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Strategic geography makes it impossible for US to fight without Pakistan on its side

November 10, 2010 19:55 IST
Barack Obama won Indians over with his cool and cerebral approach to issues and his soaring oratory, says Mohan Guruswamy.

President Barack Obama would have left India an extremely satisfied man. He came with the civilian nuclear deal announced by George W Bush and the gushing warmth of Bill Clinton setting high watermarks for him to surpass.

He exceeded expectations and won Indians over with his cool and cerebral approach to issues and his soaring oratory. Over a thousand elected members of both Houses of India's Parliament heard him with rapt attention and the many interruptions of handclapping told him and the world that they approved of everything he said.

He made a pointed reference to Burma where India's realpolitik, given China's generous support to the military government, prompts a competing support to that odious regime.

He didn't have to name other instances like Darfur where India's silence signals acquiescence. He also left one with little doubt about what he thought of China's manipulation of the yuan to support its exports. There was little doubt that he expected India to play its role in the G-20.

The speech itself was a masterful display of the power of his eloquence. He enthralled his audience like a virtuoso conductor and raising his music to a brilliant crescendo by saying that India's rise and its conduct makes its place on the international high table with a permanent membership to the United Nations Security Council inevitable and that the USA supports it.

The MPs loved it, the media has now gone into raptures and the speaking people of India have welcomed it. Its another matter that the reform of the UN Security Council may take a very long time to happen. China will almost certainly stall it by simply saying that it does not want Japan in it.

But right now India is not thinking about such hurdles. It is overjoyed that the USA supports its entry and that this support marks another major turning point in its attitude towards India.

President Obama made other immediately significant announcements. Among them was the removal of many defence, atomic energy and space programmes related entities from the sanctioned list. Another major announcement was the promise to eliminate many of the intrusive requirements that make US export of defence equipment to India almost impossible.

Obama made this point by stating that he now equated India's relations on par with those with the USA's closest allies. This has not been fully digested as yet. Whether India would like to become what Britain and Israel are to it is debatable. Most Indian observers are not even sure whether they like the term partnership -- let alone alliance -- to describe India's new relationship with the USA.

The changing Indo-US equation is now more than a decade old. Visiting after the nuclear tests of 1999, then Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in a bid to ingratiate India with the USA, even described it as a natural ally of the USA. Things have moved on some since then.

The continued rise of China, India's rapid growth during the past decade, and the USA's near death experience in its financial system has irrevocably changed hefts and clouts the global system.

After 9/11 Pakistan has once again become integral to the USA's pursuit of its strategic interests. It needs Pakistan as an ally in its war with Al Qaeda and Islamic terrorists ensconced in the almost impenetrable tribal badlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is apparent to all that while one Pakistani arm fights with America, another supports its enemies.

Pakistan's strategic geography makes it impossible for the USA to fight without Pakistan on its side.

Despite understanding the USA's compulsion, India nevertheless expected an American condemnation of what it perceives as Pakistan's support to terrorism on Indian soil. Obama obliged by terming the existence of terrorist camps and havens in Pakistan as unacceptable. This too has largely satisfied India. At least till the next terrorist attack.

The proof of the pudding will come when the next attack takes place and India is forced to respond, militarily or otherwise.

And finally what India heard out with satisfaction was the reiteration of the USA's resolve to whittle down its trade deficit and to make the international trading system truly competitive without barriers, subsidies and manipulated currency rates distorting it. Who he had in mind was obvious and India was happy about this too.

President Obama left India leaving behind an indelible imprint with his personal charm, sincerity, high idealism and sharp intellect. He wowed India as few visiting statesman have done.

In the next few weeks we will see a stream of leaders coming to New Delhi. The Russian and French presidents will be here as will the Chinese prime minister. The new British prime minister's first port of call after taking office was New Delhi. The Brazilian and South African presidents came just a little before that.

India is basking in this newfound adulation. Without doubt the lasting bouquet will be that of Barack Obama.

Mohan Guruswamy heads the Centre for Policy Alternatives in New Delhi. He has over three decades of experience in government, industry and academia.

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Mohan Guruswamy