, Republican or Democratic.
Back in February, at the confirmation hearings for current US Ambassador to India Nancy Powell, the long time senator from Massachusetts and 2004 Democratic presidential nominee had advocated a "central role" for India in international affairs.
Kerry, who had chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee since 2009 after Joe Biden became the vice president, described India-US ties as "without doubt one of the most significant partnerships in US foreign policy.
"There are fewer relationships that will be as vital in the 21st century as our growing ties with India and its people," he said echoing President Barack Obama, who has famously described India-US ties as "one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century."
"On all of the most critical global challenges that we face, India really has a central role to play. And that means that Washington is going to be looking to New Delhi not only for cooperation, but increasingly for innovation, for regional leadership," he then said.
"India's growing significance has been clear to many of us for some time now," said Kerry who has been to India many times since the 1990s when he took one of the first business trade missions to India right after its economic reforms.
Kerry, who has been a senator since 1984, was also a strong supporter of Obama's endorsement of India to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
In any case, Kerry in his new assignment is unlikely to take any initiative outside the White House's bidding.
As an opinion piece in the New York Times noted "As chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee during Mr. Obama's first term, Mr. Kerry was a loyal ally of the White House."
With India being a "big part" of Obama's plans in his second term, as he told Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the East Asia summit in Cambodia, New Delhi has little cause to worry from the new man in the hot seat at the State Department.
(Arun Kumar can be contacted at email@example.com)