Foreign Policy Blogs

Obama skirts Pakistan-terrorism question

Even as President Obama hosts the Indian Prime Minister at the State Dinner tonight, the joint press meet during the day sent conflicting signals about the future of Indo-US relations. In spite of being asked directly if the US would put pressure on Pakistan to act against terrorist operating from its territory, President Obama talked ambiguously about Pakistan’s role in the security of the region. His answer seemed aimed at not annoying and appeasing the Pakistani army, than recognizing that Pakistan had not done enough about terrorists operating from within their borders. Saying that he had seen some progress in SWAT valley and South Wazaristan Obama added, “So my hope is that over time what we’re going to see is further clarity and further cooperation between all the parties and all peoples of good will in the region to eradicate terrorist activity, to eradicate the kind of violent extremism that we’ve seen.”

What is more distressing is that Prime Minister Singh was equally ambiguous and said, “the president and myself had a very useful and productive exchange of views relating to security, peace and counterterrorism in our regions. I’m very satisfied with the outcome of my discussion with President Obama.” It signals to me that either India has lost hope about US support in fighting terrorists that attack Indian soil, or other matters like the nuclear deal are considered more important. I don’t know what happened behind closed doors, but it does not look like India was assertive enough. If India wants a strong equal relationship with the US, it needs to be more assertive of its needs. Right now it looks like the US  dictates how the relationship proceeds. Economic and nuclear ties can only bind the two nations for so long. The Indian government needs to step up and act more like the global player it wants to be.

Other than improving trade links and cooperating on climate change, the statement that mattered was the assurance that the nuclear deal will be operationalized as soon as possible. President Obama said, “I reaffirmed to the prime minister my administration’s commitment to fully implement the U.S.-India civil nuclear agreement, which will increase American exports and create jobs in both countries.” The nuclear deal was a highlight of the changing Indo-US relations, and a personal triumph for Prime Minister Singh. It will bring in much needed fuel for energy production, as also sophisticated technological know-how that India was deprived of for many years.

Immediate strategic interests in the Af-Pak region and financial debt to China might force the Obama administration to neglect India at the moment. But it would be a mistake to squander the long term benefit of having as a friend a vibrant economy that shares US democratic and human right values. Security and peace in India means more trade opportunities for US businesses. Indian efforts in rebuilding Afghanistan means that the US can expect to move out of the country sooner. Recognizing and pressuring Pakistan to eliminate terrorists and their outfits in Pakistan means diminishing the influence of Islamic fundamentalists in a volatile region, the possibility of winning the war against terror.



Manasi Kakatkar-Kulkarni

Manasi Kakatkar-Kulkarni graduated from the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy. She received her degree in International Security and Economic Policy and interned with the Arms Control Association, Washington, D.C. She is particularly interested in matters of international arms control, nuclear non-proliferation and India’s relations with its neighbors across Asia. She currently works with the US India Political Action Committee (USINPAC).