American pie turns sour

Though Obama skipped the public mention of Kashmir , his India visit did not please Indians as much as his predecessors’ visits did. The foreign office is wary about Obama’s ‘increased power comes with increased responsibility’ statement. Iftikhar Gilani reports.

After initial euphoria, a realisation has dawned in the Foreign Office that India cannot allow its policies to be impacted for the support US President Barack Obama extended to India’s claim for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. Soon after Obama’s Air Force one left Delhi airspace, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Roy and other senior colleagues mulled over what they say tricky Obama offerings as he directly asked India to review its policies towards Iran, Myanmar and human rights while stating that “increased power comes with increased responsibility.”

They looked with suspicion at his contention that “speaking up for those who cannot do so for themselves is not interfering in the affairs of other countries; it’s not violating the rights of sovereign nations,” particularly since he chided India for often shying away from issues in Myanmar. During Obama’s speech in the central hall of parliament, MPs had uneasy moments when he harped on gross violation of human rights in Myanmar and sought to be frank to point out that it is the responsibility of the international community to intervene. Many squirmed in their seats, wondering if he can shift from Burma to Kashmir in the next sentence. Though he didn’t, the message had already gone around what he had in mind.

Rejecting that India would change its positions and policies for the sake of UNSC seat, the Foreign Office sources, claiming to speak after a political clearance said, India is not engaged in a bargaining game with the US. “Our positions are propelled by our own national interests, regional, political and social compulsions,” a top official said. Main Opposition Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) had indicated to seek clarification from the government on why it did not react to Obama’s “snub” on India’s silence over problems related to Myanmar and Iran.

Referring to Iran, sources affirmed that India’s position was in tune with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). “While we recognise Iran’s right to develop peaceful nuclear energy, it has international obligations as well. Further Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has made it clear, we don’t want to see other nuclear weapon states in the region,” they said.

Describing Myanmar a more complex issue, they said, the US position was at variance with regional realities. “We have 1600 km border with Myanmar. We have security issues, insurgency in North-Eastern states. We have to deal with whosoever is in power in Myanmar as a close neighbour,” they said. They saw contradiction in Obama telling India in one breath to look east and on other wanting it to isolate the immediate country on the eastern border. Putting it more bluntly, sources said, “India does not want lectures on democracy from anybody,” and sought to remind the US that China is active in that country and that is India’s prime worry.

On Obama’s remarks on Pakistan, the government, however, drew satisfaction that the US administration was now fully sensitive and agreed with Indian view that Pakistan needs to reorient itself and turn away from its “Indian centric approach”. “The US delegation agreed that Pakistan needs to fight against forces within its border inimical to its own survival,” sources privy to negotiations said. They claim that Obama’s message was in tone with what president Bill Clinton had conveyed to Pakistan in March 2000, when he stopped in Islamabad for few hours. The key elements of his televised speech targeted directly to Pakistani public where his statements that borders could not be redrawn through military force and that the US would not interfere in resolving the Kashmir dispute.

Americans, however, stressed on Indians to work for the stability of Pakistan, as whatever goes wrong would affect India as well.  Sources further said that primary emphasis was that India and Pakistan would sort out issues themselves. The prime minister’s approach to deal with Pakistan to start with CBMs, trade and easier issues to make a ground for the resolution of contentious issues was much appreciated by the American delegation, they claimed.
Ace writer on foreign policy issues Shastri Ramachandaran believes that visit falls way short of the Perfect 10 scored by George W Bush and Bill Clinton.

Actually, Obama’s lower scoring underscores normalised relations. When Bill Clinton came 10 years ago, it was a ground-breaking visit: 22 years after that of Jimmy Carter. It marked the end of India being treated as a nuclear untouchable, just a few notches below “rogue states” or “states of concern”; and heralded the normalisation of relations between “two vibrant democracies”. The Bush visit was exceptional for being a single-agenda visit. The civilian nuclear deal between the two countries was the sole big ticket business of that engagement.

While allowing Manmohan Singh have his say on outsourcing and dialogue with Pakistan, Obama did not miss his turn either. Addressing Parliament, he expressed his strong disapproval of India keeping silent over the “suppression” of democracy and human rights at its door step.

Strategic expert Rajiv Nayan describes the visit as laden with both opportunities and future challenges. Although the joint statement mentioned that Indian entities are out of the Entity List (list of companies barred from trading with US private and government companies), thereby giving an impression that all Indian organizations are out of the list, the fact remains that only some have been removed from the list. Several subordinate organizations of the Department of Atomic Energy continue to remain on the Entity List. These are: Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Indira Gandhi Atomic Research Centre, Indian Rare Earths, Nuclear reactors (including power plants) not under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards, fuel reprocessing and enrichment facilities, heavy water production facilities and their ammonia plants. A section of media reported that the Indian government is in touch with its US counterpart to get these organizations removed from the list as well.

In his 38-minute address in the parliament, Obama announced support to UN Security Council permanent seat bringing cheers to Indian lawmakers, however, hedging it with US’s declared policy on UN reforms. He said, “The just and sustainable international order that America seeks includes a United Nations that is efficient, effective, credible and legitimate. That is why I can say today – in the years ahead, I look forward to a reformed UN Security Council that includes India as a permanent member.”

The Security Council is a closed club of just five big powers as permanent member – US, UK, China, France and Russian Federation – with 10 non-permanent members elected by the United Nations General Council for two years. India has been elected to take that position from January 1.

He played safe lest Islamabad be irked to take away the focus of his visit – jobs, jobs and jobs for Americans as he went on to add that “we must also recognise that all of us have an interest in both Afghanistan and Pakistan that is stable, prosperous and democratic—and none more so than India.” He rather went on to justify the United States helping out Pakistan stating that “our strategy to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda and its affiliates has to succeed on both sides of the border (of Afghanistan).”

“That is why we have worked with the Pakistani government to address the threat of terrorist networks in the border region. The Pakistani government increasingly recognises that these networks are not just a threat outside of Pakistan – they are a threat to the Pakistani people, who have suffered greatly at the hands of violent extremists,” he said.

There was nothing on Kashmir except a reiteration of his statement earlier at a joint press conference with Dr Manmohan Singh, “We will continue to welcome dialogue between India and Pakistan, even as we recognise that disputes between your two countries can only be resolved by the people of your two countries.”

Parliamentarians had uneasy moments when Obama harped on gross violation of human rights in Burma and sought to be frank to point out that it is the responsibility of the international community to intervene but India has often avoided these issues. Many lawmakers in the parliament listening to President Obama were uneasy, wondering if he will shift from Burma to Kashmir in the next sentence.

“But speaking up for those who cannot do so for themselves is not interfering in the affairs of other countries. It’s not violating the rights of sovereign nations. It’s staying true to our democratic principles. It’s giving meaning to the human rights that we say are universal.  And it sustains the progress that in Asia and around the world has helped turn dictatorships into democracies and ultimately increased our security in the world.”
Though Obama conceded that “every country will follow its own path as no one nation has a monopoly on wisdom, and no nation should ever try to impose its values on another.” He, however, went on to justify intervention, stating that “when peaceful democratic movements are suppressed – as in Burma – then the democracies of the world cannot remain silent.”

“For it is unacceptable to gun down peaceful protesters and incarcerate political prisoners decade after decade. It is unacceptable to hold the aspirations of an entire people hostage to the greed and paranoia of a bankrupt regime. It is unacceptable to steal an election, as the regime in Burma has done again for all the world to see.”

The US President said this includes responsibility to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and pointed out that since he took office, the United States has reduced the role of nuclear weapons in its national security strategy, and agreed with Russia to reduce the arsenals.  “We have put preventing nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism at the top of our nuclear agenda, and strengthened the cornerstone of the global non-proliferation regime – the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Obama stressed that together the United States and India can pursue the goal of securing the world’s vulnerable nuclear materials. Since India is closer to Iran than most nations, he sought to nudge the Indian leaders to use their influence to dissuade Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

“We can make it clear that even as every nation has the right to peaceful nuclear energy, every nation must also meet its international obligations—and that includes the Islamic Republic of Iran. And together, we can pursue a vision that Indian leaders have espoused since independence—a world without nuclear weapons,” he said.
And, then came his original idea of India and US partner to strengthen the foundations of democratic governance, not only at home but abroad.

“In a new collaboration on open government, our two countries are going to share our experience, identify what works, and develop the next-generation of tools to empower citizens. And in another example of how American and Indian partnership can address global challenges, we’re going to share these innovations with civil society groups and countries around the world.  We’re going to show that democracy, more than any other form of government, delivers for the common man and woman.

“As the world’s two largest democracies, we must also never forget that the price of our own freedom is standing up for the freedom of others.  Indians know this, for it is the story of your nation. Before he ever began his struggle for Indian independence, Gandhi stood up for the rights of Indians in South Africa.”

Obama also dropped hints that the Americans are not going to pull out of Afghanistan completely as he said, “While I have made it clear that American forces will begin the transition to Afghan responsibility next summer, I have also made it clear that America’s commitment to the Afghan people will endure.”  The United States will not abandon the people of Afghanistan – or the region – to the violent extremists who threaten us all, he said.

But, what is haunting strategist community here, is the US’s attempts to suck India into its global military grid to contain China. An agreement struck by President Barack Obama with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh claims role for India’s navy, air force and space outfits to step out “beyond national jurisdiction.”

The joint statement of Obama and Singh issued Monday night is silent in this regard, but a “fact sheet” on the US-India Partnership put out by the White House hours earlier claims both agreed “to safeguard areas of the sea, air, and space beyond national jurisdiction to ensure the security and prosperity of nations.”

It, however, contains the second sentence of the “fact sheet” verbatim that says: “The United States and India have launched a dialogue to explore ways to work together, as well as with other countries, to develop a shared vision to promote peace, security, and development.”

Diplomatic experts say the Indian officials involved in drafting the joint statement after the official-level talks must have insisted to keep out any reference to the Indian forces’ role “beyond national jurisdiction” lest it kicks up a political controversy as the Indian military has not gone on “out of area” operations since the Second World War except under the UN banner, though the Indian Army did undertake operations in Sri Lanka and Maldives.

There is no word on China in the White House fact sheet or in the joint statement or in any of the remarks of Obama during his 3-day India visit, but the implication is inevitable that the US wants to build an intensive military cooperation with India and East Asian countries in China’s neighbourhood to contain its expansive role in Asia, the experts point out.

India’s strategic shift to make a commitment to closer military-to-military ties with the US is set to immediately concern China, more so when Obama also talked of a permanent membership to India in the Security Council which can never be liked by Beijing.

This shift comes despite no word on the Logistics Support Agreement and the Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA), a defence cooperation pact that was to materialise during Obama’s visit.

By working around this pact in drafting the joint statement, the experts say the US has opened up the possibility of cooperation with the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force that is as intensive as its engagements with such East Asian countries as South Korea and Japan, which too are on Obama’s itinerary this week.

Instead of the defence pact coming out of the talks, the joint statement referred to the two countries’ resolve “to further strengthen defence co-operation, including through security dialogue, exercises and promoting trade and collaboration in defence equipment and technology.”

Kashmir reacts to Obama speak

Syed Ali Geelani, crediting the five-month agitation for Obama’s ‘public admission on Kashmir’ said, “(Obama) acknowledged the reality that Kashmir is a long-standing dispute and needs resolution”.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq says they feel vindicated with Obama’s stand on Kashmir. “We have been seeking third party facilitation to remove trust deficit between India and Pakistan…India should not have reservations in third party assistance in political affairs when it is already getting third party mediation on economic disputes.”

JKLF leader Yasin Malik hailed Obama saying the US and the rest of the world has acknowledged. “(The) transition of Kashmir movement from violence to non violence. The resolution for Kashmir has to take into account the aspirations of the people and US role in peacemaking is imperative.”


National Conference welcomed the statement. Party’s ailing secretary general Sheikh Nazir said resolution to Kashmir lies in the friendly relations between India and Pakistan.

Chief minister Omar Abdullah sees things differently. “Separatist agitation for five months that killed 111 people failed to internationalize Kashmir to their (separatists’) satisfaction. Perhaps the time has come for both Pakistan and separatists to look inwards for a solution rather than expect the US to do their jobs for them… The only parties are India and Pakistan and that they have to find a solution that is acceptable to the majority of people of the state.”

“Though there was no K-word in Obama speech but there were lot many references to Kashmir. Invoking Burma where civilian protestors are killed had resemblance to what happened in Kashmir during summer”, Altaf Ahmad, a businessman said.

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