Clinton in India

Facing reality: Reasons abound for constructive relations with growing world power.

March 23, 2000

PRESIDENT Clinton's five days in India should cement a new relationship with the world's second-most populous country and largest democracy. It was time for official Washington to see India in a new light.

India's ties to Britain, the colonial power until 1947, recede into history. Its tilt toward Moscow -- and Washington's toward Pakistan -- are now meaningless relics of the Cold War.

India, like China, looms as a great power of the 21st century. It is leaping stages of industrial development. Its not-so-secret strength in the information age is its brain power. Its newest booming exports are software services and professionals working in the United States and Europe.

India remains a massively poor country plagued by high mortality and crushing poverty. This hides the growth of an immense professional middle class. And while developing expensive nuclear weaponry and maintaining cold wars with China and Pakistan, India has remained the Third World's most notable democracy.

The trade deals and environmental cooperation that President Clinton concluded and the tactful chiding he gave the Indian parliament on nuclear weapons help forge the new relationship. They do not involve dropping U.S. interests or tilting toward India on the substance of its dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir.

And despite unhappiness with Pakistan's suppression of democracy and its nuclear weapons, the United States has no business picking that country for an enemy.

Rather, Washington must engage New Delhi constructively, pushing the U.S. view on any disagreements, helping rather than hindering India achieve its destiny.

Mr. Clinton's stay, sandwiched between a day in Bangladesh and a hastily scheduled stopover in Pakistan, is the first presidential visit to India in 22 years and long overdue. The goal of the trip should be to bring Washington's world view into line with world realities. That is the least President Clinton can do for his successor.

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