Sunday 8 April 2012

India needs more from Obama than wampum (Sunday Guardian)

By Madhav Nalapat

Barack Obama meets with Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in Nusa Dua, Bali, on 18 November 2011. REUTERS
When settlers from England landed on America's shores three centuries ago, they brought with them "wampum". Trinkets that glittered in the sunlight but were worthless in practice. The glitter seems to have been enough for several American Indian tribes, who were slow to understand that the new arrivals sought their elimination or at the least, their subjugation. When Barack Obama visited India a year ago, he threw a shiny promise to his enchanted hosts, that India merited a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Since then, if his administration has done anything to make this presidential wish a reality, this has happened in such secrecy that the other permanent members of the UNSC are unaware of it. The Obama administration has substantially reversed the George W. Bush policy of freeing trade and partnership with India from restrictive US laws that have, in effect, helped China to emerge as a credible challenger to US economic and military superiority in Asia. However, every few months, some official visitor brings along fresh wampum that gets flung in front of grateful officials and their political masters in Delhi. Such is the $10 million bounty declared on the head of LeT, Hafiz Saeed.
Even the CIA cannot be as clueless as the ISI self-confessedly was about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, not being able to locate the terrorist despite his being in a residence just yards away from the homes of military personnel in Abbottabad. It must know that the LeT chief laps up publicity, and gives interviews daily about how he will turn first India and then Israel and the US into mush, the only kind of society that he and his ilk have any chance of dominating. The CIA and the DIA know each of the locations where the LeT chief stays while in different parts of Pakistan, simply by asking the ISI, the institution that protects Hafiz Saeed for the work he has done killing innocents in the subcontinent. This being the case, why is the Obama administration not bringing the case of Saeed to the International Court of Justice, Interpol and the UN?
President Obama has made a career out of honeyed words and cosmic promises. Neither can feed the hungry in India nor lessen this country’s security dilemmas.
The fact is that the Saeed bounty announcement seems designed merely to ensure the US Under-Secretary of State a friendly welcome in India. One is not privy to the numerous concessions that the US side must be demanding in exchange for the "gift" of the Saeed announcement, nor how many of these will be conceded by the Manmohan Singh government. In the past as well, the US has flung insubstantial, atmospheric "concessions" at India, demanding real benefits in exchange. This is partly the reason why so many US financial institutions operate so freely in India, unsupervised in a way that they would not be in Singapore or even the US. Were an audit to be carried out of the actual profits of such agencies as a consequence of speculation and siphoning off of the savings of the Indian taxpayer, the figure would cross into the billions of dollars. The RBI, of course, continues its double standard of permitting entities from the US or Europe freedom to make profits in ways that would not be permitted to an Indian institution. Clearly, there must be some "wampum" thrown in the way of RBI chieftains during their travels to more civilised locations, for them to indulge the very institutions that have become a byword for greed and graft in their own countries.
The incessant quest of P. Chidambaram to persuade the US "to bring terrorists hiding in Pakistan is as quixotic as was then Petroleum Minister M.S. Aiyar's exertions at forging a petro-partnership between China and India. Instead, what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his colleagues need to do is to remind the US of past promises of space, nuclear and other hi-tech cooperation, and why these initiatives are still crawling along, where they have not been stalled or abandoned altogether. President Obama has made a career out of honeyed words and cosmic promises. Neither can feed the hungry in India nor lessen this country's security dilemmas. Thus far, President Obama and Secretary Clinton have been generous with words and stingy with actions towards India. They need to reverse these two tracks if there is to be a 21st century partnership between the US and India on Barack Obama's watch.

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