Obama’s Forthcoming Visit To India


By Ch. Viyyanna Sastry

The last few weeks have been dominated by reports regarding the preparations for the forthcoming visit of the US President Barack Obama to India during November 6-9, 2010. Simultaneously, several experts have started speculating on whether the trip would be a success or failure, what US should offer to India, what India should and should not expect from the US etc.

As voiced by American officials, it is truly remarkable that Obama is coming to India in his first term, within first two years to be precise, unlike the two previous visits by the then US Presidents, Bill Clinton (2000) and George W Bush (2006) both whom travelled to India in their second terms.

It is natural to view the visit of Obama with the same optimism and hope as the previous visit of Bush where India and the US had managed to conclude the Indo-US nuclear civil nuclear cooperation agreement. But, India and the US have moved ahead in the past four and half years and there lies new challenges and opportunities which could uplift the bilateral relations.

US export controls which come in the way of high-tech exports India is a major irritant for New Delhi. Fortunately, the US is already working on amending its export controls with a view to enable India to import these materials and equipment. Defence sales and commercial sales are also likely to figure in Obama’s talks in Delhi. On the positive side, India and the US have witnessed growing bilateral trade between them in the recent years and indications are that India would jump to the seventh largest trading partner with the US soon. This development should prompt for other important unexplored fields as well.

Besides these, another crucial issue where India would like to put across its view point is Pakistan. Some, however, argue that Indo-US relations are fast becoming more mature to enter into a newer plane and India should resist the temptation to raise the Pakistani issue with the US. The recent developments including Pakistan’s growing relationship with the US have raised concerns in Indian circles. For the umpteenth time, reports emanating from Pakistan suggest that Islamabad, during the recent third round of strategic dialogue with the US held in Washington (October 20-22), has sought US intervention in resolving the Kashmir issue. To this extent the Foreign Minister Quereshi also urged President Obama to raise the Kashmir issue with India during his stay in Delhi. Pakistan is also upbeat by the announcement by Obama, when he dropped into the bilateral talks between the Pakistani and US officials, that he would be visiting Pakistan in 2011, but not during this month. It is also reported in the Pakistani press that Obama made a telephonic conversation with the Pakistani president to allay, whatsoever, fears of his forth coming visit to India.

Given the US’ dependence on Pakistan for the success of the war in Afghanistan, the US is appearing to become more vulnerable to Pakistan. It has agreed to aid Pakistan by $ 2 billion over the next five years to buy military equipment to fight the militants, without getting much from Pakistan in return. Past evidences, such as the recent revelation by the former President Pervez Musharraf, suggest that Pakistan has utilized these services from the US only to target India. But, the US is aware of that Pakistan has not fulfilled its promise to curb terrorism emanating from its soil. So, it is time for the US acknowledges that Pakistan has not prevented infiltrations across the Line of Control, it has not shut down the Jihadi training camps and the leaders of these groups are freely moving in Pakistan.

Expectedly, Pakistan also sought a similar nuclear cooperation agreement with the US on the lines of Indo-US nuclear agreement. To this extent, the Pak Foreign Minister has boosted that his country has 35 years of experience with no untoward incident regarding nuclear technology and so it qualifies for the civil nuclear technology from the US. No bilateral discussion with the US would conclude without Pakistan seeking a similar nuclear deal with it. The persistent Pakistani posture coupled with the US compulsions in Afghanistan tend to make one feel that the US might accept to some limited or complete nuclear cooperation with Pakistan in future.

This must be understood at the background of continued nuclear cooperation, both civil and military, between Pakistan and China. After denying about the nuclear reactor sale to Pakistan since 2008, China finally made it open that it was in deed going ahead with not only supplying two more 300 MWe power plants but also considering exporting a 1000 MWe reactor. While the reactor sale was a source of concern keeping in mind the previous Pakistani connections with Chinese nuclear industry, the argument in defence of the reactor sale is more worrisome. Both China and Pakistan are claiming that their cooperation dates back to 1986, when China was not party even to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty – not to speak of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which China joined in May 2004 – so it precedes these agreements. China has conveniently forgotten that it failed to mention about these deals at the time of joining the NSG. As per records available, China only mentioned about a second power plant (which is reaching final stages), some research reactors and fuel to them. At times, Chinese officials also argue that they wanted to restore the balance created by the Indo-US nuclear agreement.

At such a time, it is but natural for India to raise the nuclear issue with President Obama and to have the US views on the issue. Needless to say, all other members of the NSG are awaiting US response. President Obama should make his stance clear and perhaps can take up the issue with Hu Jintao when he visits Washington DC early next year. The Indian and US sides should have some candid and frank discussion on Pakistan and its nuclear cooperation with China. Both sides may find, in the end, to convince other party difficult, but that should not hinder progress and consensus on other areas.

Originally published by Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (www.idsa.in) at http://www.idsa.in/idsacomments/ObamasForthcomingVisittoIndia_cvsastry_041110

Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA)

The Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA), is a non-partisan, autonomous body dedicated to objective research and policy relevant studies on all aspects of defence and security. Its mission is to promote national and international security through the generation and dissemination of knowledge on defence and security-related issues. The Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA) was formerly named The Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA).

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