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Manmohan Singh’s Visit To The Nuclear Security Summit Has Strengthened India’s Position In The Indo-Us Equation, Says Aijaz Ilmi

Camaraderie of confidence US President Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the Nucleur Security Summit in Washington
Photo:  PIB

HAVING BURNT his fingers at Sharm el-Sheik last July, for which he was upbraided by his own party, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s response at the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) held last week at Washington DC, showed that this time he had done his homework, by sidestepping the US-Pakistan camaraderie ditch.

In the backdrop of the Hillary-Qureshi head-snuggling bonhomie, where the ebullient Pakistan Foreign Minister tried to re-hyphenate his battered country with India, it was imperative for Singh to display independence from US interests with sagacity. The outcome of the PM-President Obama bilateral meeting preceding the NSS went beyond the usual diplomatic parlance of ‘good progress’ and ‘robust’ ties between ‘two great democracies’. The fact that President Obama conceded India’s concern and contribution towards stabilising Afghanistan, and conveyed his ‘engagement’ with India’s fight against terrorism, probably emboldened Manmohan Singh to directly raise issues like David Headley’s extradition and the ‘reining’ in of anti-India terror outfits operating from Pakistani soil with his counterpart.

Sources in the Indian team conveyed to the media that within the legal ambit, it was the first time the US had contemplated providing ‘direct access’ to pursue Headley’s involvement in the Mumbai carnage of 2008. The only point of divergence during this bilateral meeting was the issue of sanctions against Iran, about which President Obama and his NATO allies are very keen on immediate action. Having earlier been lampooned as a US puppet, Singh showed an independent streak by stating that sanctions only end up debasing common people, as was evident in Iraq. Speaking to the media delegates at the famous Willard hotel, he said, “India believes that Iran seeks nuclear fuel for its growing energy needs. However, it must fulfill its international obligations as a nuclear NPT signatory.”

Obama’s acceptance of India’s concern to stabilise Afghanistan encouraged Singh to raise the issue of terror outfits in Pakistan

With Teheran thumbing its nose at the western world, Obama’s so-called ‘smart’ sanctions will probably soon lead to a new slanging match. India kept its options open — in line with its age-old friendship with Iran. This way, the US will be compelled to question the subterranean proliferation of nuclear weapons in Pakistan. Having conducted the largest ever gathering of world leaders on nuclear security and the spectre of a jihadist nuke, President Obama will be hard-pressed to dispel the worldview about Pakistan being ‘the epicentre of global terrorism’. Another US ally, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, did not attend this summit, citing nuclear ambiguity as state policy. This at a time when world opinion is tilting in favour of unambiguous clarity and complete reduction in both nuclear fissile material and nuclear stockpiles. As Zahed Amanullah, a Palestinian working with the New America think tank, said, “Any sanctions on Iran, without clarity on Israel’s nuclear proliferation, can never result in Middle East peace. When 47 nations are signalling a will aimed to prevent a terrorist-inspired nuclear holocaust, the isolationist stand of Iran, Israel and North Korea will have to be taken out for any global effort to come to fruition.” A young journalist remarked, “The lust to acquire nukes by rogue states and independent terror outfits is a threat that needs urgent action, and for Obama to succeed, both the State and Defence departments have to be in consonance.”

The dichotomy between the ‘words’ and ‘deeds’ of President Obama on the Middle East question is becoming more obvious by the day. Clearly, the supporters and sceptics of US Middle East policy are divided into two camps — the “more time is needed” camp versus the “time is running out” camp. If we add US doubledealing vis-a-vis Indo-Pak relations to its Middle East stance, it can be best described as Obama needing to walk, and not just talk. His detractors at home, both outside and within the US Congress, see this as a weakness — though some see his desire to engage adversaries like Iran, and his show of humility towards rising powers like China and Japan — as a refreshing change from the Bush era.

Remarking on the Indian PM’S address at the opening plenary of the NSS, President Obama said, “We welcome the announcement of setting up of the Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership by India. This will be one more tool to establish best practices in our quest for nuclear safety.” With the global media in full attendance, many experts were of the view that the new Obama doctrine is to nail Al Qaeda and its offshoots, without harping continuously on democracy or the lack of it in the Af-Pak region. The emergence of BRIC nations [Brazil, Russia, India and China] and the dilution of US’ economic superpower status were seen as reasons for a narrower definition of US goals. “Obama’s concern is the repair and restoration of America’s image in the comity of nations,” said Wei Jing of the Global Times.

“Having met with moderate success in Afghanistan after the ‘surge’, the US is keen to compound its gains by cohabiting further with Pakistan,” said Naveed Ashraf, a Pakistani columnist writing for the Dawn. He added, “A feeling of mutual mistrust still exists, as Pakistan is also wary of US intentions. Are they committed to the long haul, or are they looking at a shortterm ‘use and throw’ policy?” So long as India depends on the US to convince Pakistan to turn against the militant networks like Lashkar, Jaish and others nurtured by the Pak army and ISI — nothing is likely to happen in the short run. Naveed adds, “General Kayani cannot cross certain ‘lines’, to avoid the impression that he takes orders from America.”

INDIA’S CONCERN, and rightful presence in Afghanistan, is resented by most Pakistanis and some American critics, which is why they question our $1.6 billion Afghan initiative — in infrastructure, health and education over the last six years. India should allow an independent audit of its spending in Afghanistan, while asking both US and Pakistan to account for an audit of the over $10 billion that Pakistan has received in aid from the US since 9/11. That should set the record straight.

Manmohan Singh’s re-emphasis on our security concerns, in light of new information that emerged during this visit, showing Al Qaeda and Taliban’s control over one of the three camps where Kasab and the other terrorists got their training, should further embolden our pursuit of the perpetrators of the Mumbai massacre.

Even after six bilateral meetings in three days (besides the NSS), the stillyouthful PM set a blistering pace at Brasilia, where the BRIC/IBSA [India, Brazil and South Africa] summits were scheduled. Interacting with the media onboard the special flight home, the PM’S last remarks, “India must take advantage of the goodwill it enjoys, we have a lot to do for our people”, carried with it the promise of a quiet triumph, amidst the ruckus over the IPL that greeted his return.

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