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Obama 'shocker' leaves New Delhi confused, suspicious

By Sheela Bhatt
Last updated on: November 20, 2009 09:22 IST
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A week before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and United States President Barack Obama's first high-level talks in Washington, India got a 'shocker' from Obama via Beijing.
The joint statement issued by US and China, after the talks between Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao, declared that both sides "support the improvement and growth of relations between India and Pakistan." 
This created much confusion and suspicion in New Delhi.
"At a time when Indian public opinion was looking forward to fruitful results from the forthcoming visit of PM Singh to the US, reports from Beijing on Obama's visit to China would strengthen the impression that Obama is not well-disposed towards India," said strategic analyst B Raman.

America and China have named India and Pakistan in their joint statement after a decade -- but the last time US was furious over India conducting the Pokhran nuclear tests. This time, the joint statement has raised questions about Obama's understanding of India.
G Parthasarathy, former high commissioner to Pakistan, told, "India has cause to be concerned when there is collusion or confrontation, rather than constructive cooperation, between the United States and China. The statements made during Obama's visit to China smacked of collusion, giving China the status of a regional hegemon -- that too just after China's role in providing nuclear weapon capabilities to Pakistan was made public in the US."

He added, "There is no room for a third chair on the table on India-Pakistan issues".
There are many questions that will not be answered soon. Why did the US and China agree to mention differences between India and Pakistan, which require 'improvement'?

Did US propose and China accept to insert such a line, or did both nations want to send their own messages in South Asia? What is China gaining by such a move, when it knows well enough that India will never agree to any kind of mediation in Kashmir? Why is US irritating India, when in less than seven days, the top leaders of both sides are meeting with lots of expectations.
Mohun Guruswami -- author of Chasing the Dragon: Will India catch up with China --questions US' intentions.

He says America is failing in Afghanistan and has been unable to put effective pressure on Pakistan to rein in the Jihadis. The US wants Pakistan to perform at any cost.

By mentioning India and Pakistan in the joint statement, "The US expects India to jeopardise its own future by putting Kashmir on the table just to enable the US to get out of its predicament," he says.
Guruswami adds, "President Obama has compounded this by suggesting in Beijing that the US would now like China to play a role in improving India-Pakistan relations. Now Obama wants to bring China into the equation?"
Many Indian experts have written in the past that China wants to limit India in the 'South Asia box'. Many experts told that the joint statement serves China's purpose in this respect.

Obama, during a press briefing in Beijing, said that China and US will work together to bring about 'peaceful relations in all of South Asia'.
A New Delhi based former secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs said the US seems to be gaining in many ways. Pakistan wants to internationalise its tension with India over Kashmir. Mentioning the Indo-Pak differences in the joint statement helps Pakistan in this respect. Also, it clearly shows that America wants to engage China at a higher level for its own advantage and Obama's visit has taken China many steps up the ladder.
However, senior strategic analyst K Subrahamanayam doesn't think the current issue is so important. He feels that in the past, China had done far more serious things, which have not been in India's interests, and the US has looked the other way. India didn't raise any objections then, so why complain over a relatively small matter now, says Subrahamanayam.
 "China has been intervening in India-Pakistan affairs since 1965. It intervened in 1971. It armed Pakistan with nuclear weapons and missiles in the 1980s and 1990s.The US looked away. China conducted a nuclear test for Pakistan on May 26, 1990. Eighty per cent of Pakistani weapons are procured from China. India has been keeping mum over all these developments all these years. Making a song and dance over the relatively mild reference at this stage appears to be a case of making a mountain out of a molehill," says Subrahamanayam.

Reacting sharply to the joint statement, the External Affairs Ministry said, "The government of India is committed to resolving all outstanding issues with Pakistan through a peaceful bilateral dialogue in accordance with the Simla Agreement. A third country role cannot be envisaged nor is it necessary. We also believe that a meaningful dialogue with Pakistan can take place only in an environment free from terror or the threat of terror."
However, former ambassador M K Bhadrakumar underscored the need for equanimity on India's part as a mature regional power. He said, "The US stands discredited in Pakistan and has lost the Afghan war. The US undermines Sri Lankan leadership, which China and India support, and it robustly challenges China's influence in Myanmar. What US-China collusion can be possible?" 
He added, "China and the US know it isn't in India's DNA to accept mediation. Let us not be jumpy. Be mature enough to read the unusually lengthy joint statement in the totality of Obama's visit, which was long on rhetoric but paltry in substance, with China holding firm against American demands."
In essence, Indian experts' ire is less against China but more against the US, over the inclusion of the 'India-Pakistan issue' in the joint statement.

"'China has revealed its hand whenever it mattered to India, be it at the International Atomic Energy Agency or on the expansion of the United Nations Security Council. Today, even as India begins to have fewer doubts about where it stands vis-a-vis China, it is being gnawed by doubts where it stands vis-a-vis the USA," says Guruswami.

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Sheela Bhatt