US President Barack Obama called on India on Sunday to bolster peace efforts with Pakistan that have floundered since the 2008 Mumbai attacks, relations seen as crucial to his troubled efforts to win the war in Afghanistan.
On the second day of his official visit to India, Obama faces a diplomatic tightrope in fostering ties with the growing global power, while at the same time helping Pakistan with billions of dollars in aid and promoting wider peace in Afghanistan.
Obama’s first leg of a 10-day Asian tour has been hailed as moving the United States closer to India as Washington tries to revive a weak economy and gather support to pressure China on its currency. But on Sunday, India’s worries about Pakistan dominated.
Peppered by questions from students at a college in India’s financial hub, Obama toed a cautious line between the two nuclear-armed foes, saying both were needed to help stabilise Afghanistan where thousands of US troops battle militants.
“My hope is that over time, trust develops between the two countries, that dialogue begins, perhaps on less controversial issues, building up to more controversial issues,” Obama told students under a hot midday sun.
Obama said the biggest stakeholder in a ‘stable and prosperous’ Pakistan is India. “If Pakistan is unstable, that’s bad for India. If it’s good and prosperous, that’s good, because India is on the move. (You) Don’t want the distraction of security in your region.”
However, the US president said Washington would not mediate in the dialogue between India and Pakistan and it was up to the two neighbours to mend fences. “India and Pakistan can prosper and live side by side. This can happen and this should be the ultimate goal. The US can be a partner but cannot impose this process. India and Pakistan have to arrive at an understanding,” said Obama.
Islamabad wants the Obama administration to play its role for the resolution of decades-old dispute with New Delhi.
Foreign Office spokesperson Abdul Basit was quoted by news agency Press Trust of India as saying the US ought to play an “effective role for an amicable solution of the longstanding issue of Kashmir” given close India-US ties.
President Obama also spoke about India’s role in Afghanistan. “India’s investment in development in Afghanistan is appreciated,” he added. “Pakistan has to be a partner in this process, in fact all countries in the region are going to need to be partners in this process. “The United States welcomes that, we don’t think we can do this alone.”
India has given $1.3 billion in aid to Afghanistan, a policy that unnerves Pakistan which sees its northern neighbour as its own backyard of influence.
Obama said Pakistan was not acting quickly enough to deal with militancy within its borders, a view long expressed by many Indian officials who say Islamabad is hoodwinking Washington by taking aid while also backing militants in Afghanistan.
“There are more Pakistanis who’ve been killed by terrorists inside Pakistan than probably anywhere else,” Obama said.
Later in the afternoon, Obama landed in New Delhi and greeted the waiting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with a hug. Later in the evening the two leaders had a one-on-one meeting for about 25 minutes before the private dinner hosted by Prime Minister Singh for the visiting leader and his wife Michelle at his 7, Race Course Road residence.
The two leaders are believed to have taken an overview of the bilateral relations, which have grown substantially over the last few years. Singh and Obama will hold formal wide-ranging talks on Monday.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 8th, 2010.