Bracing for a difficult visitor

Bracing for a difficult visitor

Some photo ops apart, expect US President Barack Obama’s forthcoming visit to India to be a difficult one. Difficult for India, that is.

Some indicators are already at hand. Obama has, on many occasions, spoken about jobs being lost to India. A number of regressive laws, that affect Indian firms, have either been passed or are being actively considered. In his briefing on Tuesday, the US President’s press secretary was asked a question on what Obama hopes to achieve on his trip to India. The answer was revealing.

“We understand...from the viewpoint...economically...what we have to do to create jobs, to grow our exports, to ensure that it just doesn’t fall on American consumers to drive world demand. That’s a lot of what you will hear the President talk about on that trip, and, hopefully, have some tangible results from it," Robert Gibbs said.

A “lot" on that subject tells one what to expect. There is trouble brewing on another front. Like all Democratic administrations, Obama’s too has a “Kashmir obsession". Whether couched in terms of a UN Security Council seat for a Kashmir deal or an outright “mend your fences with Islamabad" argument, there is trouble in store for India.

The US’ thinking on Pakistan continues to be blinkered. Even when facts about Pakistan’s duplicity in fighting terrorists—the ones it created, nurtured and unleashed—are well known, US’ deference to Pakistani interests is baffling. Even analysts and diplomats who are better informed take this line. For example, in an oped in Wednesday’s edition of The New York Times, a former US envoy to Afghanistan and Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, argued that “in exchange for demonstrable Pakistani cooperation, the United States should...ensure that Pakistan’s adversaries do not use Afghanistan’s territory to support insurgents in Pakistani Baluchistan". Khalilzad, a Republican appointee to these diplomatic positions, wrote this even as he made a case for putting pressure on Islamabad to do more.

Given these realities, expectations from Obama’s visit should be tempered and its projection as “India’s arrival on the world stage" be discounted. There is no reason for the government to give in to Obama’s demands. The danger is not from pressure on that count, but from our tendency to fall for meaningless praise, something the Americans know our leaders love.

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