Will the Mumbai attack remind the West that India is our ally?

Somehow, in the debate over globalization and geopolitical strategy, India has been a sort of bastard step-child. Due to understandable economic concerns — China holds much of our debt, produces much of our consumer goods, and has had eye-popping foreign direct investment driven growth — our focus has been on China.

Yet India’s population is still growing, its universities are first tier, and it is integrated into the West intellectually, psychologically, scientifically, among others, like no other Asian county. Part of this is because they speak the lingua franca of the West, English. I am not going to argue that China is in strategic decline, but rather that if we had to pick a friend in Asia, India may be a more natural friend.

Now. The Telegraph has described the attacks as “aimed at Western targets”. USA Today offers the headline, “Attack forces India onto front lines of global war on terror.” (undoubtedly, the Indian government would be displeased with the words, but perhaps not the framing?) Meanwhile everyone is saying that these attacks were too complicated and sophisticated to have been executed by native-Indian terrorists.

Members of the European Parliament were in the hotels and undoubtedly put a more local face on the attacks in Europe, including a Muslim Tory MEP. So a Brit, a German (and one of the leading Atlanticists of the European Left), and a Pole can now be witnesses both within European institutions and within their national institutions on the importance of the relationship with India.

It seems that this attack offers an opportunity for the US and Europe to step up and engage with India. This framing could be helpful in a number of ways. They have credibility in the non-Western world that we could not match as a developing Asian state and a former colony. The attacks on the West simply do not apply to them. We have resources and assets that they cannot match. And we share similar values and see common strategic opponents.

Now is the time for Barack Obama to step up. Engage the Indians and exploit Obama’s personal capital, especially with the Muslim world. Obama, Manmohan Singh, Japan, and EU leaders. There are tremendous opportunities here. Let’s grab them.