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How mid-term poll setback will affect Obama's India visit

By Aziz Haniffa
November 04, 2010 19:56 IST
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Republicans seem to have dealt a huge blow to India-bound United States President Barack Obama in the mid-term polls, as they captured control of the House of Representatives on Tuesday. But will this play on his mind while he visits India?

If predictions by the conservative Washington DC think tank -- the Heritage Foundation -- are any indicator, Obama may tread cautiously during his visit starting November 6 in Mumbai. This is a popular belief of the foundation, especially after Obama acknowledged that he and his Democrats took "a shellacking" from angry American voters in the mid-term polls. He may simply limit himself and now highlight Indian as a destination for US exports and business partnerships.     

A report authored by Lisa Curtis, a south Asia expert at the Heritage Foundation, said the mid-term election results were "largely viewed as an indictment of Obama's handling of the economy, record deficit spending, and healthcare reform. This could lead the US President to tread cautiously during his India visit."

"Obama may be tempted to limit his message to one that focuses on India as a destination for US exports and highlights US-India business collaboration. While these are indeed important issues, the President must also emphasise the broader significance of the US-India strategic partnership in strengthening democratic forces and balancing China's rise in East Asia," the report suggested. 

Curtis lamented that Obama had often adopted an overly simplistic approach toward US-India trade and economic ties, focusing on India as an economic competitor to the US. "During his speech on the campaign trail in July 2008, Obama noted that children in Raleigh and Boston are forced to compete with children in Bangalore and Beijing," she recalled.

The South Asia expert pointed out that in August Obama had signed a law raising US visa fees for foreign workers in the information technology sector -- a protectionist move directed against Indian IT companies that bring high skilled labour into the US. "While clamping down on outsourcing, Obama has missed the larger story on the benefits to the US economy from increased investment and trade ties between the two countries," she pointed out. 

"For example, as Indian companies expand their operations in the US, they will create jobs for US citizens and purchase US equipment that will in turn generate additional economic activity. Indian software major Wipro recently hired 500 skilled US workers in Atlanta, while IT service provider Tata Consultancy Services is expanding its campus outside Cincinnati to eventually employ 1,000 professionals," said Curtis. "Likewise, when American companies invest in India, they not only create jobs there, they also build efficiencies and create export opportunities that lead to more jobs in America."

Curtis also exhorted Obama to highlight defence and security ties, especially in light of uncertainties surrounding the rise of China and questions it has generated about the regional power balance in Asia. "The clinching of a major defence deal during the Obama visit would send a clear signal that the two sides are committed to enhancing strategic cooperation in a vital region of the world," she said.

According to her, the Obama administration is likely to unveil new measures to relax export controls on India, a gesture demonstrating that the US sees India as a partner and not a target, in countering global proliferation. "It will be equally important for Obama to consider incorporating India into the major non-proliferation groupings such as the Nuclear Suppliers Group, Missile Technology Control Regime, Australia Group, and Wassenar. India's membership in these groupings would serve to strengthen the global non-proliferation order," suggested Curtis.

Acknowledging that this could pose problems because India was not a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, she argued, "From a practical perspective, India's inclusion in the groups would strengthen their ability to achieve the intended purpose of limiting the spread of nuclear, biological, chemical, sensitive missile, and other military technologies."

Curtis also spelt out a laundry list of things India must do in reciprocating for the growing security ties. For starters, in order to "move the defence relationship forward, India must be prepared to sign defence cooperation agreements, like the Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement and Logistics Support Agreement," the Heritage Foundation expert said.

"These agreements will increase interoperability with US systems and enhance logistical cooperation. India must also commit to upgrading its export control system, which will strengthen its case for becoming a full-fledged member of the multilateral nonproliferation groupings," she said.

Curtis acknowledged that India's signing of the international Convention on Supplemental Compensation last week was a positive step in beginning to close the gap between Washington and New Delhi on the nuclear liability issue that has cast a pall over the civil nuclear deal.

According to her, Obama would likely face tough questions on the counter- terrorism front. "A review of Lashkar-e-Tayiba operative David Coleman Headley case would be useful not only to address Indian concerns but also to tighten US procedures in dealing with information related to Pakistan-based terrorist groups that are linked to international terrorism. This especially, in the wake of the controversy that the US had not conveyed information Headley's wives had provided to US intelligence and Federal Bureau of Investigation that he was planning a major terrorist attack in Mumbai," Curtis said.  

"These agreements will increase interoperability with US systems and enhance logistical cooperation. India must also commit to upgrading its export control system, which will strengthen its case for becoming a full-fledged member of the multilateral nonproliferation groupings," she said.

Curtis acknowledged that India's signing of the international Convention on Supplemental Compensation last week was a positive step in beginning to close the gap between Washington and New Delhi on the nuclear liability issue that has cast a pall over the civil nuclear deal.

According to her, Obama would likely face tough questions on the counter- terrorism front. "A review of Lashkar-e-Tayiba operative David Coleman Headley case would be useful not only to address Indian concerns but also to tighten US procedures in dealing with information related to Pakistan-based terrorist groups that are linked to international terrorism. This especially, in the wake of the controversy that the US had not conveyed information Headley's wives had provided to US intelligence and Federal Bureau of Investigation that he was planning a major terrorist attack in Mumbai," Curtis said.  
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