OPED Thursday, January 29, 2009
Unlike in the past, Washington and Beijing may be on the same page on Pakistan and could join hands in restoring some kind of order in that country. For New Delhi, this will be a bitter pill to swallow, considering how prickly we have been in the past about the China-Pakistan axis against India. We must, therefore, prepare for ‘change’
The Indian strategic establishment appears to be palpably bewildered at the conflicting signals emanating from Washington, DC, after US President Barack Hussein Obama formally took charge last week. He has lost no time in professing the United States as India’s ‘best friend’ even as the new Administration has made no secret of the fact that it is Pakistan which is America’s real ally in the war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Similarly, tough talk by Mr Obama and his aides about the need to snuff out terrorist bases within Pakistan has also been accompanied by the tripling of US aid to its fragile civilian Government in a blatant carrot-and-stick approach to make friends and influence people in Islamabad.
Some of these inherent contradictions were present even in the previous Bush Administration’s policies towards this region. But they were offset by the close personal chemistry between the last US President and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the manner in which the Bush Administration went out of its way to massage this country’s ego. And this was largely because Mr Bush obsessively pursued a close strategic relationship with India as perhaps his only diplomatic success with the collapse of his foreign policy everywhere particularly Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Clearly, Mr Obama’s priorities are quite different. Determined to withdraw from Iraq and concentrate in winning the battle in Afghanistan, he desperately needs the cooperation of both civilian and military wings of the Pakistani establishment to have even a remote chance of success. India is certainly not one of the principal players in this strategic initiative and not surprisingly has not figured very high up yet on the new US President’s priority list.
As for the dreams so assiduously fuelled by the Bush Administration of a larger role for India in the global arena beyond the narrow confines of the South Asian box, these seem to have vanished overnight not just because of a regime change in Washington but perhaps more because of an uncertain still emerging world order after the economic meltdown. With the free market bubble so dramatically punctured, the economic partnership between India and the United States that was poised to take off after the nuclear deal has lost much of its momentum. There is now also little prospect of the much discussed India-US axis to contain China considering the new compulsion for Beijing and Washington to either swim or sink together in the post-meltdown economic turmoil.
All these developments are hugely depressing to the Indian strategic establishment that had placed almost all its eggs in the American basket. The Manmohan Singh Government is particularly vulnerable to the creeping despondency about Indo-US relations since it had moved so close to the Bush Administration that the concerned interlocutors who were dealing with Washington has little or no feel for the new Government. For instance, the two most important of them, India’s Ambassador to Washington Ronen Sen and National Security Advisor MK Narayanan both appear clueless about what is going on in the minds of Mr Obama and his aides about India and this region.
In some ways, the UPA Government’s thinly veiled bitterness with Mr Obama and his aides is reminiscent of the NDA’s disenchantment with Bush Administration after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States by jihadi terror groups failed to evoke the kind of response the BJP-led Government anticipated. While NDA strategists were initially convinced that Mr Bush’s war on the Islamic world would target Pakistan, they were appalled to find that Islamabad became Washington’s principal ally in the fight to oust the Taliban regime from Afghanistan. It was only after the Taliban was unseated and Mr Bush’s attention moved to Iraq that relations with Pakistan started to sour.
With Afghanistan acquiring prominence once again in US strategy, a similar scenario is being enacted under the Obama Administration. There are sweeping compulsions on the new President to have a close relationship with Pakistan and it is unlikely that he will be distracted from this task by more peripheral concerns. He is likely to get strong backing in this focus on Pakistan from the Pentagon which has a relationship with the military establishment in Islamabad stretching back to more than half a century.
A more Pakistan-centric US foreign policy towards South Asia need not be bad for India. After all, a closer engagement by the Obama Administration with the civilian and military establishments in Pakistan will undoubtedly put far more pressure on the latter to stop terrorist activities directed against India from its territory. At the same time, New Delhi must be prepared for a more lukewarm relationship with Washington if this is conducive for Mr Obama to get some brownie points in Islamabad.
Indian policy makers must also prepare themselves for a bigger role to be played by China in the region. There are indications that unlike in the past Washington and Beijing may be on the same page on Pakistan and could join hands in restoring some kind of order in that country. This will indeed be a bitter pill to swallow considering how prickly we have been in the past about the China-Pakistan axis against India, but there may be little option in the matter.
Unfortunately, such a pragmatic approach would fly in the face of past behaviour by Indian policy and opinion makers. They have had a tendency of swinging from euphoria about India’s burgeoning image in the world to cringing defensive paranoia on problem areas of the country like Kashmir. This has tended to cheapen India’s image in the global arena and trivialise the kind of contribution a nation with so much potential can make in the building of a the emerging world order.
The coming national elections have further complicated matters. With the political contours of the next Government in New Delhi still a matter of speculation, a huge question mark hangs on how India will cope with the many global challenges ahead. By the time the strategic establishment makes up its mind, it may well be too late.
COMMENTS BOARD ::
By sg on 1/29/2009 3:24:15 PM
As much as we would like to get closer to the US admn irrespective with which party is in power, but we seem to get carried away by a few back slapping and good remarks towards India. US will never accept us as equal and thats a fact. We can only be equal when we show strength and power and the determination to carry our resolve to root our terrorist from within us and punish those who are guilty.
Change Indian public fears most....
By Prakash Kanungo on 1/29/2009 12:50:39 PM
We the people of India fear the most...that after next general election we are likely to end up with same bunch of "Jokers"..spineless, trying to outsource foreign policy to USA/ China or even Bosnia..if it can bring real or imagined muslim votes.....indian mind set must change and find some way to get rid off this "congress" culture...
Strategy and India
By R. Viswanathan on 1/29/2009 7:44:42 AM
All this talk of Indian strategy and similar notions appear so unreal. Such things are not our cup of tea.Lofty philosophising, petty bickering and scoring brownie points are our forte. Our mind is only on them, nothing bigger or broader. Otherwise this nation of such vast potential would have become a great power.
By V Mohan on 1/29/2009 2:28:08 AM
Time to say good bye to Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh. Let us see if Baba log will come back as PM and heap more disgrace and dishonors on India that was Bharat. But there is no body to check them. A doddering LK Advani is a pathetic option for India. Is everyone in BJP-RSS in a coma? There is no alternative to an 80+ old man?
India all along a passenger not a driver
By anil on 1/29/2009 1:08:54 AM
India has always been a passenger in somebody else's vehicle - never a driver so it will take some time before there is some noticeable changes - provided it survives the internal "politics" (looked at from an outsider's perspective).
A 'friendship to beware of!
By Leslie White on 1/29/2009 12:51:34 PM
" . . . after US President Barack Hussein Obama formally took charge last week. He has lost no time in professing the United States as India’s ‘best friend’ "
Judging by the 'friendhip' the U.S. has offered to Israel, with such a 'friend' one needs no enemy (one has one who sides with one's enemies).
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