As part of a series of chats, which will help understand the significance and scope of US President Barack Obama's visit to India, journalist Pranay Sharma interacted with rediff.com readers.
Associate foreign editor for the Outlook magazine, Pranay writes on foreign affairs and diplomatic issues.
With the frenzy surrounding US President Barack Obama's visit dying down, Sharma analysed the visit -- its significance, what it means for India and the US, did we concede too much ground, did we come out trumps, etc...
Here's the Chat transcript:
kj asked, Dude, should we waste money on multi billion defense deals for a token seat at UNSC when 50% is below BPL. Whats ur take man?
Pranay Sharma answers, at 2010-11-09 19:47:49The UNSC seat is important for India because of the role it has been playing at the international fora and taking all other criterions, in size of population, as one of the fastest growing economies as a democracy etc. I don't think the US is doing India a favour. It is a recognition of the ground reality. But I also agree that to become a proper global player India needs to take urgent steps to narrow the gap between the haves and have nots among its people and pull out large number of Indian who are still below the poverty line.
gg asked, In today's circumstances, can US be seen as a reliable defence partner?
Pranay Sharma answers, I can understand when people have apprehensions about the US because of its past history. But I believe Obama is different. He is not a war-mongering President. He wants peace and stability in the world. Keeping that in mind there is an opportunity for India to play a role in close cooperation with the US, not in terms of a defence alliance but to use its own army and navy, to contribute to world peace and keeping many of the important sea lanes in the region trouble free.
true indian asked, the world talks about globalization on specific terms....does the visit of USA president obama specify any step forward to the globalization of jobs? Also, does it signify the end of undisputed stake of the USA over world's economy?
Pranay Sharma answers, Globalisation has meant or been intrepreted by different countries differently, especially to see an engagement that enhances and strengthens their own economy. The visit of the US President yet again reaffirms the fact that globalisation and its spin offs, be it in terms outsourcing or investment is today a two-way traffic. Indians are not only getting jobs becuase of American companies setting up shop in India, but Indian businessmen are also buying American companies and creating jobs in the US. It is a two-way traffic. Despite the economic crisis that the US finds itself in, I believe it is a huge economic power and will continue to be so for many more years to come. Though it will have to get used to the fact that it will have to share the space with many other major economic forces, like China, India, Brazil etc, to name a few.
sri asked, We feel that USA has got more benefit than india in this trip.. What do you say?
Pranay Sharma answers, I don't agree with that view. If you simply look at the items on the table, which reflects the joint statement between the two sides, India has got a lot too. If one looks beyond the contracts, which the Obama team is highlighting for obvious reasons, one can see there is a lot for India to feel happy about.
riaz asked, well do u think that... US is pampering india as a child to feel happy for the UNSC......as Germany,japan and Brazil stil in a Que?
Pranay Sharma answers, I don't think India needs pampering. What the US is doing is finally admitting a ground reality. Moreover. if they really want to build a global partnership with India, it will have to recognise some of these factors, especially, India's desire to be get a permanent seat in the UNSC. If the US does not support India, it will fall behind. But this does not mean just because of this India will be at the high table. For this it needs the support of a large number of countries, many of them are from the developing world. India will have to re-establish its credentials as a champion of their cause.
Ramesh asked, you did not answer gg question about US being reliable defense partner, USA donates billions worth of military equipment( including F-16) to Pakistan,tries to sell billions worth of equipment to us... is not that double game , arming our enemy and selling us more weapons?
Pranay Sharma answers, I think we need to delink our relations with the US and that of Pakistan and the US. For many years we have been complaining about the hyphenation that the US had been doing between India and Pakistan. Finally it has been broken, so let us not go back to it. With arms transfer to Pakistan, which the US needs to do vis-a-vis Pakistan for its own compulsion, namely to get its cooperation on Afghanistan. As long as it does alter the strategic balance, as I think it does not at this stage, we should not worry, because the kind of cooperation we have with the US is at a much higher level.
Nishchal asked, HI Mr Pranay. Equation between Mr Singh and President Obama looked very good. Do you think we have been able to clear our stand regarding our relation on Pakistan clearly to him and on terrorism emanating from Pakistani soil.
Pranay Sharma answers, Hi. Yes, I do agree that we have made our stand on both these issues very clear. But let me add that even before President Obama came here, the US were aware of India's stand vis-a-vis Pakistan and the terroist activities taking place from its soil. Therefore, what the US had been saying, reflects the Indian position. But the Prime Minister had to take the opportunity of reaffirming his stand on Pakistan, which I think was important as a lot of viewers across the world were watching the press conference.
naveen asked, Mr.Sharma,Why Obama was reluctant to say anything against pakistan?why they need pakistan so much?
Pranay Sharma answers, The US has its own compulsion about Pakistan which it sees as important mainly for its supply to Afghanistan. It also needs Pakistan to hold up the other side of the border to make the US led fight in Afghanistan effective. This does not mean the US is happy with the cooperation that it has been getting from Pakistan. It really thinks Pakistan falls well short of what Washington expects from it. But the US faces a dilemma, like many otrher countries that this also includes China or Saudi Arabia, theother two countries having significant level of influence. But none of them has so far been able to come to a formula to deal effectively with Pakistan. The way things are in Pakistan, especially its policy of being selective about its fight against terroirst groups is a worry not only for India but for others as well. However, I don't think any of them have so far been able to hit upon the right formula of dealing with Pakistan. This is a huge challenege for all.
infd asked, Hello Pranay, What is the relevant explanation for PM saying, India is not extracting/stealing jobs from USA?
Pranay Sharma answers, I think the PM wanted to make it clear that if there is outsourcing, it is two way traffic. Therefore, sections in the us, who have this notion that all their jobs going out of the country to India and some others, than the PM wanted to make it clear that in give-and-take formula there is no question of stealing. It is an arrangement from which both benefit.
naveen asked, Mr.Sharma,Why Obama was reluctant to say anything against pakistan?why they need pakistan so much?
Pranay Sharma answers, I have given a detailed answer on why they need Pakistan. But let me put it this way Pakistan is also an important country for the US, may be not in the same league as India but for other reasons that I have given in earlier responses. As a visiting President to India, he was mindful of what his remarks would mean. Even India is careful in how it describes the terrorist activties emanating from Pak soil. It keeps talking of sections in Pakistan. This is one way of ensuring you are able to continue your engagement with an extremely difficlut neighbour. For Obama too, the response on Pakistan was graded. What he was reluctant in saying Mumbai, he said it in a more forthright manner while addressing the Indian parliament. I think that was a positive development and satisfied many who were initially disappointed with his remarks at the Taj in Mumbai.
sherpa asked, Hi, what do you think what were India's gains?
Pranay Sharma answers, India's gain basically was not only a recognition of its key role in Asia and at the global stage by the US, but as a result progress on a number of areas like a promise to get rid of the hi-tech denials as well as a support on the US. Besides if one look at the jt statement, one can see there are wide range of issues where the two counutries can work to strengthen their ties for mutual benefit.
NAIR asked, HI, SUPPOSE WE ARE A STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP WITH US(DEFENCE SECTOR) CAN WE REDUCE OUR DEFENCE BUDGET CONSIDERABLY..?
Pranay Sharma answers, I don't think that is what the strategic partnership will lead to. Bring down Indian defence budget will depend largely on how India defines its security threat perception. If it trying to play a bigger role that is stritctly not restricte3d to South Asia and goes far beyobd, then I don't see the possibility of its def bugdte going down in the near future.
true indians asked, dear sir, it seems USA is more concerned about CHINA's fast growth as an upcoming super power and its army that USA has no control by any means...that USA still feels CHINA as the biggest threat though its not showing in its gesture...is it the reason behind obama's asia visit to make china psychologically weak and alone... what u have to say sir.
Pranay Sharma answers, There is no denying that the rise of China is a serious concern for the US and many of its allies in the region. But the US also sees China as a very important country and needs its cooperation to meet many of the challenges of the 21st century. India on the other hand is seen as benign force by many of the countries in the region and also the US. While the US will continue to seek China's cooperation, it does not want any single country dominating the important sea lanes in Asia. It wants India to play a bigger role with perhaps this in mind. But I don't see this as a military alliance, rather I see it as an important triangular relationship which will determine the shape of Asia and also to a large extent that of the world in the coming days.
kj asked, Don't you think we lack the character to tough talk to foreigners about issues of real concern to us. We are just happy when they even smile and talk to US and lo Obamas even danced and threw us a bone of UNSC seat, which in reality will not materialize ever.
Pranay Sharma answers, I don't agree with that view. We may not want to talk tough to our guest in public but I don't think that India makes any less effeort to fight for its corner. We have done some very hard nosed negotiations in the past and I don't see any signs of that changing very soon.
Rajagopal asked, Mr Pranay. What significance it adds to india for the permanent membership, we rejected this in early 1955 during Nehru's period.
Pranay Sharma answers, When the offer for a permanent seat came to us in the 1950s we had passed it over to China. Maintaining Asian solidarity among newly independent countries and new republics was part of the thinking of the Indian leadership then. But in the past five decades or so the ground reality has changed significantly. If India gets in there, it can act as a bridge between the developing and developed world. If it can ensure that most of the differences can be resolved through consultation and engagement rather than by imposing sanctions or armed interventions, than I think we can expect to see a much more harmonoius world than what we see today.
shruti asked, are you impressed by Obama ?
Pranay Sharma answers, I must admit, I was impressed by Obama from the time became a serious contender in the US presidential elections. He is a great communicator and I also belive that unlike many of his predecessors he is apeace loving many. His stress has also been in multilateralism rather than unilateralism which was the prefered way of his predecessor. He holda lot of promise not only for the US but also for the world. The next two years are crucial to see how he lives upto the expecation of not only the American public but also that of the world.
Biju asked, Hi Pranay Don't you think that POTUS made big promises wrt to UNSC seat, kashmir issue but on the ground this is not going to be materialized. he was here to do the business which he gained
Pranay Sharma answers, Let us get real. A commitment made by a US President cannot be taken lightly. We need to convince the world that our presence will help them. Business wasdefeinitely one of the agendas in Obama's mind but the entire visit was much more than that. It was to lay the foundation for a global partnership with India. I think he has been able to put many of the elements into it for that partnership to be realized.
shakira asked, do you think Obama was bit less colourful than usual durign his India trip?
Pranay Sharma answers, That may have been the case on the first day on arrival. That was understandable as this was his first visit here and he was coming soon after the defeat of the Democrats at the mid-term. But he came into his elements, especially from the time he started engaging with the students. Even his address to the Indian parliament where he quoted from the works of a wide range of Indian leaders, showed he is an intellectual, a thinking President and someone who has been following India for some time. Bye, thank you all for your questions.