Islamabad on the Menu, but is Beijing Playing Spoilsport?

Posted in politics, Terrorism, Uncategorized by Nehaa on November 25, 2009

Oscar-winning entertainers, eminent political figures, well-known Indians, elaborate (largely vegetarian) meals, wardrobe malfunctions,  Hollywood big-wigs, friends and family, the Obamas and the Singhs…..and more… President Obama’s first State Dinner was certainly one massive party…. and another link in the chain between two of the world’s (currently) most important democracies;  it’s largest and it’s richest.

Manmohan Singh’s visit to Washington comes at the time of extreme tension between India and its neighbours, and concerns on the domestic political front as well.  To further complicate the agenda, there came a joint statement from China and US at the end of President Obama’s visit to Beijing, (just days before the PM’s visit to Washington), which said that the two countries were “ready to strengthen communication, dialogue and cooperation on issues related to South Asia and work together to promote peace, stability and development in that region.” This has raised quite a few eyebrows in political circles (given India’s long standing border disputes with China and the strained relations between these nations lately), and has invoked concern from several quarters about resulting unfavourable changes in the agenda of the PM’s meeting with President Obama,  with focus shifting from original matters at hand to extended emphasis on US-China and consequently, Indo- US relations.

The Obama Administration has made statements on Chinese- US  cooperation even in July during Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan’s visit to Washington, where it was stated that  “the relationship between the United States and China will shape the 21st century” . President Obama’s recent visit to China and the indication that China could have a role to play in the Indo-Pak conflict and security and stability in South Asia has not gone down too well with New Delhi. Obama’s approach seems to be in stark contrast to the one applied by the Bush Administration, where the contributing factor to growing ties between India and US is said to have been similar concerns pertaining to China.

Now of course, President Obama is going out of the way to create the right impression in his attempt to erase any tensions that might have emerged between India and the USA as a result of his recent talks with China. Beginning with Namaste and announcing his visit to India next year,  he went on to lavish praise on Manmohan Singh and state that India would play a “pivotal role” in meeting future challenges in the world, and US-India ties will be the “defining partnership of the 21st century.” He also went on to state that “the United States welcomes and encourages India’s leadership role in helping to shape the rise of a stable, peaceful, and prosperous Asia,”, an expression he used even in the case of China.

The two leaders have announced plans to promote trade, education and military ties, and to combat terrorism and the spread of nuclear weapons.  China, however, continues to remain a thorn in the flesh, with Manmohan Singh even having stated on record that “there is a certain amount of assertiveness on the part of the Chinese. I don’t fully understand the reasons for it.” Mr. Singh has clearly indicated that China’s aggressive approach on the Arunachal border dispute has not gone down to well with India.

Visiting Washington on the First Anniversary of 26/11,  Manmohan Singh has made no bones about the fact that the international community must place greater pressure on Pakistan in its efforts to combat terrorism, and take more stringent and urgent action against militant Islamic groups that operate from within its borders.  New Delhi has also taken a very clear stance on not having any US involvement in the Kashmir issue and wants US to only focus on countering terrorism with Pakistan, while Pakistan continues to press Washington to play a more central role in resolving the crisis over Kashmir.

Viewed from Obama’s perspective, both India and Pakistan are key allies, and he needs to tread tricky ground very carefully. While Pakistan  is one of its most important allies in combating Al-Qaeda led terrorist activities,  India is the 4th largest donor to Afghanistan, and has been involved in extensive rehabilitation processes in the nation, taking a very clear stance that an early exit would not benefit restoration of peace and democracy in the true sense of the term in Afghanistan. USA has had long standing relations with both nations, and cannot afford to sour things with either of them.  However, in light of the possibility of tensions between India and US over  its stance on China,  Washington cannot afford to ruffle Indian feathers. A nuclear deal, trade and counter terrorism agreements and proposal of a permanent seat at the UNSC are a few of the important issues remain on the table with these nations.  Washington has, for the moment,  bent India’s way on the issue of Kashmir, with President Obama stating that it was a “historical dispute” between the nations and that the US had no role to play in it.

Between India-Pakistan-China and continuing and growing uneasiness, mistrust and  tensions between these neighbouring nations, the foreign policy of the United States in South Asia is going to be a very interesting diplomatic tap dance. Let the fun begin…


One Response

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  1. sboray said, on November 29, 2009 at 9:07 am

    Another point that can be added to this is the UN climate change summit, which will be held in Copenhagen on December 9,2009 and how India’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions will impact the outcome of the summit.The summit in Copenhagen is being called as ‘hope in Hagen” , since this might be the last chance for the world to make drastic changes to save the world from the scourge of destruction(what happens in 2012).Obama himself will be attending the summit to muster support.

    He certainly was right when he mentioned that India would play a “pivotal role” in meeting future challenges in the world.

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