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Mid-term loss could stifle Obama's Af-Pak plans

By B Raman
November 05, 2010 15:46 IST
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The recent gains by the Republicans in the American midterm polls may benefit India, says B Raman.

President Bill Clinton and President George Bush had both visited India just months after their parties had suffered electoral set-backs in the mid-term elections to the US Congress, but, they came a few months after their electoral set-back. By the time they came, the Indian public had forgotten about their set-back, which did not have any impact on their visits.

President Barack Obama will reach India two days after the elections in which his party lost control of the House of Representatives and managed to retain a narrow majority in the Senate. This has become an important subject of discussion everywhere. As much time is spent in discussing his electoral set-back, as is spent discussing his policies towards India. Would the set-back weaken him politically? Would it come in the way of substantial changes in Indo-US relations, which would be to the benefit of the two countries?

It must be remembered that the US mid term polls elections were fought largely on domestic issues. Foreign policy hardly figured during the election campaign. The election results represented a rejection of Obama's domestic agenda. Conventional wisdom holds that his powers to make and implement foreign policy will remain undiminished, but one has to remember that the US Congress controls federal funds. A hostile Congress can make his foreign policy initiatives non-starters by denying funds for implementation.

This is not a rosy picture for Obama, but the return of the Republicans to the Congress could still have some bright spots for India. India can hopefully expect the Republican members of the Congress to insist on a strict implementation by Pakistan of the conditions imposed under the Kerry-Lugar Act of 2009 laying down the conditions under which the economic aid of US $ 7.5 billion over a five-year
period voted last year will be disbursed. It can also hopefully expect that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will subject to intense scrutiny the President's proposal for a new allocation of US $ 2.29 billion towards military assistance for Pakistan. India should lose no time in briefing the elected Republican members about its serious objections to these allocations.

Obama's Af-Pak strategy cannot hope to get easy approval from the House. Questions will be asked about his exit strategy and about the talk of a dialogue with the so-called good Taliban in the hope of bringing them into the political mainstream. The House of Representatives is likely at act as a speed-breaker on OBama's so-called Afghan exit strategy. This ought to suit India.

Even in the case of China, Obama has been avoiding declaring it a currency manipulator and diluting the focus on human rights issues. The newly-elected House is likely to step up pressure for the declaration of China as a currency manipulator and highlight the violation of human rights in China. Concerns arising from China's newly-acquired cyber warfare capability are likely to be taken up with a greater vigour by the new House. These are issues which enjoy considerable public support in the US. Obama will no longer be able to push them under the carpet.

There are interesting opportunities for India as a result of the thinking of the Republicans on these issues. It should not fail to take advantage of these opportunities to have the foreign policy distortions of the Obama administration corrected in a manner that could be beneficial to India.
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B Raman