STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The president of the United States, as his title suggests, is the leader of this country, but in many ways is also the leader of the world. And so we're looking at how other countries see the next four years on this Inauguration Day. India enjoyed strong relations with the Obama administration in its first term, but in a second term, NPR's Julie McCarthy reports, the South Asian giant is concerned about the uncertainty seen in American policy toward China and Afghanistan.
JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: With the Iraq War and the Afghan War entering the endgame, the Obama administration has begun the pivot to Asia.
PRAMIT PAL CHAUDHURI: That's where the bulk of the trade is happening. That's where the bulk of the economic action is happening.
MCCARTHY: Hindustan Times foreign editor, Pramit Pal Chaudhuri.
CHAUDHURI: That's where the bulk of any serious strategic threats or alliances that the U.S. will be looking, like, in the future, are all happening.
MCCARTHY: China's emerging power is at the heart of the U.S. pivot. To promote a stable geopolitical order in the region, the U.S. is facilitating the ascent of friendly Asian powers, such as India. Bharat Karnad with the Center for Policy Research says New Delhi and Washington are driven by the same logic regarding Beijing.
BHARAT KARNAD: Which is that China is just too big to contain, singly. The U.S. can't do it by itself. India, on the other hand, knows it cannot do it by itself. So the idea is to have, actually, allies, or - as the new phrase goes - strategic partners as you can have in order to hedge in China.
MCCARTHY: India has begun shoring up alliances to Japan and Vietnam, the latter allowing India to assert itself into the South China Sea, should its oil exploration interests be threatened. Karnad says the view of many in Asia is that a war-weary United States will have a nuanced approach to Beijing that emphasizes accommodation over confrontation.
KARNAD: You can't expect the U.S. to be the Atlas keeping the entire globe on it shoulders. They are suffering from fatigue. They're going to drop out, They're going to, in a sense, begin vacating that role for the Chinese or whoever else wants to assume it. So the question then is: How reliable is the United States?
MCCARTHY: Unanswered questions about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan are also of great concern to India. As analyst C. Raja Mohan says, it's not clear what the consequences of the pull-out will be.
C. RAJA MOHAN: Whether the Taliban will come back, whether Pakistan will be given any kind of a role in redefining Afghanistan's future.
MCCARTHY: India is also eager to know how many troops the U.S. will leave behind, whether it will continue to support Afghan President Hamid Karzai and - Pramit Pal Chaudhuri says - what of a gambit to invite so-called good Taliban into Kabul?
CHAUDHURI: The Indian side is very skeptical. They believe any Taliban will put Karzai's head on a stick the moment they get a chance. So, again, what do you want to do? And again, the U.S. tacks back and forth quite dramatically.
MCCARTHY: But Washington and New Delhi have developed what Chaudhuri calls intensely close intelligence-sharing to combat a common threat.
CHAUDHURI: All the same terrorist groups that attack us basically attack the United States, or have come to learn to attack the United States. We agreed fundamentally about Pakistan, about the nature of the problem. We disagree on how it should be solved.
MCCARTHY: India jealously guards its strategic autonomy, as the debate to punish Iran over its nuclear program demonstrates. The U.S. pressured countries that buy oil from Tehran - including India - to reduce purchases or face sanctions. India won a reprieve last month for considerably cutting its imports, but also says Iranian oil will continue to be part of India's trade. Julie McCarthy, NPR News, New Delhi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.