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India is trying to underplay Obama's visit

Last updated on: October 24, 2010 00:00 IST

Image: Barack Obama with wife Michelle, Dr Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur

Sources in the Indian government have made it clear that there is not going to be any 'big bang' news to be expected from United States President Barack Obama's forthcoming visit to India in November.
As is the norm in high-level meetings, the two leaders can be expected to discuss a range of strategic issues affecting the Asian region. The 'Asian balance' will naturally figure in their talks. The content of discussions is certainly much richer than it used to be in the past, as they range from India's stance within the G20, Asia, Middle East etc.
Elaborating further on the 'Asian balance', the sources categorically said that both the US and India are engaging with China.

"There is competition with China but we are not ganging up with anyone," the sources underlined.

Reportage: Sheela Bhatt in Delhi

President Obama's agenda in Mumbai

Image: The Taj Mahal Hotel

The Indian sources expect that the emphasis of the American side will be on economic issues.
On the other hand, the Indian side looks forward to a 'decent conversation' on regional issues as well, apart from global strategic issues.
President Obama's Mumbai visit has mainly three highlights. While staying at the Taj Hotel -- one of the sites of the 26/11 terror strike -- he would be talking about counter-terrorism related issues.
While meeting prominent Indian businessmen, he will touch upon bilateral trade related issues. In Mumbai, Obama will have a town-hall kind of a meeting to share his views with a larger audience, probably the youth, said sources.

Pak's statement 'expected'

Image: Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani

The Indian establishment is also expecting some violent, distracting event to create an atmosphere of insecurity in the region in the immediate run-up to President Obama's arrival in India. Sources pointed out that during President George W Bush and President Bill Clinton's visits to India earlier, violent incidents had taken place.
When asked to elaborate, the sources said there is no specific information about any such likely incident. "But it fits into their [Pakistani] narrative to create a perception that the region is a nuclear hot spot," they said
About bilateral issues, sources admitted that the government is worried about the increasing protectionism in the United States and the visa restrictions. "The issue of protectionism has not reached a point to affect bilateral relations, but it has the potential to do so," sources said.
When asked about Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani's statement blaming Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for lack of progress in the Indo-Pak dialogue, the source said that such statements are to be expected days before such an important visit.

'Some elements will try to rake up the Kashmir issue'

Image: A young Kashmiri protestor

Similarly, the Indian government is aware that some elements will try to rake up the Kashmir issue to create an atmosphere of instability in the nuclear-powered region, said the source.
Quite obviously, the Indian government is playing down the US President's visit, estimating that it is prudent not to create a hype that may not be vindicated eventually.

But the source didn't completely rule out a 'big ticket event' either, by pointing out that during such summits, the discussions between the two sides invariably go on till the very last minute.
India surely expects that the US would ease technological restrictions on Indian firms to import high-tech software and hardware. The sources said that an India-specific review of the restrictions, to reflect the level of the current relationship, is already under way.
India sees the visit as an opportunity to continue what is being done in the areas of climate change, green energy and trade. US Commerce Secretary Gary Locke is accompanying Obama.

America watching Obama's visit

Image: US President Barack Obama with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh

When asked about the seeming absence of hype about Obama's visit, the source said, "If it is so, then I am happy. Then the real politics would be taken up."
When asked about the expectations of America from the visit, sources said the American President would have to take into consideration his domestic audience. How his visit progresses and how it projects the US would be important for the American side.
India sees bipartisan support to Indo-US relations in Washington as a source of strength. India has reviewed the changes that have taken place after 2005 in the bilateral ties and within the region. The source said, "We have already transformed the relationship since then."
With regard to the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage, sources said India is ready to sign the international convention, which provides for compensation in case of trans-national implications of a nuclear accident within the framework of our legislation.

India worried about US military assistance to Pakistan

Image: A Pakistani Ranger keeps guard in the streets of Karach
Photographs: Reuters
The sources expressed misgivings about the nature of US military assistance to Pakistan. The weapons that are being transferred are of a type that has little to do with counterinsurgency operations against the Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
The sources pointed out that India cannot comprehend why the US is boosting Pakistan's naval capability when the Taliban are not known to have any naval forces.
The Indian sources revealed that the government has expressed its concern to the visiting Undersecretary of State William Burns that Pakistan shouldn't use the US-supplied weapons against India.
Also, Burns has been told that the US arms supplies to Pakistan should not affect the overall military balance in the region.

Obama's Parliament address high point of visit

On the recent sensational disclosures about David Headley's role in the Mumbai attacks of 2008, the sources said the Americans gave on three occasions 'general, non-specific information'. However, the information did mention Mumbai and the Taj Hotel.
The sources observed that it is difficult to judge in such sensitive matters of intelligence as to which party knew what kind of information and to what degree.
Summing up, the sources expected that Obama's address at the joint session of the Parliament in the Central Hall late in the evening of November 8 would certainly be the high point of the entire visit.
Obama is arriving in Mumbai on November 6 and will head to Delhi the following day. Dr Singh is hosting a dinner in the evening in honour of the US President. The formal talks are expected to take place through November 8.