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The main thrust of Obama’s discovery of India was his acclamation of its unique democratic roots. He saw this for what it is, a truly incredible example, warts and all, of freedom with unity in diversity for a fifth of mankind, at a time when France has banned the burqa and Switzerland minarets

Forging A New Relationship

Now that the dust has settled, Obama’s visit can be properly adjudged a success. Now as the two democracies move forward, why re-hyphenate Pakistan?

By B G Verghese

Deccan Herald, 14 November, 2010

Now that the dust has settled, Obama’s visit can be properly adjudged a success. As usual, a section of the press and commentators, the BJP and Left came to dire conclusions before the event and made a strategic retreat as events unfolded. It is astonishing how gullible and chauvinistic some channels and opinion makers can be while remaining unabashed despite getting it wrong every time. India has not sold out to anybody and a new and constructive Indo-US engagement is in the process of being forged. Hurdles remain, as they will among friends and democracies. But they do not undermine the basic bonds that are strengthening.

Obama did not appear a weakened President despite his mid-term Congressional reverses while Manmohan Singh said what he needed to say with quiet and convincing dignity. The President estimated the $10 billion agreements signed would create 54,000 jobs in the US. The economic and technological relationships now evolving between the two countries are mutually beneficial and no strategic relationship will be to India’s disadvantage. One message that has come through clearly is that both sides know they need the other and should not permit ancient divides to cloud their future partnership, though tough bargaining remains on the cards.

It is disconcerting that Indian commentators made so much of what Obama said or did not say about Pakistan and its being a safe haven for terrorism. The very fact that he stayed at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai, laid flowers at the 26/11 memorial with families of some of its victims gathered around and said that those responsible for the carnage must be brought to justice and their safe havens in Pakistan denied, was eloquent enough. In turn India made known its disappointment at the delayed and limited collaboration earlier manifest regarding Headley, a double US-Pakistan jihadi agent.

It is demeaning that India looks for a US gift of a permanent seat in the Security Council. Obama endorsed that but suggested that India speak up on human rights violations in Burma, where fake elections have just been held, and on Iran. The snub was misplaced. Washington has been pusillanimous where its geo-political interests are involved. Chevron has stakes in Myanmar’s Yadana offshore gasfield despite sanctions. On Iran, India got the US to commit itself to “continued diplomacy” (not regime change) while its quiet advice to the junta in Burma has always been to move towards democratic freedoms.

The main thrust of Obama’s discovery of India was his acclamation of its unique democratic roots. He saw this for what it is, a truly incredible example, warts and all, of freedom with unity in diversity for a fifth of mankind, at a time when France has banned the burqa and Switzerland minarets, and Angela Merkel says multiculturalism has failed in Germany. He spoke of partnering India in rebuilding Afghanistan and of strategic consultations with India on East Asia, and the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

On J&K, Obama made the obvious point that a stable and prosperous Pakistan is in India’s highest interest, and that the US will only intervene if asked by both sides. However, some Indians constantly re-hyphenate India with Pakistan. The real damage to national interest comes from the Government’s extraordinary inability to state the Indian case factually and forcefully rather than merely respond to Pakistan’s negative founding ideology of being India’s “other”. Its consequent compulsion to “defend” Islam against perceived “Hindu imperialism” (read Kashmir) has created and sustained the military-mullah complex that holds its people in thrall.

The US has for 60 years armed Pakistan to the teeth, underwritten its economy and allowed it to acquire nuclear weapons and blackmail the world, mistakenly upholding its frontline ally – currently to secure Afghanistan and fight terror – though aware of its devious conduct in using terror and jihad as instruments of state policy. American policy has underwritten state power in Pakistan’s military and enabled it to suppress democracy. This is grim irony. The Kerry-Lugar Act, designed to hold Islamabad to its pledge to devote the many billion of dollars of military assistance it is giving to fight al Qaeda and Taliban terror, has been a dead letter. But Washington is up a gum tree and refuses to get down while Islamabad waits for the Americans to quit before taking over a client Afghanistan.

US militarization of Pakistan has dried the roots of incipient democracy in that unhappy country. Its misguided and muddled AfPak policy, of which Bob Woodward writes, has become part of the problem rather than the solution. Washington’s fear is that if it stops supporting the Pakistan military’s extra-curricular activities, the al Qaeda-Taliban and other jihadis will take over a failing state and access its nuclear wherewithal. The answer is to make a sufficiency of US economic and military aid strictly conditional on monitored performance and to support policies that regionalize the war on terror in AfPak. If Pakistan walks away, the threat of imminent economic collapse will bring the military to heel despite Chinese and Saudi assistance even as it institutionally strengthens the civil regime.

Pakistan has a stake in Afghanistan and needs a secure though soft border along the Durand Line. But Afghanistan must be enabled to remain neutral and not pressured to submit to Islamabad’s hegemony. India has no designs on Afghanistan and would readily support such a regime in cooperation with Pakistan and Iran.

Regionalisation of the AfPak war has hitherto failed because of Washington’s visceral hostility towards Iran and its consistent bias against the Arabs in Palestine despite Obama’s latest broadside against Israel’s West Bank-East Jerusalem settlement policy even amidst peace talks. Despite Obama’s reaching out to the Islamic world, Washington remains mired in a flawed West Asian policy with few knowing what to expect in Iraq.

These are the holes of its own making from which the US must dig itself out. The new Indo-US partnership lays a basis for mutual cooperation between Delhi and Washington to achieve peace and stability in this critical region and allow a democratic Pakistan to come into its own.

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