Obama's actions alienating India

The US is pushing India to make extraordinary concessions to Islamabad.


President George W Bush decided to make up for the four decades that India and the United States lost to mutual suspicion in the four years of his second term in office. This was also a personal mission for him, because India — as the world’s largest democracy, its second fastest-growing economy, and home to its third-largest population of Muslims — seemed to exemplify everything that he was being excoriated for promoting: democracy, religious freedom and capitalism.

Bush began by tearing down the Clintonera sanctions against India, and left office after signing an exceptional civilian nuclear deal passed by Congress last year, which effectively ended India’s status as a nuclear pariah. But for many Indians, his most lasting contribution was the ‘de-hyphenation’ of India from Pakistan. Bush viewed India as a long-term strategic ally, a democratic counterweight to China. New Delhi responded by voting against Iran at the United Nations.

Applying balm
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent visit to India came at a time when much of the goodwill generated by Bush’s efforts has soured. There is growing concern in New Delhi that the Obama administration, in its quest to win Pakistan’s wholehearted support for the war in Afghanistan, is pushing India to make extraordinary concessions to Islamabad. Last week, India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, signed a joint declaration with his Pakistani counterpart to carry forward the ‘composite dialogue’ with Islamabad regardless of Pakistan’s evident failure to prosecute the perpetrators of the November attacks in Mumbai.

The Indian government denies it, but the view that the declaration was a consequence of intense US pressure is unanimous in New Delhi. The Indian government, as if compensating for this controversial concession, has bluntly refused to sign any binding agreements on climate change with the United States.

During Hillary’s visit, India’s environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, went about personally distributing copies of his exchange with her to members of the press as she stood by silently.

Hillary made a gesture of solidarity with the victims of the Mumbai attacks by staying at the Taj Mahal hotel, a principal target of the terrorists in November. But Washington should move beyond symbolism and push Pakistan to close down anti-India terrorist fronts on its soil. And there are numerous such groups.
 In Pakistan in May, I interviewed the deputy leader of the Jamat-ud-Dawah, the organisation accused of sponsoring the Mumbai attacks. He told me that his group would continue its ‘fight’ to “liberate Kashmir from Hindu rule”.

Loopholes
Three weeks later, Hafiz Saeed, the Jamat-ud-Dawah leader who had been detained after India produced evidence that it said linked him to the Mumbai attacks, was freed. Among the reasons cited by the Lahore high court was this: “The security laws and anti-terrorism laws of Pakistan are silent on al-Qaeda being a terrorist organisation.”

In the country that is supposedly at the forefront of the fight against terrorism, association with al-Qaeda invites no legal sanction because it is not a banned organisation.

In its bid to appease Islamabad, Washington risks alienating the Indian people. But New Delhi’s discomfort with President Obama goes beyond Pakistan. If his appointment of Representative Ellen Tauscher, a trenchant critic of the US-India nuclear accord, to undersecretary of state for arms control and international affairs raised serious doubts in India about its full implementation, his choice of Tim Roemer, an Indiana congressman not particularly known for his knowledge of India, as ambassador to New Delhi looked like a snub — when contrasted with his pick for China, the high-profile Governor Jon Huntsman of Utah.

Obama has often said that he views India as a crucial partner for the United States. But judged against his actions, his assurances sound like platitudes. Hillary’s visit to India was meant to assuage New Delhi’s growing anxieties; it may have served only to aggravate them.

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