December 21, 2013 | Commentary on United States Of America, India, National Security and Defense

Time to arrest downward spiral: US must say sorry and India cut rhetoric

US Secretary of State John Kerry's expression of regret over the US arrest of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade is not enough to get relations back on an even keel.

For the sake of the partnership, which Secretary Kerry himself has referred to as one of the most important for the US in the twenty-first century, the US must apologize for the manner in which Khobragade was treated during her arrest and incarceration in a New York City jail.

The details of Devyani's arrest have infuriated Indians nationwide. The incident has tapped into an underlying, yet powerful, sense among Indians of being taken for granted and disrespected by the US.
It's as if the last ten years of conscious trust building between the two nations—most notably through the historic civil nuclear deal but also in their growing economic and defense ties—has taken a back seat to this diplomatic dispute.

Washington has been surprised by the revival of this "trust deficit" and especially with the notion expressed by some Indian s that the US is intentionally trying to humiliate India.

To the contrary, Americans view India as a new friend and partner that is poised to play an important role in Asia and beyond. The US loses nothing by issuing a formal apology for Khobragade's treatment.

It's a mystery why Washington has not already done so. There would almost certainly be broad political support among Democrats and Republicans alike on Capitol Hill for making such an apology in order to restore relations.

The US should acknowledge that it made a mistake in not according Khobragade the appropriate treatment due a diplomat.

This might not resolve the issue altogether, since India also is demanding the charges be dropped, but it would go a long way in helping assuage Indian sentiment.

There are still several unanswered questions surrounding the case. The Indian government has hinted that the maid, Sangeeta Richard, with help from American lawyers, is gaming the US visa system to gain asylum for herself and her family in the US.

The lawyer for the maid, on the other hand, holds that Richard was mistreated by Khobragade and is portraying the issue as a human trafficking case. The facts will undoubtedly emerge as the case moves through the US court system.

For its part, India needs to cool down the rhetoric and restore security barriers at the US Embassy. Many Indians, while upset about the Khobragade affair, view the removal of the security barricades as a petty and unnecessary step. The security threat to the US Embassy and other US facilities is real.

One of the problems is that India is in the middle of a heated election season and the Opposition BJP has already blamed the Manmohan Singh government for having a weak foreign policy that has led other countries to take India for granted.

With important regional challenges looming like Afghanistan and China, India and the US cannot afford to let the issue sour relations for much longer.

Let's hope peace and goodwill will be restored between Washington and New Delhi - just in time for the Christmas holiday.

 - Lisa Curtis is a Senior Research Fellow at The Heritage Foundation

About the Author

Lisa Curtis Senior Research Fellow
Asian Studies Center

Originally published by The Economic Times