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Updated: November 11, 2010 23:21 IST

Not so beautiful from this angle

Ejaz Haider
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ADDRESS AND CLARITY: U.S. President Barack Obama bows after delivering his speech at Parliament House in New Delhi. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is on the left.
AFP ADDRESS AND CLARITY: U.S. President Barack Obama bows after delivering his speech at Parliament House in New Delhi. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is on the left.

President Obama's visit did nothing for peaceful relations between India and Pakistan.

Let us assume, in a simple model, that the U.S. President Barack Obama wants Pakistan and India to talk and make peace because, in a broader sense, this would lead to stability in South and West Asia which, in turn, would serve both the core and peripheral interests of the United States and, by extension, of the world.

Please note the sub-clauses even simplicity can generate in this part of the world. But leaving that aside, and for now even the details where the clichéd devil resides, did he actually serve this cause through his India visit? No.

The de-hyphenation

Behind all the nice talk about setting the world right through a Lockean cooperative framework lurks Mr. Hobbes. First, Mr. Obama tried to de-hyphenate Pakistan and India by not including Pakistan on this visit even as Pakistan is supposed to be a vital strategic partner and a state that is, presumably, going to determine, by his own admission, not only the future of this region but of the entire world. This would be amusing if it did not indicate a deep policy flaw. Then there is the irony of it, palpable, when we saw India re-hyphenating itself with Pakistan by almost pestering Mr. Obama to please call Pakistan a terrorist state!

In the end he did talk about “insist[ing] to Pakistan's leaders that terrorist safe-havens within their borders are unacceptable.” Today's speeches may not be Periclean but neither should they entirely lose nuance, especially if the thrust is to change rather than perpetuate the past and the present. Positing it as he did, it might have placated India a little but drew sneers from Pakistan.

Then, speaking at the Lok Sabha, Mr. Obama saluted “India's long history as a leading contributor to United Nations peacekeeping missions” and welcomed “India as it prepares to take its seat on the United Nations Security Council.”

Pakistan and peacekeeping

Right! Statistically, Pakistan is the largest contributor to U.N. peacekeeping missions followed by Bangladesh and then India, thank you. India's long history also includes blocking U.N. resolutions and having disputes with almost every neighbour on its periphery. But let's move away from facts to the good story. It makes eminent sense, from Mr. Hobbes' perspective, to try and get India in. It's realpolitik.

And realpolitik is protean. Pakistan created the coffee club at the U.N. and it will, as it has, use every alliance at the U.N. and work the procedures to frustrate every attempt to get India in. It also knows that the working groups on U.N. reform, including that of the Security Council, require a process infested with procedural rigmaroles. So, the UNSC seat for India is not about to happen.

But what this enunciation has done, and it doesn't appear too useful in the overall game, is to get Islamabad to issue a stern demarche to Washington. From Pakistan's perspective, the U.S. is catering to India's interests without regard to Pakistan's concerns about India. For an actor that wants Pakistan to appreciate its interests in West Asia and help it achieve them, this approach violates even the basics of an incentives structure model.

Add to this de-listing the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) from what Mr. Obama described as the “so-called ‘entity list'” and indicating facilitating India's entry into Club de Londres and other bodies that form the decision-making super-structure of nuclear- and non-proliferation-related activities and there's another red rag for Pakistan. All of this will go through many hurdles, a discussion of which is not possible here; much of it may not even be free lunch for India given that it is enhancing its nuclear capabilities. But the symbolism of it is more important than the substance. And the minus side is that it keeps Pakistan outside instead of pulling it in, even as Mr. Obama wants to influence Pakistan's choices.

C, P and K-factors

The important point here is not that the United States should not help India emerge. Nor is it that India should not enjoy the dividends of its impressive efforts. In a minus-Pakistan scenario, Mr. Obama's policy could even be hailed on multiple counts including, as some commentators in India pointed out, for the C-factor. The problem is that there are the P and K factors and they cannot be wished away.

Given that India and Pakistan are conflictual states, both are bound to rely on their comparative advantage at any given point to frustrate the other. India wants to capitalise on its increasing ability to interest the world; Pakistan would on its ability to worry the world. On the sidelines of the many positives India can offer to the world, Pakistanis fear that India is simultaneously marshalling the world against Pakistan; Islamabad claims too that it is covertly leveraging groups against it, the evidence of which has been shared with both New Delhi and Washington. In theory, the policy of covert ops offers plausible deniability and India can, to its great advantage, use the same groups that have now turned on Pakistan. A smart strategy this, but there is nothing cooperative and Lockean about it!

India's Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, during the joint press conference, said: “We are committed to engage Pakistan ... But it is our request that you cannot simultaneously be talking and at the same time the terror machine is as active as ever before. Once Pakistan moves away from this terror-induced coercion, we will be very happy to engage productively with Pakistan to resolve all outstanding issues.”

Well said. Once again, without contextualising things, we get into this chicken and egg problem in terms of cause and effect. But the words of Salvador de Madariaga, once chairman of the League of Nations Disarmament Commission, may form good advice in terms of direction of causality in most affairs, not just disarmament:

“The trouble with disarmament was (and still is) that the problem of war is tackled upside down and at the wrong end ... Nations don't distrust each other because they are armed; they are armed because they distrust each other. And therefore to want disarmament before a minimum of common agreement on fundamentals is as absurd as to want people to go undressed in winter. Let the weather be warm, and they will undress readily enough without committees to tell them so.”

Let the weather be warm and we can all enjoy the sunny beach.

(The writer is Contributing Editor, The Friday Times.)

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