The most significant foreign-policy document to emerge out of US President Barack Obama’s visit to India – “US-India Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region” – makes interesting reading. It is about Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean – and not the ‘Indo-Pacific’. Does that make a difference?
The statement bodily lifts previous articulations of what by now has become a mantra for South Block concerning maritime security and freedom of navigation and over flight throughout the region, “especially in the South China Sea”. The sting is in the tail, of course. It’s supposed to irritate — and, hopefully, unnerve — China. Whether it succeeds or not, we do not know. According to a Xinhua commentary with Beijing dateline, however, the Chinese comfort level remains high. It puts Obama’s visit to India in perspective — he is beleaguered at home politically and badly needs this visit to burnish his image, whereas for the Indians, they hope to gain leverage in their “multi-faceted diplomacy” and maybe derive some commercial spin-off, while the differences between the US and India, which are far too serious, cannot be wished away.
Indeed, the ‘joint strategic vision’ statement on the region has a glaring lapse. There is not a word in it regarding Pakistan. Yet, for the right-wing Hindu nationalist government headed by Prime Minister Modi, Pakistan is the number one obsession in foreign policy. According to the Hindu ideologues, Pakistan is a temporary aberration ensuing from the Partition in 1947, which will be dissipate once it rejoins Bharat that is India. Doesn’t Obama, who is an erudite man, know it?
Apparently, he does. And that would explain why the ‘joint strategic vision’ statement ended up as neither joint nor strategic (or visionary) on the core foreign-policy issue for the Narendra Modi government – Pakistan. The Xinhua took note of the US-Indian differences over issues such as climate change, agricultural disputes and nuclear energy cooperation. But it is Pakistan that sticks out like a sore thumb in the US-Indian relationship, and all the silk from Varanasi cannot hide it.
Simply put, the US and India cannot have a convergence on Pakistan, which means they cannot see eye to eye on regional security. The incisive op-ed authored by Daniel Markey, professor at Johns Hopkins and adjunct senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations explains why this is so. Markey has nailed the key issue – namely, Modi government aspires to compel Pakistan to crawl on its knees and capitulate on India’s terms as it begins to feel the rising heat of an all-round containment strategy, of the sort that Ronald Reagan adopted vis-à-vis the former Soviet Union. Markey rightly estimates that this is a dangerous Hindu nationalist phobia, which will pose a threat to global peace and international security and which cannot be in American interests. If Markey knows this much about what is shaping up in the womb of time, can Obama be oblivious of it?
To my mind, there won’t be any takers in the international community if India were to press ahead with a containment strategy toward Pakistan. The US and Chinese interests over Pakistan are fast converging, and Russia is building bridges toward Pakistan so as to be in the Afghan and Central Asian game. China has taken seriously its ‘proactive’ role in the search for an Afghan settlement, which also meets with Obama’s priorities. As a Chinese pundit wrote in Global Times last week, “Afghan regime and the Taliban possess an almost equal voice in the reconstruction of state power…. Undoubtedly, China is the optimal mediator in the mess of this war-stricken nation. China did not get involved in the war in Afghanistan. It is committed to supporting related parties in addressing both the historical and present contradictions… and leading the country to a peaceful reconciliation… Therefore, Beijing will try its best to provide a platform for the parties concerned to discuss issues”.
How could Obama be unaware that on the very day he arrived in Delhi, Pakistani army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif was in Beijing to discuss terrorism and to pledge Pakistan’s “willingness to cooperate with China to eradicate all kinds of terrorism and maintain peace, stability and prosperity’? In all probability, Sharif’s mission to Beijing relates to issues of Afghan reconciliation.
No, Markey’s optimism that Obama might dissuade the Modi government from pursuing a ‘containment strategy’ against Pakistan is unwarranted. Obama will not succeed on this one foreign-policy issue, which is central to the ideology of the Modi government. Put differently, Obama cannot hope to get the Modi government on board over the US strategy to stabilize Afghanistan.