Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
Now that India and Pakistan have agreed to hold further talks following a meeting between the prime ministers of the two countries, are they going to step back from a bruising confrontation in Afghanistan?
It’s a war fought in the shadows with spies and proxies, and lots of money. Once in a while it gets really nasty as in deadly attacks on Indian interests for which New Delhi has pointed the finger at Pakistan.
It’s not clear what subjects Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Yusuf Raza Gilani touched on during their meeting on the sidelines of a regional summit in Bhutan, but Afghanistan clearly is an important subtext, arguably the most pressing one at this time.
Both countries are positioning themselves for an eventual U.S. withdrawal from the country, with Pakistan clearly holding the better cards at the moment, both as a result of its geography and long-standing links with a resurgent Taliban.
For all the hand-wringing in India over getting sidelined by the United States in its regional strategy, the two countries have gone ahead and just completed an important deal on the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel from reactors to be built in India.
The agreement is a key step in the implementation of the India-U.S. civil nuclear pact which grants India access to nuclear fuel and technology, even though it has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Under the agreement India can reprocess U.S.-originated nuclear material under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards which in itself is a symbolic concession, according to the Washington Post. It said that the Indians were a bit concerned about the idea of American officials running around their nuclear reactors , a sort of “a symbolic, sovereignty issue” as a source in the U.S. nuclear industry said. They would rather submit to oversight by the IAEA, which thus far is a model the United States has only followed for nuclear collaboration with Europe and Japan.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is in the United States for the first official state visit by any foreign leader since President Barack Obama took office this year. While the atmospherics are right, and the two leaders probably won’t be looking as stilted as Obama and China’s President Hu Jintao appeared to be during Obama’s trip last week (for the Indians are rarely short on conversation), there is a sense of unease.
And much of it has to do with AFPAK - the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan which is very nearly at the top of Obama’s foreign policy agenda and one that some fear may eventually consume the rest of his presidency. America’s ally Pakistan worries about India’s expanding assistance and links to Afghanistan, seeing it as part of a strategy to encircle it from the rear. Ordinarily, Pakistani noises wouldn’t bother India as much, but for signs that the Obama administration has begun to adopt those concerns as its own in its desperate search for a solution, as Fareed Zakaria writes in Newsweek.