President Barack Obama took many by surprise when he, disregarding protocol, warmly hugged Prime Minister Narendra Modi on January 25. The act apparently overwhelmed as much as it excited those present around the two leaders and the hundreds of millions of TV viewers in and outside India. The embrace at the airport, as well as the ensuing engagements of Obama, underscored a new chapter in India-US relations. Obama’s second visit to India incensed and annoyed many in Pakistan. Several analysts, officials and the right wing in particular were huffing and puffing over it. Obama snubbed us by not visiting Pakistan but our government continues to remain in a subservient mood, or at least this was how a number of observers and politicians interpreted the event. These emotive responses in Pakistan notwithstanding and regardless of the tangibles achieved, Obama’s New Delhi yatra carries several messages for Pakistan.
Firstly, result-oriented nations go by rationales and are not moved by emotions. They refuse to be stymied by the past and move on in the national interest; until his rise to the Indian premiership, Modi was counted among those responsible for the 2002 riots in Gujarat and was, therefore, denied a US visa for years. But the Obama Administration swept the human rights issues under the carpet and instead rolled out the red carpet for Modi back in September 2014. America’s national interest dictated that this should happen.
Secondly, by taking time out to attend India’s Republic Day celebrations, Obama signalled that he cannot afford to decline an Indian prime minister’s invitation, even if it may be devoid of any substance. Thirdly, Obama’s visit soured the moods, particularly of those who had hailed him as the first American with a Muslim lineage. Little did they realise that he represented the interests of the US and probably did not want to be reminded his Muslim identity. Looking at an American president through a religious prism was disgustingly misplaced.
Fourth, the US has drawn lines for its relations with India and Pakistan; the former offers boundless economic opportunities. It serves as a magnet for corporate America, and thus the obvious unavoidable choice for it as much as is China for the majority of nations. India also holds immense value as a geostrategic US partner in a region dominated by the economic rise of China, which is seen by others as flexing its political muscle too. India and Japan, in the US geopolitical calculus, offer a counter-balance of power in the region.
Pakistan remains conflict-driven, its security crisis precipitating the consequences of an elitist-driven governance system. Various conflicts inside the country and the one in Afghanistan keep Pakistan relevant for the US, though largely in the security context. Whatever potential this country has — and it indeed can theoretically offer a lot — as of now remains untapped because of its volatility and its image as an ‘untrustworthy ally’. That is why, as of now, the responsibility of dealing with Pakistan rests largely with John Kerry. Ironically, in a situation that warranted a full-time energetic foreign minister to lobby with friendly countries for Pakistan, the government apparently has left this to the Army Chief, General Raheel Sharif, to see counterparts and even political leaders in London and Beijing. The out-of-protocol hug Obama gave to Modi was, therefore, an embrace of geopolitical and commercial interests at best — shorn of any streaks of the bitter past.
Pakistan’s domestic situation hardly holds any promise for its relations with China to take the same path; what can we expect of a political leadership that has surrendered foreign diplomacy, parts of the judiciary and the entire gambit of security to the military establishment? The PML-N stalwarts are strategically hamstrung by parochialism and are mostly given to self-promotion rather than working for the interests of the federation. The less important but fast-paced metro bus project, and the critically crucial but snail-paced development of the new Islamabad airport, are the embodiments of this mindset.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 28th, 2015.
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no matter what you write or what you say on news channels...i always pay attention to your views..you are a sane voice, gul sahab.
@Meghana: Regarding Obama's "Muslim lineage", his mother was an Irish Catholic, who raised him among her white relatives. It is rather idiotic to assume culture flows through one's DNA and bloodstream. Culture, of which religion is a part, is entirely man-made and is passed on through teaching and learning. Have an Arab child raised by German Lutheran adoptive parents and you will have a German Lutheran Christian, not an Arab Muslim. Of course, in free democratic countries, a grown educated person can decide for himself or herself whether to even have a religious affiliation. (In a Muslim majority state this decision could be met with death at the hands of the state or other Muslims.) Obama, like most well-educated people - he went to Columbia and Harvard - is likely an agnostic or even an atheist, like his parents. It's his prerogative and personal decision based on reason alone. He attends a Christian church in Washington and Hawaii with his family, proof enough he is not a Muslim. Muslims should get over it all ready. (This notion that Islam is transmitted through genes adds to the low level of scientific knowledge in the Ummah.
Thank you for using the word "parochialism" ; a noun ; meaning : a limited or narrow outlook, especially focused on a local area; narrow-mindedness Learning new words makes me so excited. Also thank you to ET.
Similar to another article that I had commented on, the concept of a zero sum game doesn't apply in international relations any longer. Strengthened relationship between countries endure only if there is mutual benefit, no matter how strong the personal chemistry of the respective nation's leaders. Bear hugs don't matter, mutual benefits do! That is what Mr Obama's visit achieved and that is what Mr. Modi plans to achieve with key strategic partners.
With the Indian PM's planned visits to the GCC and China over the next 6 months, the govt. of India is working towards establishing trade and commerce as the means to drive mutual benefit. Unfortunately, the discussion with Pakistan degenerates into a blame game (something both countries are equally guilty of). It would be far more productive if trade was discussed with other issues put on the backburner. Take a look at how China manages its trading relationship with Japan, S Korea and India, even though it has historical territorial disputes with each of them.
Very sensible and realistic column. Pakistan has great potential in respect of hardworking and intellectuals.They should spend their energy and resources for the upliftment. of their citizens in terms of education and development .At present,they are spending most of their available funds on army and rest of the funds are being sucked by corrupt politicians.Very few funds are available to the general public for their education and health. On some day ,an honest politician will emerge in Pakistan who will take it into the right direction ,.I am hopeful ,that day will come very soon....
Why is Pakistan behaving like a woman who has just caught her husband in an act of unfaithfulness? We should instead think like the woman who is always truthful and helpful to her man without ever hoodwinking him.
The enormous potential of Pakistan is one of the best kept secrets of the 21st century.
Look Pakistanis, keep it in your mind.
America is not India's friend. America is nobody's friend. India is nobody's friend.
Sometimes the interests align. Sometimes don't. When more interests align than not, two countries appear to be closer than ever. When more interests match obliquely, two countries appear to be at their farthest.
So, India is not ludicrously slavish enough to utter, sweater than this...higher than that...deeper than this...
In business and defense, our interests match, in climate change related issues and Iran, our interests don't match.
Pakistanis are the stupidest people on earth with utter utter nonsense being told in the last one week.
This writer was the only balanced person so far. Then there is Haroon Rasheed, the opposite of this writer talking nonstop nonsense about Obama visit..
A sobering write-up that presents a sane advice. Way to go.
"Obama visit soured mood because he's from muslim lineage"."he did not want to identity his muslim identity" Huh? Modi has met saudi king twice, bangladesh pm, afgan,maldives, oman,Bahrain and iran foriegn minister or pm in his 8months of rule some in india when they came to condradulate him some in world summits. He also regularly met their trade representatives when he was gujarat cm and organised vibrat gujarat summit each year were these countries came. Last I know all the country I mentioned where muslim country. Somehow Pakistan feels it's the tekkedhaar of muslims and islam and muslim start and end from it. How delusional. Reality check its not. And why exactly are you discounting indian muslims? Indians muslims don't need any country To take tekkedhari for them. They can stand for themselves if wronged. They hold strong and powerful position in india which pakistan doesn't, Aamir Khan,Salman Khan, industrialist azem premji,nuclear scientist Adbul Kalam, a r Rahman etc all have met him. His own foriegn spokesperson is muslim . So is our Vice President. He has appointed two muslims to head prominent institution. Our intelligence bureau head too is also amuslim -syed Asif Ibrahim till he retires and new one comes. Modi is going to tour gcc(Islamic countries) in four months. Those countries are going to warmly welcome him. You have no clue about india's position or its relations with muslim countries.
It funny why Pakistan media is obsessed with Obama visit to India. It was India which Invited Obama fot Republic day to which he agreed. Visiting Pakistan did not make any sense and infact openly told Nawaz that he would visit once Prevailing conditions improve. Right now Pakistan relationship with US is fight against terrorism for which a Presidential visit is not required.
The most rational and balanced Pakistani view of Obama's India visit.
The two countries (US and India) are driven together largely by economic interests, though the security interests (both vis a vis China and Pakistan) do play a role, albeit a smaller one.
As per the dialogue in the movie Godfather - "It's just business; it's not personal"!
There is no "conspiracy" to "defame or encircle Pakistan". Pakistan has untapped potential - but due to its past and present govts' and defence policies; that potential still remains untapped. A 200 million population is not to be trifled with and will represent a major market - if the country gets its act together, and moves towards progress and development. Then, rest assured, there will be a beeline of business and political leaders wanting to visit Pakistan.
I am not sure why PAK is so obsessed with this visit. The US President did not visit, other countries in the neighborhood either. Why should US must do whatever she does with India?
In fact Obama is very clear on PAK from day one of his campaign and laid out his policy. Never thought that he will be steadfast on that given the political dynamics of the situation but in the end he came out on top.
Here is the raw truth: The contribution of PAK to world economy (intellectual, and commerce) is minimal and it will be ignored in fast changing world.
Does PAK have leaders and human resources for 21 century and do all the regions of PAK provide the growth opportunity for her aspiring citizens, man and woman, who one day are going to replace the retiring bureaucracy and dying politicians? Is PAK prepared for food, energy, and resource sufficiency for her increasing populace or is she planing to continue to ask for them from others.
Indians have energy plans for the future,( such as breeder reactors and Fusion reactors for next century and one breeder reactor is operational). What is PAK plan?
Without clear answers on the outstanding issues on the US concerns (Who knew OBL, Mumbai, and others), the US -PAK relationship will be focused on humanitarian aid only. And US is not going to continue to provide things to PAK that will jeopardize her neighbors interest.