Friday 29 October 2010

Can Obama make India an ally? (PO)

M D Nalapat

Within a week, President Barack Obama will come to India on a three-day visit,” the most time that he has spent in a single country” since assuming office. It seems an age ago, but just four years ago, it was then Senator from Illinois Barack Obama who introduced a killer amendment to the Senate legislation ratifying the Bush-Singh nuclear deal. Some weeks previous to this effort, Senator Obama had met a small group of Indians visiting Washington in order to sound out legislators on the agreement. At the breakfast meeting, which was held at the residence of a prominent Indian-American Obama backer, the brilliant and very persuasive junior senator was transparent in his distaste at the attempt by George W Bush to give India the same rights in nuclear commerce as those states that had signed the Non-proliferation Treaty. Obama clearly saw India as undeserving of the privilege of nuclear commerce unless it first gave up its nuclear weapons, a view that he shared with the leaders of almost all of Europe, Australasia, East Asia and North America.

The only reason that the Nuclear Suppliers Group accepted the US contention that India merited a waiver was the steady and relentless pressure exerted by President Bush. To the final hours before the final NSG vote two years ago, Bush and Condoleezza Rice cajoled world leaders among the 45 member-states to ensure a unanimous decision favouring India. To the last, countries such as Norway, Switzerland, New Zealand and China opposed the waiver, but finally fell in line because of the diplomatic blitz unleashed by President Bush. Had it been an Obama presidency, there would never have been an India waiver, for the incoming President of the United States has appointed a non-proliferation team whose members have spent much of their working lifetimes trying to get India to follow the advice given by Bill Clinton, which is to “cap, roll back and eliminate” its nuclear and missile deterrent. Although Clinton has got a bad press in India for such insistent advice, he may perhaps not have been aware that India was a country of more than a billion people in a very unpleasant neighbourhood. Or, if he was aware of this, perhaps he may have been willing to introduce legislation to permit a few tens of millions of Indian nationals to settle in the US, should a nuclear attack befall an India that disarms itself under his advice. Bill Clinton has visited India since demitting office as President, usually to paint the country as the endemic focus of either AIDS or as the prime candidate for a nuclear attack. These visits have been sponsored ones, one having as the host Amar Singh, one of the most colourful politicians in India, whose access to big money is as legendary as the wonderful time those attending his many soirees have.

In each of these, the food and drink are of the most superb quality, several lovely Bollywood starlets are in attendance, and music and relaxed conversation flow in as much profusion as the liquid refreshments. Add to that a Speaking Fee, and it is no surprise that Bill Clinton made time for Amar Singh! While the many Clintonites in the US claim that it was Clinton’s March 2000 5-day visit to India that put relations on a fast track, the reality is that his very arrival - in the final months of his term in office - was because India had grown too large to be ignored or bullied, the way it had been during the earlier part of his term. The worst period was 1993-95, when his close friend Robin Raphel (then Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia) did all she could to arm-twist the Narasimha Rao government into handing over the Kashmir Valley to Pakistan, while at the same time helping in the build-up of the Taliban. Although it is Pakistan that is these days given the blame for setting up that militia, the reality is that the Taliban are very much a “Made in USA” outfit. During Clinton’s two terms in office, numerous Taliban leaders came to Washington and returned with promises of assistance.

Like Robin Raphel, who made no secret of her love for Pakistan and her friendship with prominent Pakistanis (including the legendary Shafqat Kakakhel), Bill Clinton shared with Richard Nixon a tilt towards Islamabad, so it was dismay that Delhi saw President Obama replacing his A-team with Clinton holdovers, including Richard Holbrooke, who shares with other Clintonites the view that only Europe counts – or should count - in the international order. Within months of his taking office, President Obama made it known that he did not share George W Bush’s enthusiasm for India, going so far as to follow Clinton in offering China the role of South Asia Policeman during his first visit to Beijing after taking charge. He scrapped the Bush team’s decision to open up Space Cooperation and speed up hi-tech transfers, and even went so far as to condemn outsourcing of services to India, despite its economic benefits to the US. And on matters of commerce, the “idealistic” Obama has favoured Dow Chemicals - the present owner of Union Catrbide - despite the 30,000 deaths on Bhopal and wants that US nuclear power companies should be indemnified from claims that would result out of a nuclear accident. It is therefore no wonder that unlike the Bush visit, there has been almost zero public excitement about Obama. The fact that he has chosen to come during the Festival of Lights (Diwali), thereby putting citizens of Delhi and Mumbai to considerable inconvenience because of traffic restrictions, has been another factor.

The Clinton visit of a decade ago was filled with ladies hugging the US President but short on tangible achievements. The betting in Delhi is that the Obama visit will be no different, except that the presence of his beautiful wife Michelle by his side may prevent too many society ladies in Delhi and Mumbai getting close enough to the handsome US President for a hug! However, there may be a surprise. President Obama has recently been shedding large chunks of the Clinton legacy, and has been adopting a much tougher policy on China than the former President ever did. He has also sanctioned many more drone attacks within Pakistan in a year than Dick Cheney (the real architect of the War on Terror ) did in eight years of office. Would President Obama be able to resist the pressure from the Clintonites (to put India in the South Asia box) and make his visit truly historic by opening up avenues of cooperation in education, health, military and high-technology? Certainly he has a few very perceptive advisors ( such as Harvard University’s Roderick MacFarquahar) who are in favour of a broad, civilisational alliance between the US and India.

After all, both India and the US form part of what may be termed the “21st Century Anglosphere”, the alliance of English-speaking countries linked together by a common (and unfortunate) history of colonization by Britain. Winston Churchill thought that race was the foundation of alliances, and rejected the view that countries that did not have European-origin peoples were qualified to join his “English-speaking Union”. Indeed, to the end, Churchill opposed the giving of independence to you, and when it became inevitable, helped the Founder of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, to ensure Partition. Unlike Mahatma Gandhi, who was neutral during World War II, Jinnah took the side of the British, and was rewarded in 1947 with the fulfillment of his dream. However, since then the world has changed, and today it is India that is seen as the natural ally of the US, especially as the former country has more than 200 million people who speak English. And after decades of politicians seeking to block the poor from getting access to English ( for fear that they would then demand more rights), pressure from the people has ensured that English gets taught to every high school student in India, so that in 15 years, more than 500 million people will know the language.

Although they do not regard India as being “mature enough” to possess nuclear weapons, or to join an expanded UN Security Council, the Clintonites in the Obama administration wish to sell about $20 billion worth of armaments to India, including the obsolete F-16s. They also want India to buy a further $20 billion of nuclear equipment. All this without first loosening the immense web of technology controls that have been placed on India since Zbigniew Brezezinski (who is known to favour China and dislike India) became Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor in the 1970s. Brezezinski is a favourite of the Clintons though he has not warmed to the rest of the Obama team, and is the author of the “G 2 Theory”, which postulates that China and the US need to team up to solve the world’s security dilemmas. The Polish-born Brezezinski is no fan of the Anglosphere, and can be expected to look askance at efforts at creating a new alliance of India, the UK and the US, the core of a “21st Century Anglosphere” Although public expectations are low about the Obama visit, a hopeful sign is that he will not be accompanied by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the India visit. Some influential individuals in the Manmohan Singh government claim that several important agreements may get announced during the Obama visit, which they expect will ensure that the discriminatory treatment against India be stopped.

The Space authorities are looking forward to cooperation with NASA, as are others in various hi-tech sectors in India. However, the Clinton agenda focuses not on such issues, but on Kashmir and India-Pakistan relations. Will Obama too focus on Kashmir and on India-Pakistan relations, thereby annoying his hosts? Or will he treat India as a global, rather than as merely a South Asia, player? A week will tell.

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