Ahead of his visit to India US President Barack Obama outlined some of his views about the country, describing India and US as “natural allies” and their growing partnership as a possible defining moment of the 21st Century. While there is a lot of emphasis on the personal chemistry between President Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, barring homilies there is nothing concrete that the US President has so far offered in his interview with India Today.
There are four major takeaways from the Obama interview:
- India and the US are natural allies and their partnership can be the defining moment of the 21st century.
- He believes PM Modi has a clear idea of India’s growth and development path and also about the barriers that have so far prevented Indo-US business ties to develop.
- Obama wants emerging economies like India to have a greater voice in the G-20 and also wants to see India in a revamped UN Security Council.
- Pakistan will have to deliver on its anti-terror commitments -- safe havens for terrorists in the country are not acceptable. It will also have to take proper steps against perpetrators of 26/11 Mumbai terror attack.
A quick analysis of these major points, however, does not suggest that there will be any “big ticket” item that is expected to be delivered during Obama’s visit. Though attempts will be made by both sides to put in place some agreements and many more MoUs and frameworks that will allow a closer cooperation between the two sides in the coming days.
Realistically speaking, it is not possible to make path-breaking announcements every single time an American President visits the country. Bill Clinton turned around the relationship when he spent five days in India in 1999. It paved the way for a close partnership between the two countries. George W. Bush followed it up in the mid 2000 by using his clout both within and outside the US to deliver on the Indo-US nuclear deal. Obama, who had missed out on a mention about India in his 2009 Asia Security blueprint, did a course correction in subsequent months by inviting Manmohan Singh as the first foreign leader to the White House and by visiting India in 2010.
However, much of what Obama said in the interview with India Today is almost a repeat of his earlier comments about India. During his last visit to the country, Obama had broken ground by announcing US’ support for India in the restructured UNSC. In subsequent years India, along with other emerging economies have become members and regular participants in the G-20—a forum that has become the main body to discuss the global economy. Obama’s assertion that he wants greater voice for countries like India in the G-20 therefore does not mean much apart from accepting a reality where many of these emerging economies like India and China have been contributing to the growth of the global economy.
His desire to find India in a restructured UN Security Council though ensures if and when, it happens Delhi can count on Washington’s support for its candidature. But there is no guarantee that it will take place any time soon.
On asking Pakistan to deliver on its commitment on countering terrorist activities and terror organizations, Obama knows better than any other leader how difficult a task it is to pressurize Pakistan on this tricky issue. Despite heaving funding and other assistance from the US for years, Pakistan had not shared Osama Bin Laden’s shelter in Abbottabad with the Americans. Finally, when the US Navy Seals undertook their operation to eliminate Osama, they had to ensure that the Pakistani army and officials were kept out of the loop. Therefore, an announcement in India asking Pakistan to take urgent steps against the perpetrator of 26/11 Mumbai terror attack or the other terror outfits that operate from its territory could be encouraging for an Indian audience. But in reality will prove to be much more difficult proposition. Much of remarks, which is likely to be reciprocated by the Pakistani leadership through similar announcements in the next few days, may only pave the way for a renewed dialogue between India and Pakistan. But while the renewed dialogue will ensure reduction of tension in the region, it is more beneficial for the US, especially at a time when they are trying to enlist Pakistan’s help while it withdraws troops and material from Afghanistan.
However, much of the gain that India can expect from Obama’s visit to India will be perhaps “below the radar” and mainly in the intangibles. US primacy in the world pecking order will remain for many more years to come and strong Indo-US relations—even in terms of atmospherics—will help in keeping the focus on India at the international stage.