Islamabad, Saturday, November 06, 2010
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Power-drained Obama likely to offer India a smaller pie

Mid-term humiliation eroded President’s power to deliver Indian dreams | Obdurate India to still seek US backing for UN seat | Counter-terror, N-energy, space cooperation to figure high | Accords to be signed on education, agriculture, health, clean energy

By Salim Bokhari

LAHORE – American President Barack Hussein Obama will be landing in New Delhi today (Saturday) on a four-day visit, shrouded by controversies as to what agreements he would sign and what would he say in his address to the Indian people or their elected representatives besides holding official talks.
The US President will have his wife Michelle Obama, National Security Adviser James Jones and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner travelling with him besides Rajiv Shah, the administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
Foreign policy experts in the United States have been saying that Obama would face a difficult situation during his stay there since the expectation level of the Indian leadership is far higher than the American President can concede.
However, there have been strong indications that India would exert maximum pressure for US endorsement of its perpetual effort to secure a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. Such an attempt on part of India has always been strongly resented by the People’s Republic of China and Pakistan along with several other member states. Pakistan contends that till such time India resolves sensitive issues such as Kashmir and the border dispute with Beijing, New Delhi is not entitled to occupy such an important berth at the world body.
Diplomatic observers have confided to The Daily Mail that American relations with India are, in a way, eclipsed due to Washington’s pre-occupation with issues like Afghanistan, Iraq and recession at home. In addition to this, the State Department is also engaged in handing problems in its ties with Pakistan, Iran and North Korea.
Some of the key issues which will be discussed between the two delegations during formal talks include anti-terror, space and energy and civilian nuclear co-operation. In addition to this, key agreements would also be signed by them in areas like education, agriculture, health, clean energy and food security.
Obama will be the sixth American President to visit India. The first to visit was President Dwight D. Eisenhower in December 1959 which was followed after 10 years by Richard Nixon, who visited New Delhi in July 1969. After nine years, Jimmy Carter embarked on a sojourn to India in January 1978. It was after 22 years in March 2000 that Bill Clinton arrived in India to start a new chapter of Indo-US love affair. After six years, in March 2006, George W. Bush arrived in New Delhi and the centrepiece of his visit was signing a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement, with the US completely ignoring its old ally, Pakistan.
It was at that time that despite holding the position of a Non-NATO ally in the region; Pakistan had to bend backwards, making a ‘humble’ request to the State Department for a brief stopover by President Bush in Islamabad. In face of consistent imploring, President Bush agreed to visit Islamabad for four hours. His only agenda was to address the Pakistani nation only to tell us dos and don’ts in a very insolent manner, in total disregard for all diplomatic norms.
An important feature to bear in mind is that about 239 Indian firms have invested $21 billion in the United States through 267 acquisitions from 2004 to 2009. These cover areas including manufacturing, IT, biotechnology, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and telecommunications. Diplomatic observers are of the view that not many Americans are aware of the extent of such activity.
President Obama will have to walk a tightrope as far key decisions on India are concerned, as the humiliating defeat of Democrats in mid-term elections has virtually eroded the President’s authority. There is a likelihood that the Obama administration would withhold everything substantial that would otherwise have been put on the table during this visit. What Obama offers, only time will tell, but one thing is for sure -- the mid-term setback has largely curtailed his powers to make announcements or sign agreements at will.
This time round too, Pakistan initiated a request for the American President’s extended trip to Pakistan while Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi was in Washington and met Obama. Qureshi was, according to diplomatic sources, politely told to wait till the next year. These sources term it another snub by the American administration to Islamabad’s bid to be treated at par with New Delhi. It seems history is just repeating itself one more time; may Islamabad learn.

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