India Insight

What does Nobel for Obama mean for India?

Obama has won the Nobel Peace prize.The citation commends him for calling for a nuclear-weapon free world, emphasising the role of international institutions and preferring dialogue.Less than a year into his presidency he has yet to implement much of his programme.”For the time being Obama’s just making proposals. But sometimes the Nobel committee awards the prize to encourage responsible action,” said Poland’s Lech Walesa, a Nobel Peace Laureate.What does it mean for India to have the most powerful man in the world honoured for his policies?The policies of the Obama administration are different from those of the George W. Bush era when multilateralism was seen as a liability.Bush’s ambassador to the U.N. was John R. Bolton whose scepticism towards multilateralism was well known.Yet Bush helped India get a crucial waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group and was described as the friendliest U.S. President India has had.Obama on the other hand has called for strengthening nuclear non-proliferation, prompting India to seek clarifications.Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president of the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi, argues in a recent column that Indians find it more difficult to deal with those who they think of as American liberals than the conservatives.Will we now see a more forceful and active Obama on issues like non-proliferation that India is wary of ?

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan and India; breaking the logjam

President Barack Obama chose his words carefully when asked in an interview with Dawn earlier this week why the United States has been silent on Kashmir in recent months:

 

"I don’t think that we’ve been silent on the fact that India is a great friend of the United States and Pakistan is a great friend of the United States, and it always grieves us to see friends fighting. And we can’t dictate to Pakistan or India how they should resolve their differences, but we know that both countries would prosper if those differences are resolved," the newspaper quoted him as saying.

 

"And I believe that there are opportunities, maybe not starting with Kashmir but starting with other issues, that Pakistan and India can be in a dialogue together and over time to try to reduce tensions and find areas of common interest," he said. "And we want to be helpful in that process, but I don’t think it’s appropriate for us to be the mediators in that process. I think that this is something that the Pakistanis and Indians can take leadership on."

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

India not the enemy, U.S. tells Pakistan

Pakistan's Dawn newspaper reports from Washington that the United States is seeking fundamental change in Pakistan: it wants Pakistan, presumably the military most of all,  to stop thinking of India as the enemy.

And linked with this, it wants Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, accused of sponsoring militant groups to advance its security interests in the region, brought under effective civilian control.

Dawn says the Americans are offering Pakistan a new enemy as replacement : the militants operating along the border with Afghanistan who are increasingly striking deeper within Pakistan.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Obama’s South Asian envoy and the Kashmir conundrum

Earlier this month, I wrote that the brief given to a South Asian envoy by President Barack Obama could prove to be the first test of the success of Indian diplomacy after the Mumbai attacks. At issue was whether the envoy would be asked to focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan or whether the brief would be extended to India, reflecting comments made by Obama during his election campaign that a resolution of the Kashmir dispute would ease tensions across the region.

That question has been resolved - publicly at least -- with the appointment of Richard Holbrooke as Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. No mention of India or Kashmir.

India has long resisted overt outside interference in Kashmir and argued - with great vehemence since the Mumbai attacks - that tensions in South Asia were caused by Pakistan's support for, or tolerance of, Islamist militants rather than the Kashmir dispute.  For India, a public reference to Kashmir following Mumbai would amount to endorsing what it calls cross-border terrorism.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Obama and his South Asian envoy

There's much talk about President-elect Barack Obama possibly appointing Richard Holbrooke as a special envoy to South Asia. The New York Times says it's likely; while the Washington Independent says it may be a bit premature to expect final decisions, even before Obama takes office on Jan. 20.

But more interesting perhaps than the name itself will be the brief given to any special envoy for South Asia. Would the focus be on Afghanistan and Pakistan? Or on Pakistan and India? Or all three? The Times of India said India might be removed from the envoy's beat to assuage Indian sensitivities about Kashmir, which it sees as a bilateral issue to be resolved with Pakistan, and which has long resisted any outside mediation. This, the paper said, was an evolution in thinking compared to statements made by Obama during his election campaign about Kashmir.

Before last year's Mumbai attacks, Obama had suggested that the United States should help India and Pakistan to make peace over Kashmir as part of a regional strategy to stabilise Afghanistan. In this he was supported by a raft of U.S. analysts who argued that Pakistan would never fully turn against Islamist militants threatening the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan as long as it felt it might need them to counter burgeoning Indian influence in the region. Obama's suggestion raised hackles in India, and broke with a tradition established by the Bush administration which had tended to be -- publicly at least -- hands-off about the Kashmir dispute. 

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Mumbai, a reality check for India’s American Dream ?

Not long ago India was basking in the glow of a new-found strategic partnership with the United States, one that pitched it as a global player. A breakthrough civilian nuclear deal that virtually  recognised New Delhi as a nuclear weapon state after decades of isolation was the centrepiece of this new relationship.

But the attacks in Mumbai have tested this partnership and some of the lustre is fading. America has been unequivocally telling the Indians to exercise restraint   in responding to the attacks which New Delhi says were orchestrated from Pakistan. (This while U.S. Predator drones
carried out more attacks on the militants in Pakistan's northwest)

In recent weeks, much to the Indians' dismay, the mantra of  restraint has now moved to the suggestion from some U.S. analysts that both India and  Pakistan must resolve their dispute over Kashmir to help bring stability to the region. One U.S. editorial suggested India must let go of Kashmir,  thus freeing up Pakistan's military resources so that it can focus on the war on its western front. And although other analysts are saying the idea - floated long before the Mumbai attacks - is misguided, the American response to the assault on India's financial capital has left many disappointed.

U.S. on Israel — double standards or a double-edged sword?

December 24 – Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip ratchet up rocket fire towards Israel after Hamas ended a six-month ceasefire.

December 27 – Israel launches air strikes on Gaza in response killing more than 200 people in Gaza, the highest one-day death toll in 60 years of Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

December 27 – The United States blames Hamas for breaking the ceasefire and provoking Israeli air strikes.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Do Obama’s Afghan plans still make sense post-Mumbai?

The United States is aiming to send 20,000 to 30,000 extra troops to Afghanistan by the beginning of next summer, according to the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.  The plan is not unexpected, and from a military point of view is meant to allow U.S. and NATO troops not just to clear out Taliban insurgents but also to bring enough stability to allow economic development, as highlighted in this analysis by Reuters Kabul correspondent Jon Hemming.

But does it still make sense after the Mumbai attacks -- intentionally or otherwise -- sabotaged the peace process between India and Pakistan?

As discussed many times on this blog, most recently here, a crucial element of President-elect Barack Obama's Afghan strategy was to combine sending extra troops with a new diplomatic approach looking at the Afghanistan-Pakistan-India region as a whole. The argument was that Pakistan would never fully turn its back on Islamist militants as long as it felt threatened by India on its eastern border and by growing Indian influence in Afghanistan on its western border.  India and Pakistan, so the argument went, should therefore be encouraged to make peace over Kashmir, to reduce tensions in Afghanistan and pave the way for a successful operation by the extra U.S. troops.

Obama or McCain – who is better for India?

Like much of the world waiting to find out who leads the United States as its president for the next four years, India too looks askance at the mother of all elections.

While some believe India-U.S. relations have evolved to a strategic level where it does not matter who is at the helm of affairs, a debate rages on whether Obama or McCain will be good for the South Asia region, and India in specific.

As in the U.S., in India the balance seems to tilt in favour of Obama. His backers say he will be a welcome change from the stifling neoconservatism of the Bush administration and its heavy-breathing belligerence.

  •