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By the time Dr. Manmohan Singh visits the White House on November 24, President Obama would have largely recovered from the jetlag after his travels in East Asia. But one can be sure that the impressions made by the optimistic and focused leaders of the three great economic powerhouses of the region – the ASEAN, Japan and China – will be considerably more lasting.
Now the leader of Asia’s fourth great economic powerhouse comes calling. But while the others would have focused mostly on economic and financial issues, the Indian Prime Minister will have a very different agenda. Despite an economy that is now expected to quadruple by 2020, taking it very high up the global pecking order, regional politics will be high on India’s agenda for the foreseeable future. As far as India is concerned, its troubled geography with Pakistan and China determines its priorities.
Despite the spin being imparted that this first "state visit" hosted by President Obama is a recognition of the importance of India’s place in the U.S. world view, the view from India is somewhat different. The benchmark of expectations for Indo-U.S. relations was set by his predecessor, and it is unlikely that Barack Obama will come close to it. To do so would require President Obama to first delink India from Pakistan. George Bush did this deftly by telling Pakistan quite simply that "you are not India."
As far as India is concerned, Pakistan’s problems are its own doing and the U.S. follies in the past have a good deal to do with them. With Afghanistan fast becoming Obama’s war, India has empathy for his predicament but there is little it can do to help. To do so would imply acceptance that jihadi terrorism on Pakistan’s western border is a different animal than that on its eastern frontier. And to expect India to jeopardize its own future by putting Kashmir on the table to enable the U.S. to get out of its predicament would be to ask for the moon.
President Obama has compounded this by suggesting in Beijing that the U.S. would now like China to play a role in improving India-Pakistan relations. For nearly sixty long years India has fobbed off U.S. attempts to interpose itself in India-Pakistan relations. Since Eisenhower’s time, this has been a no-go area for official U.S. diplomacy. Now Obama wants to bring China into the equation? It shouldn’t tax one's imagination too much to figure out how India will react to this suggestion. That a country that was reported even last week in the U.S. media as having gifted fifty kilograms of fissile Uranium to Pakistan along with bomb designs and the wherewithal to make dozens more nuclear weapons should now be a facilitator for improving India-Pakistan ties would seem quite absurd to India.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh leaves for the U.S. just a few days after India’s parliament reconvenes. One can almost be sure that the house will give him an earful on this and insist that he read the riot act to Mr. Obama. Dr. Singh is a gentle sort of person, but he will definitely convey the sentiments of India’s parliament.
Apart from shifting course on India, another definite interpretation in India of this visit would be that President Obama is giving up the two decade's old notion of a unipolar world led by the U.S. and favors the notion of a new bipolar world system, with the U.S. and China acting in concert. Whatever the extent of U.S. indebtedness to China, India will not be readily willing to accept this formulation, particularly as it increasingly sees itself as a rival to China. China has revealed its hand whenever it mattered to India, be it at the IAEA or on the expansion of the UN Security Council. Today, even as India begins to have fewer doubts about where it stands vis-à-vis China, it is being gnawed by doubts about where it stands vis-à-vis the U.S.
Mohan Guruswamy heads the Centre for Policy Alternatives, an independent and privately funded think tank in New Delhi. He is the author of several books on Indian policy issues. This piece is part of the Passage to America forum on the significance of the Indian Prime Minister Singh's visit to the U.S. Photo credit: Reuters Pictures.
- What Obama Must Accomplish With India – Atlantic Wire, Max Fisher
Passage to America: Pre-Visit Expectations
- Passage to America: Great Expectations for Manmohan Singh – Shuja Nawaz
- Facing the Indian Conundrum: Obama's Date with Singh – Arun Prakash
- U.S.-India Relations: Testing Times Ahead – Mohan Guruswamy
- Expanding the U.S.-India Comfort Zone in a Time of Uncertainty – M.J. Akbar
- Striving for a True U.S.-India Strategic Partnership – Rani D. Mullen
Passage to America: Post-Visit Analysis
- Singh's U.S. Visit: Were Expectations Met? – Shikha Bhatnagar
- The Great Hype Forward – Manvendra Singhwas
- A "Defining Partnership" Renewed – Rani D. Mullen
- Where is the Indispensibility? – Tariq Fatemi
- Pakistan and India: Common Threat Needs Common Defense – Pervez Hoodbhoy
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