Barack Obama’s sojourn to India
Asif Haroon Raja
During the period of Cold War, except for few hiccups, Pak-US relations by and large remained cordial. Eisenhower era in particular is remembered with fondness in Pakistan. Visits of Presidents/PMs of Pakistan to Washington and that of US Presidents to Islamabad were always big events. Situation took a downturn after the end of Cold War when USA emerged as the sole super power. It ditched its old ally Pakistan and befriended India, a camp follower of former Soviet Union who had all along pursued anti-US policies and had explicitly supported USSR’s invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. Visits of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to Islamabad in March 2000 and March 2006 are remembered with bitterness in Pakistan.
The foundation of Indo-US strategic relations laid in 1990 prospered throughout the 1990s despite certain irritants such as nuclear non-proliferation, Russian origin missile technology and human rights violations. Huge investments were made to boost sagging economy of India. Software industry and agriculture sector in particular was given greater attention thereby enabling Indian economy to shrug off its sluggishness and become vibrant. Indo-US conjugation climaxed when Bill Clinton accompanied by extraordinarily large contingent of over 2000 businessmen and others visited India from 21-25 March 2000 and their relationship blossomed into solid strategic partnership.
Besides removing sanctions imposed in the wake of India’s nuclear explosions in May 1998, and turning a blind eye to the existing irritants, India was cajoled, pampered and showered with heavy investments worth billions of dollars. An atmosphere of festivity and rejoicing pervaded the Indian horizon throughout the period of visitors stay. While addressing Lok Sabha, Clinton shed tears of sympathy over slaughter of 36 Sikhs in occupied Kashmir, the blame of which was put on Lashkar-e-Taeba and ISI. It has now been proven that RAW had stage-managed the grisly incident few days before the visit of Clinton so as to underscore Pakistan’s role in cross border terrorism and to hide India’s gross human rights violations in Kashmir. Indian soldiers at the behest of RAW had dragged the Sikhs out of their homes after midnight and gunned them down.
In contrast to high profile visit to India, Clinton’s five-hour visit to Islamabad was a non-event. Ouster of democratic regime of Nawaz Sharif by Gen Musharraf had not gone down well in Washington. Accompanied by his personal staff and contingent of security goons, his attitude throughout his brief stay was curt and officious. He preferred to meet President Rafiq Tarar and completely ignored Musharraf. He came with an empty bag and had nothing to offer to Pakistan except to lecture Pakistani nation. While addressing Pakistanis on the TV, Clinton kept his innocence and sweet smiles intact and wrapped up his harsh propositions in sugar coated words. What he conveyed was that Pakistan should agree to return to civilian rule, rollback nuclear program, eliminate terrorism, accept Line of Control as permanent border in Kashmir, rein in fundamentalist elements and accept India as a regional power.
He added that unless Pakistan agreed to these proposals, it would not qualify itself for the restoration of US economic and technical assistance that had been severed in October 1990. He cautioned that failing to fulfill the stated pre-conditions, not only 1990 and 1998 sanctions would remain operative, other financial institutions and world bodies would be asked to tighten the economic screws on Pakistan. In other words, Pakistan would be declared a pariah and a failed state.
I recall how deeply shocked and bewildered everyone in Pakistan felt on Clinton’s out-and-out leaning towards India and his discriminatory attitude towards Pakistan. To make matters worst, Commonwealth Secretary General acted more loyal than the king by pledging to oust Pakistan from all international bodies. The only silver lining was the scathing attack of US Republicans against Clinton led Democrats on account of demonstrated tilt towards India, their failure to get India and Pakistan sign CTBT and inability to reduce tension in Kashmir. Irrespective of those encouraging words, I had penned in my book ‘Muhammad bin Qasim to Gen Musharraf’ that even if the Republicans come into power in early 2001, there will not be much change in US global policies, its agenda fixed for South Asia and significance it attached to India.
Needless for me to recount how George Bush led Republicans after coming to power twisted the arm of Musharraf suffering from legitimacy bug and made him agree to promote US interests in the region at the cost of national interests. Bush era promoted India as a counterweight to China. It helped India in consolidating its influence in Afghanistan. Bush asserted that ‘India’s rise and its strength and progress on the global stage are in strategic interest of USA’.
We also distinctly recall Bush’s visit to India in March 2006. Other than tens of defence and economic agreements worth billions of dollars, biggest trophy awarded was the lucrative civil nuclear deal. After this hi-fi visit, expectations in Pakistan were sky high. Reasons for such optimism were that Pakistan had acted as the frontline state and was playing a key role in US war on terror, had arrested and handed over more than 700 Al-Qaeda operatives to USA, and Musharraf had become the blue-eyed boy of Bush.
High hopes crashed when Bush said that he had come on an inspection tour to check progress of Pakistan on ground. Not only request for a nuclear deal similar to India was brusquely turned down, no worthwhile defence or economic agreement was inked. Even direly needed counter terrorism equipment was denied due to Indian fears. Concerns of Pakistan about covert operations by RAW from Afghan soil were also not heeded to since he had approvingly listened to complaints made against Pakistan by Karzai at Kabul. Bush sympathized with perpetrators of cross border terrorism against Pakistan but he turned a deaf ear to Pakistan’s pleadings that it was victim of cross border terrorism. It was understandable for Bush to pretend deafness since he knew that CIA was the chief coordinator of covert operations launched against Pakistan from Afghan soil.
After Bush’s tour of this region, US attitude against Pakistan stiffened and became more and more aggressive. In his last year in power, Pak-US relations had dipped low because of unsubstantiated accusations made against Pakistan and Washington’s dissatisfaction over performance of Pak Army in war on terror. Mumbai attacks on 26/11 not only strained Indo-Pak relations but also had an adverse impact on Pak-US relations.
Barack Obama from whom better response was expected did not prove any better from his predecessor. Rather, he shifted the weight of war on terror entirely towards Afghanistan and Pakistan thorough his ill-conceived Af-Pak policy. He brought no change in US tilt towards India and continued to prepare it as a bulwark against China and to make it a key player in Afghan affairs. Pakistan bashing continued unabated and drone strikes were accelerated. Propaganda against Pakistan’s nuclear program and its alleged linkage with Taliban and Al-Qaeda became malicious. He also ignored Pakistan’s request for award of US nuclear technology on the plea that it had not proven itself to be a responsible state.
Attitude of Obama and his administration towards Pakistan became less vituperative at the dawn of 2010 because of brilliant performance of Pak Army in Malakand, Swat and South Waziristan and also due to worsening security situation in Afghanistan. The US wanted Pakistan to help in dividing the Taliban and isolating the hardliners led by Mullah Omar since neither Karzai regime, or India, or CIA, or Saudi Arabia could do so. A need for a political solution to Afghan imbroglio was direly felt since this was the only plausible way to ensure an honorable exit.
Kerry Lugar Bill followed by strategic dialogue was aimed at bridging the trust deficit and creating better understanding between the two countries. Confidence building measures and carrots in no way match the endowments doled out to India, which is being continuously rewarded despite having done nothing in fighting war on terror. It neither sent any military contingent in Iraq nor in Afghanistan. Despite this glaring dichotomy, India is presented the cake and leftover crumbs are given to Pakistan which has given sacrifices more than any other country.
After Clinton and Bush, it is now Obama’s turn to visit India for three days from 6-8 November in order to further cement Indo-US strategic ties. Principally speaking Obama should have visited Afghanistan and Pakistan where war is raging and not India which is covertly fuelling flames of war. Since economics override politics and strategic considerations, India has been preferred. Other reason for not including Pakistan in his itinerary was the heightened bitterness between two archrivals, both carrying host of grouses against each other. Obama was faced with a dilemma since on one hand India is indispensable to US, on the other Pakistan’s significance in context with endgame of Afghanistan could not be overlooked.
Obama was not in a position to offer goodies in equal proportion to both or to play one against the other. He also knew that presently anti-Americanism in Pakistan is on the peak and his own popularity is down because of high spate of drone strikes in Waziristan. Explosive situation in occupied Kashmir due to massive unarmed uprising and gross human rights violations by Indian security forces was another pressure point which he wanted to avoid. These considerations constrained Obama to take off Pakistan from his itinerary, but he hastened to compensate it by pledging to make an exclusive trip to Pakistan next year.
Obama can ill-afford at this critical juncture to please India at the cost of Pakistan. Unlike his two predecessors who were in a stronger position, he will be cautious and will take extra care not to offend the sensibilities of Pakistan and risk losing its critical support. Obama’s visit to India will be predominated by economic considerations. It will be more of a business oriented tour to promote US exports and less of politics.
The writer is a defence analyst.