Monday, 26 January 2015

Obama in India, editorial Daily Times

Obama in India, editorial Daily Times
27 January 2015
The much hyped US President Barack Obama’s visit to India on Prime Minister’s Narendra Modi’s invitation has yielded breakthroughs in some stalled areas, iterations of intent in others and some unspoken but important implications vis-à-vis Pakistan’s role in the region and Islamabad’s relationship with New Delhi.

First and foremost, the roadblocks in the path of finalisation of the 2008 civil nuclear trade deal have been overcome. Two in particular were jamming the works in this regard. Both sides made concessions, the US by giving up its demand to track nuclear materials supplied to see where they are used and where they end up finally, India in no longer insisting on nuclear suppliers’ liability in case something goes wrong.

The former should be seen in the backdrop of India’s diversion of civil nuclear materials in the past to build a bomb, sparking off the nuclear arms race in the subcontinent. Whatever assurances were forthcoming in this regard seem to have satisfied Washington.

Of course the development will displease Pakistan, being seen as discriminatory. Obama committed during discussions with Modi to support India’s bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council (UNSC). Without denying the need for reform of the UNSC, India becoming a permanent member will permanently put paid to any resolution of the Kashmir issue, since India will then be in a position to veto any attempt to raise it in the UNSC.

India and the US have voiced their hopes for an enduring strategic partnership, a development that will put the final seal on India’s abandonment of its traditional non-aligned status. The development obviously carries implications for Pakistan too, not the least whether US willingness to supply weapons and allow some defence equipment to be manufactured in India will tip the strategic balance in South Asia in favour of New Delhi.
Like the elephant in the room, there were either no references or only passing ones to Pakistan in the joint statement. The non-reference was in relation to the US and India’s intent to expand connectivity, maritime, air and overland, in the region, including Central Asia. The last, to be reached overland, the only affordable option, implies transit through Pakistan, which may still be some distance away given that Pakistan-India frictions have so far not allowed Kabul’s desired transit trade with India through Pakistan.
The only way Washington and New Delhi can achieve their heart’s desire vis-à-vis Central Asia is if Pakistan is on board, and that implies at the very least the restart of the dialogue between Pakistan and India. Desirable as such a restart is, and historically necessary, it is crucially dependent on Pakistan being able to satisfy both Washington and New Delhi regarding past (Mumbai 2008), present (conflict on the LoC), and future (proxy jihadi groups operating in Afghanistan and Kashmir) activities of terrorist groups from Pakistan’s soil.

While acknowledging and encouraging recent developments of Pakistan showing intent to take on all hues of terrorists on its soil without discrimination, the dead weight of past suspicion will take consistency and constancy to be finally cleared. Therein lies the key to Pakistan’s own future, its ties with neighbours in the region and further away, and its reaping the dividend of peace and stability through connectivity, trade and investment that could prove a transformatory development for Pakistan, the region and the world, not to mention normalising relations and ushering in cooperation across the board with India. But there may still be miles to go before all this can be taken for granted.

One indicator of present realities as opposed to dreams of a better future is the visit of COAS General Raheel Sharif to China at the exact moment Obama and Modi were hugging each other in New Delhi. Ordinarily such a visit might not have raised any eyebrows. Nor did the statements from Beijing go beyond the familiar ritual of solidarity, friendship and mutual support. However, it is the timing that could be intended as a message to Washington that its attempts to get cosier with New Delhi could be offset by Islamabad’s enhanced reliance on, and support from, Beijing.

Whether this is a correct interpretation or not, the fact remains that the US sees India with an eye to close cooperation across the board for the future, while viewing Pakistan with a jaundiced eye to the past. Pakistan’s paralysed diplomacy is reduced to platitudes about US influence persuading India to return to dialogue. Beyond that, Islamabad appears to have no strategy to cope with the fast changing dynamic of relations between the US and India. *

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