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'We Indians are totally Pak obsessed'

November 10, 2010 13:46 IST

As part of a series of chats, which will help understand the significance and scope of US President Barack Obama's visit to India, noted journalist Siddharth Varadarajan interacted with readers.

Deputy Editor of The Hindu, Siddharth Varadarajan is an expert on strategic affairs, foreign policy and nuclear issues. 

Here's the chat transcript.

MotiVats asked, Sir, Why Islamabad's and Pak media response is so dismissive or mute? What response do you see Pak Military?

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, I think the Pakistani leadershipa has been a bit shell shocked by the UNSc endorsemen, even if it is a long term prospect. I suspect what Obama is doing is using good relations with India as a way of putting pressure on Pakistan, in which case that,s a win win all round. What could be a better stick for Pakistan than a carrot for India?! Ok, over and out, great chatting sit you guys - and redid admins, please delete the question on Michelle and by answer.

Siva asked, Sir, As a society, we appear to be a hyper-sensitive and touchy. We also seem to like a lot of flattery. I base these statements on the amount of noise that were raised everytime Obama did not mention Pakistan. Would you agree that we need to be less sensitive and more mature (as a nation)?

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, I couldn't agree with you more, Siva. We need to be less obsessed with Pakistan and China, less paranoid, less insecure, more confident.

SKA asked, Given the approach of Mr Singh as the PM, and his unique focus of economics and global politics, do you think he has raised the bar for anyone wanting to be the PM of India in future?

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, I heard a fabaccount of Dr Sjngh explaining to Obama in 20 seconds an arcane point about how the Federal Reserve works, that' kind of capability has got to count for something in International diplomacy! And I don't see his successors having that kind of skill set!

narayanaravi asked, Dear Varadarajan, What can we offer to US in terms of 'stable' Pakistan? May be we should close the Indian consulates in Afghanistan close to Pak border. May be we should declare that we will not be involved in training of Afghan security forces, provided Pak also desists from doing so. 

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, What India can offer is what we already have - an offer to meet Pakistani concerns more than half way once they act with determination against groups like the Lashkar. I think the Pakistan military knows very well that India is not using it's consulates in Afghanistan to send armed men and explosives across the border. With drones and Nato troops patrolling 24x7, I don't think our RAW operatives would have a very good success rate there LOL

brahmanandan asked, In the joint press meet Mr.Obama said that the trade partnership between indian and US will result in win win situation for both countries.Do you think is it possible. Presently indian businessmens are going to invest and create lot of jobs in US and as a result nothing has comeout in india. How can this be a win win situation. Your views on it.

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, This depends on the extent to which America allows high tech products to be exported to India. But they are fixated on sending us insurance and banking companies, that too after we saw how great they are in the run up to and the aftermath of the world finical crisis!

Hanif asked
, Would India have to make concessions in Kashmir ? Would India have to toe the US-Israel line vis a vis Iran? 

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, The Kashmir chapter is closed as an irritant in Indo-US relations. Please be clear about that. But on Iran, there will be pre sure, which India sill have to resist for three reasons, first, conflict will jeopardize the four million Indians who live in the gulf region. Second, oil import as and prices. Third, Iran is India,s entry Oint into Afghanistan since Pakistan won't give India transit Rights.

Agnivesh asked, Sir, What is the importance of UNSC seat for India at this stage because India is at a stage where we shall avoid taking tough stand on others position and concentrate on our own economic growth. UNSC Seat will bring more responsibilities which can hurt India's economic interests.

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, I think India is at a stage where it can manage to pursue both it's own economic interests and promote inter atonal peace and security.

srivastava asked, Do you think a war is in the making ? China has already entered the karokaram region in POK and /Arunachal is heating up again. Us might be on the side of India but the battleground will be India?

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, Where is all this war talk coming from? I do not see hostilities with China or Pakistan as even a remote possibility.

longnose asked, Do you think close association with US is in the interest of India? Why not align closer to China as we have very little issues where our differences cannot be set right. In this context, why are we going ga ga over Obama? 

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, India needs a healthy triangular relationship with China and the US, besides pursuing other vectors like Russia, BRIC, IBSA etc. Bandwagining with the US is not a wise strategy for a major world power like India.

Kirti asked, Mr Vardarajan, seeing the way the media went hammer and tong about Obama not mentioning the P-word on day 1 of his visit, do you think the media is getting just to Pakistan obssessed? Why did they keep quiet about China then, which is as much -- if not a greater -- threat to us. 

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, Absolutely right, we are totally Pak obsessed.

Sierramaniac asked, Dear Mr Varadarajan, Now that US had given a principle go ahead for India's permanent seat in UNSC, I have two questions to ask. a) Do you really think US is really backing us up all the way or it is just an one off utterance? b) I distinctly remember reading Ashley Tellis interview where he had clearly stated that Mr Manmohan's Government had really given more than what Mr. Vajpayee's Government had given for the nuclear deal. What you think would be the price we are paying here?

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, There are two aspects to the Obama announcement on UNSC. First is whether they intend to fig for it at international forums, like they did on the nuclei question at the NSG. The answer to that question is no, for now. The second aspect is whether India can make skillful use of the opening the announcement gives to further its own standing and interest. The answer to that question is yes, On the nuclear deal, I have written extensively on this... No more for now!

biplab asked
, Hindu has always been aligned to the subaltern views, which may be reflected sometimes as Leftist viewpoints - in relation to the subaltern viewpoint what is your opinion on the Obama Visit?

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, Could I urge you to read the Hindu's editorial today, 'A Significant Visit' ? many thanks.

kailasanathan asked, obama's visit was extensively covered all over our country. Did US Press and media give it importance or not?

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, I think they gave it more coverage than earlier bilaterals, that's for sure. But as for tv coverage in the Us, I doubt it.

Afreen asked, The BJP alludes that Obama only mentioned Pakistan after Sushma Swaraj met him at the Sheraton. Do you think that is true?

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, No, that is not true.

abhi asked, sir, do you think economics will shape up world politics from here on? do you think the next big thing is US-India vs China-Pakistan?

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, Economics plays a big and even decisive role but not to the exclusion of all other factors. After all, China is India's largest adding partner but that has nt made the poetical relationship very easy. As for your next big thing, no, I don't think so, US relations with China are complex and dynamic.there will ndot be any frontal confrontation.

ajishmm asked, Sir, On ground of India-US relations what will be the strategy of China as next month Chinese President visiting India??? 

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, Now the fun and games will begin. There will be enormous pressure on the Chinese to go beyond their formulation on Indian membersip of the UNSC, plus all the other irritants.

Dr Ashok asked, WHy doesn't Obama declares POK as terrorist state and do military action against them with India because the terror threat from them is more to US?

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, I think we should move away from this obsession to have Pakistan declared a terrorist state. What does that even mean? And what makes you think an American military attack on Pakistan will be any more successful than it's invasion of Afghanistan? We have to move away from the idea that political problems can be resolved only through war.

gudasan asked, Dear Mr Varadarajan This chat is a first for me - only thanks to following your articles have I found it worth while to ask you for more here! You give us a perspective on US as much as Mr. Sainath on agriculture and rural India. Thank you for the same 

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, Why' thanks very much!

vishnuvardhan asked, Should India send 20,000 troups to Afganistan for peace keeping purposes and help US/UN?

Siddharth Varadarajan answers
, No, India should not send troops to Afghnaistan under any circumstances in which it remains under overall military control by the US. if the Afghan government wants Indian help to train theAfgan army in India, this is something that could be considered.

king asked, Obama visit is more of style and less of substance. Though his comments on India's UNSC bid may make sense. hissucessor is not bound by Obama's comments. Your take?

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, My sense is that as India,s size and heft in the global system increases, future American presidents may in fact be even more forthcoming than Mr Obama was.

loserno1 asked, What is the general perception in the US about this trip? Does their media care? Does the mainstream politicians have India /on their agenda(Like Iran, Israel, North Korea etc)? 

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, The US media was quite excited by Obama's endorsement of a permeant seat for India on the UNSC.

Hanif asked
, Will Obama be stronger in the US due to his action in India ?

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, Undoubtedly. The Republicans broadly support a strengthening of the India partnership and used to criticize him for ignoring India. So this will help him

vishnuvardhan asked
, Dear Mr Varadarajan, Do you think the statement made by Obama on Burma in the speech indicates conditionalities by US with UNSC seat? 

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, Not strict conditionality but probation!

HarishMenon asked
, Going by Robert Kaplan, the Indian Ocean is slowly getting back to being the Centre of the world again. To that extent, where will you place Indo-US and Indo-US-Asean partnership vis a vis China's rise in the heirarchy of global non-military, geo-strategic alliances?

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, The Indian ocean is part of the global commons and some 75per cent of world trade passes through it. For the Chinese, a very high proportion of their energy imports passes through the Indian Ocean. As such they have a legitimate stake in a system which can ensure the safety and security of sea lanes. The challenge for India, which straddles the east west SLOCs is to help develop a cooperative framework for maritime cooperation that involves all stakeholders, including the Chinese.

dbpatra asked, Dear Mr. Varadarajan, It is a great pleasure to follow you (and earlier, Mr. Rajamohan) on the folds of The Hindu. Do you think India and US have discussed specifics of the supplementary compensation for Nuclear Liability that would be passable by Indian parliament? Secondly, what does Engage East mean in serious terms?

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, I think the Indian liability law came up in Obamaa meetings with Manmohan and Sonia. but they were told there is no legislative fix possible. A senior atomic energy official told me on background that though Immelt of Ge is maiming a lot of noise, commercial negotiations have finally begun. I think this issue will eventually die down.

vidvans asked, How does your so called political support to India regarding the UNSC seat by the Obama administration amount to anything more than political correctness. How can he counter the Chinese veto. If Obama finds India's silence on Myanmar stunning, then why on earth does he remain mum with the latter's number one trading-investment partner, China 

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, Look, the game as it unfolds will be very complex. It is up to India to use the US endorsement as effectively as it can. The only ones who can convince China of the utter folly of any veto against India will be the Indians themselves

Vijay asked, As Mulayam Singh said in Parliament yesterday that china going to attack india is it true?

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, Utter rubbish

Afreen asked, Hello, Mr Vardarajan - it was nice to the Obamas interact with students in St Xavier's College, why is it that our leaders do not make time to interact with young people? In a country where more than half of its population is below 30, why do politicans make no effort to connect with young people -- barring Rahul gandhi and APJ, no one else does it. 

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, Quite right, our leaders keel well away from u scripted interaction. Even the PM does a press conference in India once in five years!

bipin asked, Why US is pressurizing India on its policy on Burma and Iran. We cant afford to have more enemy in Burma?

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, Quite right, in fact, the Indian side told Obama that which we understand your concerns, we do not want to have another Pakistan on our. Orders, which is a state ruled by a military with multiple insurgencies and excessive dependence on China. If the Us pursues the sanctions route, this is where the Myanmar junta will end up. We need to engage with them.

mujtaba asked
, Being a kashmiri, am an ardent follower of ur articles on kashmir. Sidarth what solution do u forsee for kashmir so as to have a peacful S.Asia & yes keeping aspirations of kashmir in mind? thank u

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, Off topic again but can't resist. Briefly, India has to ease up on restrictions domestically, beginning with human rifts related issues, as a means of winning back the confidence and trust of the ordinary Kashmiri. And internationally, the back channel formulation for a settlement with Pakistan needs to be revived. Best outcome is South Tyrol-plus.

Phantom asked, Do you think Obama sent stringent enough a message to Pakistan regarding cross border terrorism?

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, I think stringent messages are never effective when they are delivered in public. Everyone expected Obama to "do a Cameron" which in India, I.e. blast the Pakistanis on terror. But the US is the only county with any great leverage over the Pakistani establishment and that leverage cannot be exercised when you fight in public.

manikandan asked, Right now there are many restriction on the job market in the US for indians and the jobs being offshored to india. Will this visit has any positive impact on this.

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, I don't expect any immediate relic on this fro, not when unemployment in the Us is nearly 10 per cent and the president just suffered a huge election setback

Balvinder asked, Sir, I would like to ask about the main objective of OBAMA's visit.I think that Obama had come to India for strategic planning of a joint attack on pakistan.What do you think?????

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, No such thing balvinder, believe me!

sriniramani asked, Siddharth, the general impression about Obama's visit is that he has cemented the "bonhomie" set in place by the Bush regime. But is it really the case? The Bush regime's objectives to tie India into a geo-strategic partnership (offshore balancing of China) seems not to be driving the Obama regime's intent. This is more of a bilateral cementing of trade and investment ties and keeping with a "regional" emphasis of the Obama regime in Asia. Am I reading this correctly? 

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, No, srivasaramani, I think theBush offshore balancing agenda is back with a bang. Just add up the number of times Obama spoke of India and East Asia in the same breath. And I also believe Obama is a late convert to the Bush doctrine. Perhaps the events of the past six months have convinced him. Either way, I am not a big fan of building bilateral relations on the quicksand of ach other's attitudes towards China.

ranjanchat asked, Have seen certian articles advocating that India should dump MMRCA and instaed look for Fifth Generation Stealth Fighter F-35 ( Lockheed), which obviously have greater capability vis a vis Fourth Gen fighter we are currently looking for. But than we will be closing our choice to only US made F-35. Is it a choreographed capmaign? How much merit will u attach to F-35 Fifth Gen Stlth Fighter, campaign?

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, We are also working on fifth generation with the Russians, don't forget. But I think the MRCA evaluations are so far advanced that I would be surprised if they were canceled.

kumar asked, Hi Siddharth Can you elaborate, what are the key take ways from india to USA during OBAMA visit!

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, For India, I think the UNSc endorsement, some positive language recognizing India's importance in Afghanistan, the support for membership of the NSG, taking ISRRO, DRDO Nd Bharat Dynamics off the entities list, the promise of level playing field for high tech imports. For the US, sales sales sales. Plus some comfort that the Indians may agree to bat for your interests EastAsia ...

naif asked, Do you think that there wouldve been discussions on Inter operability, Logistics Support etc during the closed door discussions and if yes what was Indias response?

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, Indian side, especially Def Min, has been quite blunt about LSA and CISMOa being problematic. But in typical Indian fashion, we did not say an outright no, only that we are continuing to study and review these draft agreements!

vishnuvardhan asked, Dear Mr Varadarajan, should India work with raise issue of Gilgit, Balkistan, Azad Kashmir with Pakistan, instead of focussing only on J&K?

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, This is a bit off topic but I think the best option for aKashmir solution is what Manmohan and Musharraf were trying to do. I hope, over the next few years, we will be able to pick up the threads of those back channel discussions.

kalyan asked
, Given that the relations between China and India are still cold, do you think China will agree on our ambitions for UNSC seat without solving contentious issues like arunachal and Kashmir. How do you think India has to play its cards to make it through?

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, It will be a tough sell but my sense this is a pill the Chinese will eventually have to swallow. Incidentally, we need also to pay attention to the other dynamics involved here - the lack of agreement in Africa over South Africa, with Egypt, Nigeria and even Senegal pitching for a permanent seat. And then you have a very messy situation in Europe. These knots will all need untying, not just the China one.

Prashant asked, How does the visit of Barack Obama impact the growth in Russia India ties over the next decade? Do we see Russia scaling down its support(military,fuel,business) for India?

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, I think theRussians are worried. Of course, plenty of business will be coming there way, what with the Kudankulam and Haripur reactors and the Sukhoi order and the joint Fifth General fighter aircrAft project. But they are worried. At the same time, India should use the Us endorsement of a permanent seat to get the Russians to revert to their earlier unqualified support for India. Two years back, they quietly started talking about a permanent seat for India "on the basis of consensus".

red asked, Why do the Indian politicians wail like a dogs tail in front of obama??

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, I thought everyone was dignified this time around, unlike when the whole of Parliament started jumping up and down trying to shake Bill Clinton's hand in 2000!

amit asked
, What do you think, IT industry can take a sigh of relief after Obama's visit? 

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, I'm not sure whether there will be any relief on the outsourcing and HI visas issues. Obama was polite in not publicly talking about outsourcing, indeed criticized the paranoia of those in America who rail against it, but whether this translates into a less protectionist Americans anomy, am not sure.

chcheri asked, wht is yr opinion/imp of prez obama wrt india, post the visit

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, I think he has managed to convey to the Indian side he is as serious about the strategic partnership as George W Bush was. And that is a big achievement for him since there was a lot of disquiet in official Indian circles about his outlook on India and Asia.

Naitik asked, Obama put a rider on membership of UNSC by making the implementation of UNSC Resolutions incumbent. Was he hinting at Kashmir Resolutuions too? Does it put India's hope effectively paid??? 

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, No, he was no referring to Kashmir resolutions, which are, in any case, not binding and are virtually defunct today. Incidentally, please understand that the geopolitics of Kashmir have changed. The US is less likely than ever before to pick a fight with India over Kashmir .

Munish asked, Of all the places that Indian political leadership and bureaucracy had to offer to show to Obama was the Humayun Tomb? Afterall, he was an invader! What was the message that the govt wanted to convey?

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, Don't be silly Munish. Firstly, Humayun was not an Invader. He may have been born in Kabul but he wS one of greatest rulers of India. Secondly, it is a beautiful monument, precursor to the Taj and a marvelous venue to showcase for visiting VVIPs.

Kirti asked, Mr Vardarajan, seeing the way the media went hammer and tong about Obama not mentioning the P-word on day 1 of his visit, do you think the media is getting just to Pakistan obssessed? Why did they keep quiet about China then? WHich is a bigger threat to us?

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, You know, it's funny how we say we are glad the Americans have finally dehyphenated their relations with India and Pakistan but then no sooner had Obama landed than we were denouncing him for not bashing Pakistan. I think it is quite ridiculous the way sections of the electronic media went on and on about this.

ragav asked, will there be any impact towards the agriculture??? Mr.Obama hangs on the statement that all sorts of agriculture phases could be enhanced 

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, Agriculture is where the US is pushing very hard. I hope we do not give in to their pressure here given the hunders of millions of lives at stake.

coorg asked, what are the steps needed India to get Permenent member status at UN 

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, Formally speaking, the backing of 130 odd members of the UN General Assembly and a commitment that none of the five permanent members will veto it's candidature. There is a text based negotiating process underway in New York right now. In poetical terms, however, the P5 will have to be actively involved for this to fly.

Ajai asked, When do ou feel , will US dump Pakistan for real ? Will that happen ?

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, US will never dumped Pakistan, please understand that clearly. What India has to push Washington in the direction of is backing the civilian leadership and democratic institutions, and not the Army there.

Naitik asked, What do u make out of his comments that US will not leave Afghanistan at the mercy of Taliban even after 2011. Given the growing distrust between Pak and US on their respective objectives in Afghanistan, how much fre hand will pak have post 2011 and What will be the role of India post 2011? How does the US intend to control Afghanistan post 2011?

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, I believe he was even more explicit with the Indian leaders in private on this point. I for one have never believed they are in a Hurry to exit Afghanistan. What is interesting about the late Indo-US joint statement is the reference to joint capacity building projectsin Afghanistan, which could eventually be a reference to training of the AnSF by India, within India of course.

Varadarajan asked, Has Obama's visit really helped? These announcements,business deals, etc could have always come through other channels. India needs to be moving from a subservient nation to an autoritative one, authoritative in terms of bein forthright and refusing to buckle to any pressure 

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, What's funny about the deals - Obama spoke triumphantly of $ 10 billion worth - is that they were all closed before the visit! I think he needed to make it appear at home as if he was coming back with orders that should keep Americans in jobs. Indeed, what struck me about this visit the most was that it was the American side which seemed the supplicant, for once!

sharmistha asked, What does the common man in India stand to lose as a fallout of Obama's visit? 

Siddharth Varadarajan answers
, It is too early to tell... Americans are pushing for market access on agriculture, insurance and banking. Retail is an issue but I understand Obama did not hard sell that this time.

Rahil asked, Considering the massive aid given recently to Pakistan, is US really an ally or a victim of Pakistan in the fight against terror..?

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, I remain worried about the close alliance between the United States and the Pakistani military. What started out as an exercise in pushing Pakistan towards restoration of democracy has now degenerated into unabashed support for General Kayani and others in khaki.

ranjan asked, Obama did not took and reciprocated salute from the Commanding Officer at the end of Guard of Honour. It appeared that he took India diddainfully for granted? Your Comments.

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, Ranjan, protocol is a confusing and mysterious world even for presidents and prime ministers. If he did something wrong there, it wS perhaps because he was not adequately briefed. I don't think we should worry about such things.

sdsds asked, heylo Obama's endorsing India in UNSC P-F merely a symbloic gesture? Evn US authorities yesterday have indicated that since no time frame is given..Isnt it too ambiguos?

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, We should not down play the importance of symbolism in politics or diplomacy. Obama's announcement will now push the international debate forward. The Chinese may soon have to end their silence on the issue

Chandrasekhar asked
, Was the UN Security Council Backing by US a result of Indian bargain for a reciprocity - against the high value purchase order for Heavy lift Transport aircraft given to US? 

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, I don't think so. Obviously there is the expectation of a bargAin on the American side but that would be more in the nature of political support at the UN and others fora on key issues like Iran. Obama made it very clear, just after he extended support for a permanent Indian seat, that "with greater power comes greater responsibility".and then he went on to elaborate, in a highly selective and tendentious manner, what the priorities of the UNSC should be. If India is not prepared to act "responsible" on those in the next two years when it is a non permanent member, the American backing for a permanent seat might well evaporate!

gupta asked
, I believe that US president always says good about India to just sustain the relation but nothing comes out concrete 

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, Well, India did manage to have the door to nuclear commerce opened in 2008, right?And that would not have been possible without US backing. But you are right to the extent that India should not get carried away.

Dada asked
, Obama's two grandstanding statements to the Indian parliament seem to have pleased both the ruling party and the opposition. But if you go a little deep and analyze both the statements, nothing significant comes out of it and both are just a rephrasing of America's earlier position. First, as far as UNSC seat is concerned, he just told that he welcomes India into UNSC as and when the reform happens ( no time frame mentioned) if India behaves in a responsible manner ( means India should support US in many issues rather than taking an independent stand) till then. Second, regarding the issue of terror emanating from Pakistan is concerned; he just said that it is unacceptable. He did not even mention the time frame to dismantle that terror infrastructure or what action he is going to take if Pakistan continues to support terror against India. Should India feel satisfied by these two show-off statements? What is your opinion sir? 

Siddharth Varadarajan answers, You are right that the UNSC statement comes without a ti eframe but my sense is that American endorsement, however vage, at this point opens up space for India to more effectively press it's bid. It also sends out a good signal to other countries Bout where the US thinks India is heading. As for terror in Pakistan, I think it is futile to expect a harsher public criticism of that cow try from the Us president, especially while he is on Indian soil.