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Did Obama broach Kashmir solution with Dr Singh?

November 08, 2010 16:15 IST
Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar, the former diplomat and strategic thinker, assesses the press conference addressed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US President Barack Obama, in a conversation with Rediff.com's Sheela Bhatt.

Any joint press conference after summit-level talks invariably attracts attention to its body language. The press conference between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US President Barack Obama on Monday was no exception.

A compulsive Obama watcher would agree that the US President was uncharacteristically subdued. So indeed was Dr Singh, but in a different way -- uncharacteristically assertive so much so that one instinctively remembered the fearless Guru Gobind Singh.

The heavy Indian expectation that Obama should say something to acknowledge New Delhi's profound concerns regarding Pakistan-sponsored terrorism seemed to weigh on the mind of the US President as he walked into the press conference.

But in the event, he once again dodged the issue and instead took to the high ground to advocate India-Pakistan amity as the panacea of all evils.

The stark reality, however, is that the US is in absolutely no position today to irritate the Pakistani military as the Afghan endgame rolls on. This is somehow emerging as the leitmotif of Obama's India visit.

Obama seems acutely conscious of it and he was looking far from comfortable. He somewhat made up by warmly commending the 'relentless' effort made by Dr Singh to kickstart a peace process with Pakistan.

But that seemed to fall short of New Delhi's expectation. Dr Singh promptly interjected using unusually harsh language to draw attention to the 'terror machinery' operating in Pakistan which is bent upon instigating cross-border terrorism on Indian soil.

Dr Singh went on to assert that so long as the Pakistanis don't give up their support to terrorism, a meaningful dialogue is not possible. He just about managed to hold himself back from calling Pakistan a State sponsoring terrorism.

More important, Obama confirmed that Kashmir issue had indeed figured in the talks. He said the US offered to play any form of role to solve the problem. But then he tactfully added that this was a long-standing problem that may still take 'months or years' to solve and the process might have to be incremental and should in any case be emanating out of Indian and Pakistani effort.

New Delhi can learn to live with this US position. But it is also indicative that the US has broached a Kashmir solution with New Delhi during Obama's visit -- something that Pakistan has been pressing for.

Dr Singh crisply responded that India is not 'afraid' of the Kashmir problem.

In a clutch of ice-cold words Dr Singh conveyed a great deal outright rejecting any third party mediation and disabusing any Pakistani notions to the effect that India was coming under US pressure over the Kashmir issue.

This public exchange -- as well as Obama's references to India-Pakistan ties at the townhall meeting in Mumbai on Sunday -- underscore that a hiatus has indeed appeared in the so-called 'strategic partnership' between India and the US. Glossing over it becomes difficult.

Perhaps, only an overarching American gesture of profound significance to India's interests can subsume the hiatus.

Also read: M K Bhadrakumar's Take on Day 1 and Day 2 of the Obama visit
Obama in India: The best coverage, only on Rediff.com

M K Bhadrakumar