While Pakistan’s federal government mulls over its future internal and external policies, it is important for it to thoroughly know what is happening in its neighbourhood and how leading powers of the day, especially USA, view and work in this part of the world. In this context, not much notice has been taken in Pakistan of US Vice President Joe Biden’s recent four-day visit to India.

It is pertinent to note that Biden’s visit follows Kerry’s sojourn to India in June and is expected to be followed by Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s six-day state visit to Washington in September. One may recall that the US Secretary of State was to visit Pakistan too in June. He, however, did not come. Then he was expected to come by the end of July. But the latest is that he may not visit Islamabad this month.

Following Kerry’s precedence, Biden spoke about the purpose and issues relating to his visit before leaving Washington. In an interview to the media, he made the following points:

k    Washington is keen to expand India-US relations.

k    India’s “Look-East” policy is complementary to America’s “rebalancing towards Asia”.

k    We can look at ways to meet India’s energy demands, both by cooperating on clean energy research and civil nuclear power.

k    Our security and counter-terrorism cooperation is vitally important.

k    We strongly support the role India has played in Afghanistan, leveraging its economic strength to improve Afghanistan's economy - for example, India has provided more than $2 billion in development assistance, and billions more in private sector investment in projects that will help to ensure our common goal of a stable and prosperous future for the Afghan people.

k    The US Senate is presently discussing a bill, which will result in increasing the number of visas for Indian high-tech workers employed by Indian out-sources industry working for US clients on site.

k    The US and India cooperate on a wide range of economic, security and regional issues. USA has welcomed India's emergence and both nations have profited from it - annual trade is five times larger than it was in 2000, on track for $100 billion this year.

k    On US-Pakistan relations: Washington looks forward to working with the Pakistani government on a shared agenda - that includes countering-terrorism, holding accountable those responsible for terrorist attacks, supporting Pakistan's economic growth and maintaining close consultations on a range of regional issues, including a secure and peaceful future for Afghanistan. As Prime Minister Sharif has said, we will seek to expand our areas of convergence and narrow areas of divergence.

Also, there were comments in the Indian press reflecting the country’s expectations from Biden’s visit. As a sample here are a few excerpts from Raja Mohan’s column in the Indian Express:

k    First, renew the political vows…….the initial vision that drove the partnership has been lost with bureaucracies on both sides slowing the momentum.

k    Second, remember the shared long-term interests. New Delhi and Washington need each other a lot more today than a decade ago, whether it is in accelerating economic growth or promoting national security. America's unipolar moment has passed, and the expectations about India's rapid economic growth have dimmed.

k    Third, finish what you started. The time has come for the political leadership in both capitals to emphasise the importance of completing the ambitious agenda unveiled in 2005. New Delhi and Washington must quickly iron out the remaining wrinkles in the implementation of the civil nuclear initiative, facilitate commercial agreements between American vendors and Indian operators, and intensify the effort to complete India's integration into the global order. On the defence front, Washington must keep its word on liberalising technology transfer. In turn, New Delhi must make it easier for US defence and high technology companies to invest in India.

k    Fourth, don't be too transactional…....New Delhi and Washington cannot allow the India-US partnership to become a nickel and dime operation…....forgetting the big picture.

k    Five, intensify strategic cooperation in Asia…....both India and the USA want a secure Afghanistan and moderate Pakistan, but their approaches are not always in sync.

As articulated in the New York Times report, during the last few years US companies have been complaining about problems faced by them in dealing with the Indian government and its private sector: “The problem that companies confront here - endemic corruption, shifting government rules and poor infrastructure, among others -seemed less dire when the Indian company was growing at a blistering rate. But growth has slowed to five percent over the past year, and those issues have become for greater irritants.”

As Sadanand Dhume, writing in the Wall Street Journal, has remarked that the American business had to deal with an obstreperous bureaucracy, grasping politicians and regulatory systems that sometimes appear designed more to enhance opportunities for graft than to encourage productive long-term investments?

Biden after meeting with India’s political leadership discussed the trade and investment problems with Indian businessmen in Mumbai. He did not mince words while referring to these issues and addressing the City Stock Exchange. There were obstacles, he said, to friendly business environment in India. These were the lack of protection for intellectual property, inconsistent tax rules, high barriers to market entry and protectionist policies. He called for a trade and investment partnership that was open and fair to both countries and pushed for an improved bilateral trade agreement.

While the trade and related relations between USA and India have hit a rough patch mostly, according to reports, because of the deficiencies and malpractices in India, Washington is determined to boost India’s role in the region and in its plans for the Pacific Pivot, aimed at, inter alia, containing China.

Washington also keeps dangling before New Delhi the prospect of a Security Council permanent seat for India. It certainly wishes New Delhi to continue extending its role in Afghanistan. Needless to say, President Hamid Karzai has been won over. He has already taken crucial steps to forge close ties with India by entering into its strategic partnership agreement. Under this agreement, besides other concessions and facilities, the Indian army has been engaged to train the Afghan military officers. Part of the reason why Karzai brazenly remains antagonistic towards Pakistan is the ready support and advice he keeps receiving from New Delhi.

Pakistan has to be astutely circumspect in its dealings with USA, India and Afghanistan, particularly keeping in view the India-US partnership. Islamabad’s foreign policy, indeed, will remain flawed unless various dimensions of these relationships are continually factored in its strategic thinking and planning.

The writer is former foreign secretary,  ex-chairman of the first National Commission for Literacy and Mass Education in Pakistan and currently heads PACADE, which is the national NGO for literacy and continuing education.