Sunday, December 07, 2008

LiveFist Column: Barack Obama is a new opportunity for India

By Neil Padukone

While the world rejoices in the victory of Barack Obama, Indian political circles have been filled with worries and pessimism. The Indian press has pounced on any indication that an Obama administration would be harmful to India (i.e. the recent ‘phone call’ episode), and instigated widespread cynicism throughout the country.

But these anxieties neglect changes in global politics and the irreversibly strong relations that America and India have established. The new US President brings opportunities for a new level of Indian global engagement. But it is upon India to make the most of it.


Given the Indian upper hand in Kashmir, India’s skepticism of outside involvement is understandable. But the status quo for India is far from perfect. If US engagement in Kashmir does materialize, India should not remain cynical.

It has long been argued that the Pakistani military’s every whim must be supported or Pakistan will implode and bring the world with it. With the Musharraf legacy decidedly obsolete, this argument no longer holds. After years of diverting US military aid to the Taliban and anti-India terrorists, Pakistan’s military must be held accountable.

As India has been able to do little to address unrelenting Pakistani aggression, countries with more influence over Pakistan must be engaged to exercise their authority.

The US is considering both economic and military aid to Pakistan, and is in a place to hold Pakistan’s feet to the fire on issues like supporting terrorists, a central element of any Kashmir resolution. Obama has long maintained that any military aid to Pakistan must be linked to on-the-ground changes, including cessation of military support for anti-India activity. With US sway over Pakistan, American participation in Kashmir may benefit India.

India’s strong new partnership with the US enables India to stand its ground if its long-term interests are threatened, and makes the “re-hyphenation” of Indo-Pakistan relations (in which US-India ties are seen through the lens of Indo-Pakistan affairs) near impossible.

Credibility and Global Challenges

America has the most to lose in the nuclear realm, and both Democrats and Republicans have been understandably vocal on nonproliferation. India shares these goals of nonproliferation and global disarmament, holding an unmatched nonproliferation record. But the US has often pursued nonproliferation while maintaining and expanding its own arsenal, undercutting its credibility in nonproliferation efforts.

Obama has stated that he would make the US a party to any treaty it promotes around the world, and favors reduction and disarmament starting in the US. If the US takes credible steps of its own, the cause of global nonproliferation is greatly and more credibly served.

US credibility is also central in dealing with climate change. Obama has said that the US must “lead by example”: setting standards on its own emissions, developing and sharing green technologies, and ultimately engaging the world in more equitable environmental frameworks.

Economics and Strategy

Many in India fear Obama’s ‘hardline’ views on outsourcing. But there is little that any US President could do to stop the flow of jobs to places like India, where wages are cheaper; Obama himself maintains that outsourcing “cannot be reversed.” Rather, the economic void left in the US must be filled with proactive domestic investment.

With Obama’s plans of research and development in alternative energies, science and technology, the advances that Indians make in these fields can be another source of partnership.

Due to the current economic crisis, global outsourcing to India will ebb regardless. But this change provides an opportunity for India to reassess its economic strategy. Outsourcing provided a boost to a sluggish Indian economy in the past decade. But India need not be overly dependent on external investors and must develop a long-term strategy that considers this.

‘A Great Nation’

Fears of an Obama administration emanate from an Indian strategic culture that is excessively myopic and reactive. If India wishes to be a global power, it must act as such.

An argument made by Obama himself is that India is on the brink of global power and should not remain caught up in regional tensions such as that with Pakistan.

Likewise, the Mumbai-based Strategic Foresight Group has said that “if India is serious about a place at the high table, Pakistan should not be an issue…India has wasted too much energy managing an adversarial relationship with Pakistan. If India wants to make a U-turn, it will only be possible with a new mindset and vision.”

A vision of global engagement could include an Indian role in promoting development and resolving conflict in Africa (i.e. Sudan), advancing investment in Latin America, facilitating an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, and even assisting the de-escalation of US-Russian enmity.

Vice President-elect Joe Biden has articulated a view of US-India relations that should inspire India itself: “There are all kinds of reasons to treat [Indians] as they are—a Great Nation.”

A New Opportunity

There have been false rumors that Obama is an extremist Muslim who will kowtow to the demands of radicals. He is a Christian who has taken firm and pragmatic stances on terrorism and radicalism. The victory of a Black man in the US, a country with so many racial divides, represents a victory of tolerance and acceptance over racism and prejudice for the world. A pluralist, accepting India should see it as such and as inspiration for change in its own, increasingly tense social fabric.

US-India relations are improving due to converging global interests and a growing Indian-American lobby, rather than partisan politics. They have been solidified by the nuclear agreement, which paves the way for heightened economic activity, brings the US away from a Pakistan-centric view of South Asia, and articulates India’s position vis-à-vis China.

An Obama Administration is likely to strengthen these ties; Joe Biden, a long-time supporter of India has said that the US rapport with India is the “single most important relationship that we have to get right for our own safety’s sake.”

In the end, the citizens of the US have already elected Barack Obama to stabilize and strengthen their country. A strong America—including the prospect of financial rehabilitation—is in the interests of a strong India.

Campaign rhetoric must of course be weighed against concrete actions, and how the new administration performs is most important. India should, as always, remain vigilant. But unwarranted defeatism will not help anyone. India should engage the new American President with an eye to the opportunities presented, not just the potential challenges faced.

As in the campaign that brought Obama to the presidency, positive engagement can be self-fulfilling. It is a lesson from which India can take some hints.

(Neil Padukone is a US-based security and international affairs consultant. He is currently a Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Security Studies, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. His research interests include security studies, international affairs, and political management. ©This column originally appeared on the ORF website here)


Mr.Logical said...

He doesn't get the entire picture... Any US-India-Pakistan relationship cannot ignore the Chinks.

Pakistan is never a problem. With all that US help, we can still win a conventional battle against them any time. In terms of a nuke war, Pak will have advantage of decision making (to use Nukes, when our politicians have to consult 20 countries for even a retaliatory second strike..)

Democrats have been and will be closer to China than India.China can potentially bring the US economy down any time. They military might is just above half as good as US, but improving fast. Bottomline is US cannot piss off China to improve relations with India and China will obviously pressure the US to choose at some point down the lane between itself and India.

Anonymous said...

padukone is a rookie. he doesn't understand the real thrust of the new paradigm. pity.

tin can man said...

bah, humbug. trust an NRI to have half-baked, blinkered views such as these.

Anonymous said...

"Given the Indian upper hand in Kashmir.."

Upper hand???? What are you on, Mr Padukone? I'd like some of the same.

Anonymous said...

Not one word on the most important and far-reaching decision of Obama as far as India is concerned. I'm speaking of his choice of Secy of State - Hillary. We could not have asked for more. She is going to solve this paki terrorism problem once and for all.

chandrabhan said...

Hi Shiv,
I do understand the fundamental tenets of democracy - Right of expression etc.I also appreciate your kindness in allowing people like me an opportunity to express myself freely. Having set the tone of arguements, Let me put forth my view points.

1. Obama or No-bama is going to be president of USA. Did i miss somebody saying United states of America and India?

2. Any nation that outsources security and national interests is doomed to fail - like our neighbour. You can not see & seek self worth in the relationship(that includes spouses in marriage).

3. I am seeing a very dangerous trend in Indian Journalists, Opinion makers "Intellectuals" to trya nad float these trial balloons - ala Kashmir. This all started with that anemic porn writer Dhoti roy dutyfully followed by wannabe 'intellectual' Burkha Dutt and her ilk of Vir Shanghvi and all.

4. I don't think these guys have any understanding of Indic history, modern History and recent history - post 1945. I will put this joker Neil in the same class. What i fail to understand is that whose bidding are these guys doing?

5. This si the time to close up on 'The great Game'. We have an opportunity to end this once for all.

6. As opposed to the above gentlemen, I believe the strength of national character and muscle lies in solving the issues by their own. Kashmir is our internal matter and we will, I repeat will never allow anyone to interfere. Only way if someone wants to help is by turning their eyes off when we join the northern areas of Kashmir to India. That's it.

7. Kashmir is crucial to survival of India..
a.Security point of view
b.Source of fresh water(we need absolute control, otherwise we will die hungry in couple of decades)
c.The overall homogenity of the nation's muslim population. Otherwise we will have atleast 20 demands(Bangistan, Khalistan, Tamilistan etc)

8. Maharaja harisingh decided to accede to India by an instruement duly signed and so did other 564 riyasats. The validity of all is same.

9. We are growing population and we need to develop fast to lift out hungry masses out of poverty, we need access to energy sources - central Asia. Kashmir is the Key. We must undo the damage done by 'The great Game' theory that denied us access to the land locked central asia (Cawthorne that Bas---- played the bidding of the british). what we msut do is the following..

We must be taking a series of steps(which I am sure are already under way) to keep all our options open and checkmate future American 'Netagiri' in our backyard..
1.Continue to develop ties with Iran
2.Push ahead for the IPI gas link and if possible involve Russia, the 'stans (CA) and also Terrorist state of Pakistan.
3. we must put some severe clauses on the profit money going to military spendings and all of the memebers should put a stake - cow don TSP
4.Prop up the northern alliance - clandestinely continue to support their build up and work with Iran/Russia to acheiev so
5.Continue to work the fissures between the pashtoons - Ghilzai vs Durrani.
6. When the Americans dump Karzai under pressure from TSP, we must give asylum to Karzai and other 'Sarkari' pashtoons and support them in all ways possible( statements like Moderate,secular pashtoons will help)
7. We must tie down Americans to Afghanistan and 'The great game' should devour it's players now - british and their attack dog, US.
8. Pakistan Taliban is nothing but Pashtoon nationalism, they will not rest till the Durand line is gone.
9. How can we forget Baluchistan? They have been done great injustice in 1948, sufferings of humnaity and pain of being a refugee in one's own land( AMnesty etc must be used). Somebody can supply weapons also.
10.we must complete the highway through Iran to kabul quickly
11. pashtoons have been done a great injustice by the durand line - It's high time this is erased and we should be able to create some more Mehsoods to take on Americans.
12. Europeans hate dead bodies and Obama will ahve to share the burden of loosing american lives and we must ensure they ae plenty.
13. Is China very happy with American forces next door :-)
14. An independent Pakhtoonkhwa is in our benefit but we msut balance it with 'Khudai Khidmatgars'

I am too young to say all this but this is my thought. We must bluntly tell the Americans that they should mind their business and in case Obama is smart, he will understand that he is betting on the dying horse. TSP is history in next 5 years and I am already dreaming of a plot of land in Baluchistan( India's Union territory), provided we play it right.

Having said this I still believe that we must engage with the Amir-Khans but we must protect the REDLINE of territorial integrity at any cost.

For that to happen we must stop these Burkha dutt, Dhoti roy and Pronoy roy types. We are growing nation and we have no where to grow.We need additional landmass to accomodate our people. Europeans had North america lands, Australia, Latam etc. Thanks to Nehru's stupidity and treachery of the British generals during the transition phase in 1948, we lost Northern areas to TSP and later on Tibet( rightfully ours) to Chinese due to arrogance and stupidity of Nehru. he was hell bent on being the moral guardian of the world and loved his photo adorned walls.

Anyway, this is not the time to talk about all that but we must not loose even an inch of space to anyone and I am proud of the fact that successive Indian governments have understood this fact.
The natural expansion for us to come from 2 countries - Burma and Tibet in the north once we are strong enough. China can and will expand into siberia. Russia will not have enough people to defend - currently 140mln will go down to 132 Mln by 2025.
Obama or no bama, we must not loose an inch, we must try and get Northern areas anyhow( population sparse, only 7 Million and big landmass).
If we need to go war on it we must. It is the neccessity for our survival- Energy securty as well as land requirement.

In the end, I will repeat what 'Sardar' told Nehru, " Yeh hamara apna mamla hai, Hum United nations nahin jayange, kabhi bhi". When nehru went to the radio station to announce his plan to get UN, 'Sardar, made his secratary run but the damage was done already. He remarked, "Jawahar, Tu royega, sath main poora desh".

Neil or whatever your name is, Don't day dream and just fly kites. Obama is looking everything thru American self interest and so must we. No interference .

chandrabhan said...

In the end I have just one line to say - borrowed from a friend's blog.


I will just say as my disdain for 'intellectual', 'Peace niks' and 'Pseudo seculars' is well documented. Sooner we throw them to gallows, better it will be for nation. Let them shout till make my mind for elections.


Anonymous said...

chandrabhan: what do you mean by "neil or whatever your name is"?? please talk with respect on a serious forum. don't be a rabble rouser for no reason.

chandrabhan said...

Dear Anon,
I am always confused when people are afraid to put their names while posting. People have their own problems that's why they hide their identities. May be afraid of backlash :-)
Rabble rouser? Hmmm that is funny. I have been called everything except this. Any way let us just stick to this issue as you said it is a serious forum. In case shiv has any objections, I will tender an apology. Its his blog. What's your name you said? Neil !

Debate on the content and don't divert. In the end I don't even know if this is a 'pen name' or real name for the writer. Stick to the topic and impress me with logic, I suggest.

chandrabhan said...

Anon sir,
With due respect, Half of the points i mentioned are etched in the minds of every IFS/IAS that walks the corridors of power.