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Singh-Obama Summit: Time for consolidation

November 23, 2009 19:48 IST
Tuesday's White House summit between US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is "essentially about consolidation," feels strategic affairs expert Dr C Raja Mohan, currently the Kissinger Chair in Foreign Policy and International Relations at the John W Kluge Centre, United States Library of Congress.

"After six hectic years, particularly the last four of the Bush administration, the pace has been too scorching for both systems and so much had been done", hence there is need for pause, reflection and consolidation, the policy expert said.

The messages emanating from India have been positive, said Dr Raja Mohan, pointing at recent statements from India's Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, who during his recent visit to the US signalled a shift from 'we will not do anything on climate change' to 'whether there is global agreement or not, India is going to do its bit to reduce carbon emissions'.

Similarly, on the issue of trade negotiations, India has said it is going to change the structure of its economy. "Thus, on two issues where it was generally thought India would not do anything, India has already done something constructive," he said. "So it should set a good mood for the two leaders."

Listing bilateral issues, Dr Raja Mohan pointed out that while there is excitement on the education front, until India's Parliament passes necessary legislation the two leaders can do nothing more than preparatory work. "On the residual issues relating to the nuclear deal, both sides are trying to sort it out and it's unlikely anything will be completed at the time of the visit," he said.

The key issue, the analyst believed, is likely to be the administration's Af-Pak strategy. "Contrary to the widespread perception that this issue divides Delhi and Washington, there is room for significant cooperation between the two in promoting stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan," said Dr Raja Mohan, who was a member of India's National Security Advisory Board from 1998 to 2000 and again from 2004 to 2006.

"However, such cooperation will have to be premised on two important factors: An American recognition of India's genuine national interests in Afghanistan, and equally, an Indian recognition of the opportunities that the current US presence provides it for a fundamental transformation of the north-western marches of the subcontinent."

There is, he argued, scope for an expanded Indian role in the security of Afghanistan. "This does not mean India is being asked to send troops to Afghanistan, but India can contribute to the training of Afghan troops as Washington focuses on building up a credible Afghan security force."

Similarly, he said, there is in the US the belief that if India resumes its dialog with Pakistan, it will help stabilise the region. "This basic proposition is not contested in Delhi," Dr Raja Mohan said. "The prime minister in his recent speeches has signaled his positive intent, and that he is ready to go forward if there is movement on terrorism. But as clearly, after the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai, India needs something tangible from Pakistan in order to start the process; here the US can do something."

"India is not going to accept any overt involvement by the Americans in any form," Dr Raja Mohan argued, suggesting that the US could best use its influence to persuade Pakistan to bring the Mumbai terrorists to justice; this will trigger a resumption of India-Pakistan dialogue.

Non-proliferation is a big issue for the Obama administration but, said Dr Raja Mohan, the pressure on India is not as great as it is made out to be. Till the United States Senate ratifies the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty -- and that seems unlikely in the immediate future -- there is no urgency for India to sign. "And on FMCT (the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty), India already supports negotiations, so there is no problem there -- the problem is with the Pakistanis, the Arabs and the Chinese."

Dr Raja Mohan, whose current stint at the Library on Congress is in part to work on a book on the Sino-Indian Maritime Rivalry in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, said the summit would not see any discussion on the perceived Chinese threat. "Indians don't want to be seen as talking about it to the Americans, and neither would the US want to get into it. The administration doesn't want to talk about a Chinese threat and all that." If at all China comes up, it will be merely peripheral, and involve a discussion of Obama's recent visit to Beijing, he said.

"Both of them have big business to do with China and both of them have problems to sort out with China, and they will do it on their own," he argued. "What they can do, is since Obama is just back from China and India is interested in Asia, is talk in general terms about working together to promote security, economic cooperation, Indian Ocean cooperation and that kind of thing."

Aziz Haniffa Washington, DC