Bitter experience has convinced me to be wary of dignitaries' State visits -- usually no good comes of them. I was terrified that Manmohan Singh's so-called first State visit to the US would culminate in something negative. Fortunately nothing much happened. Now I am extremely worried that Barack Obama's visit to India in November is likely to end up in a major setback for India's national interests.
There is a tradition of 'October surprises' in the US: just before the biennial November elections, one of the parties (usually the incumbent) is accused of coming up with some ruse -- often a crisis -- that enables it to come out smelling of roses, thus swaying public opinion in its favor, and thereby winning the elections.
This year, indications are that Obama and the Democrats will lose their majority in the House of Representatives (the Lower House) and possibly in the Senate (the Upper House) as well. It appears there is no 'October surprise' this time. Just in time for his India visit, Obama will be seen as a lame-duck with little chance of getting his agenda through a hostile US Congress (the parliament).
Obama's record has been less than stellar, belying certain great expectations in the first flush of an amazing love-fest. In domestic matters, his handling of the financial crisis has been pedestrian, and there is severe job-loss and economic pain; his one victory, in healthcare, may yet be Pyrrhic. The 'change' and 'hope' and all that simply haven't come to anything.
In foreign affairs, too, there's nothing of great import. The Americans have declared victory in Iraq and begun their pull-out; but the picture on the ground, especially in light of the dramatic WikiLeaks data that came out recently, is that the place is a mess, and that it is not a job well-completed. Instead of a thriving, peaceful democracy, it is a broken country; the Americans are simply running for their lives.
The same, or worse, is true in Afghanistan. The recent spectacle of the closure of Pakistani border crossings, the arson on NATO supply trucks, and the abject apology by the Americans for their killing of some Pakistani troops -- this points to a hapless America that has been bamboozled by Pakistan's army and its spy agency, the ISI. The ISI is running with the hares and hunting with the hounds most successfully.
Obama has been clear from day one about Afghanistan -- his plan has always been simple: surge, bribe, declare victory and run like hell. The surge has happened, but it has apparently had no impact, as in places like Marjah. Now Obama is running up against his ill-advised 2011 deadline for pulling out troops.
The only option Obama has on hand is to bribe -- that is, to bribe the ISI. Even the Afghan government has concluded that the Americans will flee, leaving them to the tender mercies of the Taliban, the Haqqani network, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and other warlords. So Obama has been showering largesse on the ISI, a billion here and another billion there, and surely more as per their latest Strategic Dialogue last week.
But money doesn't seem to be doing it -- the $25 billion that America has poured into Pakistan since 9/11 has sated the general's greed for the moment. They want a bigger prize -- their strategic intent -- the dismemberment of India and the creation of their pet fantasy, Mughalistan, an emirate controlling the Indian subcontinent.
And that is the carrot that Obama is likely to offer them as part of his India trip. That will be the 'November surprise' for India. It is highly likely that when Obama is in India, Manmohan Singh will announce a new 'package' which would, shorn of marketing verbiage, hand over either all of Jammu and Kashmir or just the Vale of Kashmir to the stone-throwers and other separatists who are fifth columnists of the ISI.
The stage has been set for this for some time. Witness how American military men as well as assorted grandees from the European Union have been stressing that Pakistan would be much more helpful if only they were 'not worried about India'. In other words, India should sacrifice its territorial integrity for the benefit of the Americans, with no benefit to itself. Sounds fair, doesn't it?
Obama has demonstrated categorically that he is no friend of India, despite pious pronouncements by many Indians and Indian Americans. In addition to everything else, the Obama administration's attitude is evident from recent disclosures about David Headley (also known as Daood Gilani) and the likelihood that the US authorities may have had prior warnings about 26/11 that they did not share with the Indians.
The exertions of the Americans (and the Chinese, too) on behalf of the alleged rights of Kashmiris to secede would play a lot better if they had tolerated separatism in their country. Some might remember that the Americans actually went to war (it is called the Civil War) to keep their country from fragmenting. And we also have seen the tenderness exhibited by the Chinese towards 'splittist' Tibetans and Uighurs.
But then, the Indian government has implied in many fora that it is willing to accept Pakistani demands -- witness astonishing statements in Sharm-al-Sheikh, Havana, Thimphu. More recently, its hand-picked interlocutors to the separatists are talking openly about 'azaadi' and about amending the constitution to accommodate them. The possibility that this will encourage other separatists, and that hate-mongering ethnic-cleansers and terrorists are being rewarded for crimes against humanity, do not seem to unduly worry these worthies.
Ominously, Pakistani Prime Minister Gilani declared on October 16th (as reported in The Economic Times) that 'there will be good news about Kashmir soon'. What else could Gilani possibly mean other than Obama's November surprise?
And in the middle of all this comes the nihilistic histrionics of famous one-horse novelist Susan Arundhati Roy. This is someone who can always be relied upon to support any cause that is anti-India. This reminds me of the possibly apocryphal story about how the US application for citizenship once used to ask people if they would advocate the overthrow of the US by violence or sedition. It seems most people chose 'sedition'!
If Roy were given that choice regarding India, I suspect she would insist on answering, 'Both'.
Roy reminds me of the novel The Man Without a Country, about an American who renounced his country during a treason trial and declared that he hated it so much he never wished to see it or hear the word again. The Americans obliged, and put him on a naval brig, whereon he spent the rest of his life out at sea.
If India were a normal country, its leaders would offer Roy the choice of fine accommodation on a naval brig in international waters, or domicile in her favorite nations, Pakistan or China. There is just one small problem with the latter -- in a few short days, Messrs Kayani or Hu Jintao will offer to surrender to India on a single condition: That India take the shrill Susan Arundhati back.
Be that as it may, Roy is merely a side-show. The real danger is that the Americans -- who demonstrate daily that they have no leverage over Pakistan -- seem to have some kind of a hold over India's leaders, and the stage has been set for a grand bargain wherein India exists J&K. Obama will then be able to declare victory in Afghanistan and take his boys home.
In the feverish minds of many, this is considered a good outcome, and it will be sold as such to the Indian public, thanks to the known ability of the Indian media to manufacture consent. A fait accompli is in the works, which naturally will solve nothing. The ISI will then demand Assam, Malabar, and Hyderabad.