President Barack Obama has proved skeptics wrong. He made all the noises we wanted to hear: support for a permanent seat in the UNSC, lifting curbs on dual-use technology exports, cooperation in homeland security and membership of restrictive multilateral treaties and organizations such as the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
He refrained from naming Pakistan in Mumbai or at the press conference he jointly addressed in Delhi with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The reference came in his nationally televised address to a joint sitting of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.
Amid thumping of desks by his audience in the Central Hall of Parliament House, he said the US will insist with Pakistan that cross border terrorism wasn’t acceptable; that the Mumbai attackers must be brought to justice.
At another point in the same speech, he described it as a barbaric attack: “9/11 and 26/11 are the bond we share. We will never waiver in the defense of our people. We are working together to prevent such terrorist attacks.”
Skeptics might dismiss the statement as ritualistic. They’d do better if they read it with the typically Indian imageries the President invoked together with high tributes to Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, Bhimrao Ambedkar and Swami Vivekanand. He held parliamentarians and TV watchers in thrall for a little over half and hour. But for the values that Gandhi preached and embodied, he said, he wouldn’t be where he is today — the United States’ first Afro-American President.
Before Obama mentioned upfront his frontline ally in the war against terror, Manmohan Singh had let it be known at the press conference that while India wasn’t scared of engaging with Pakistan on all issues, notably Kashmir, talks and support for terrorism cannot go together.
It wasn’t surprising that Obama’s reference to Pakistan was within permissible diplomatic limits. He couldn’t have disturbed his administration’s equation with Islamabad merely to play to the gallery in India. A stronger public rebuff could have made him less effective in his dealings with Pakistan.
What’ll hurt Islamabad more are the goodies he has promised India. They’d make us self-reliant over time in dealing with cross-border threats. A more objective analysis of Obama-speak would be that while he mentioned Pakistan by name, he only alluded to the K-word to make it clear that the US could help settle the dispute only if the two parties agreed.
He told an American journalist — who described Kashmir as a flashpoint —that India and Pakistan could take an incremental approach. They could start with less complicated issues rather than on that “particular flashpoint.”
On the substantive side, Obama’s visit has enhanced India’s international stature. Cooperation with the American Homeland Security will help us guard better our land, air and sea frontiers, check infiltration and bust sleeper terror cells. Together with better political and economic management in Kashmir, it will enhance New Delhi’s confidence to deal with regional issues.
In return, the US will get access to the Indian market whose infrastructure needs are valued at $ 3 trillion over the next five years. The quid pro quo will work if Obama quickly translates his thoughts into action.
Indians have waited long enough. They aren’t willing to wait any more for what the US President termed as “defining partnership” of the 21st century.
PS: Keeping all our eggs in the US basket will not be wise. Let’s prepare to receive Russia’s Medvedev, China’s Wen Jiabao and France’s Sarkozy with equal gusto.