It is the economy, stupid”. US President Barack Obama has clearly decided not to talk about Kashmir, lest he loses some of the jobs and the money he has so clearly decided to get from India. Trade and business and the economy is on top of his agenda and he is not going to be easily distracted from it.
This has been more than apparent in the two days he has been here, with the rest —-the rhetoric at the Taj hotel, the meeting with young minds in Mumbai’s colleges, the dancing and the humour— a side show. Kashmir included, in that he will not say more than this being an issue that both India and Pakistan need to resolve. And that the US is not going to intervene leaving it to the two countries to begin the dialogue, starting from the less controversial issues with a view to tackling the more controversial. This is about all he said in two days and this is all he is going to say.
The US President has said, and will probably say again, how a stable and prosperous Pakistan is to India’s advantage. And for those who might not have understood the connection —and there are many in our strategic establishment who still refuse to__ he spelt it out by pointing out how India cannot realise its full potential if there is conflict in the region of which it is a part. Remember the economy, stupid. The crux of the geo political world as it were, where even spirituality is explained in materialistic terms.
The political leg of the visit is of course in Delhi and it will be interesting to see what he says, and when. He is going to spell out most of his Indian agenda during his address to Parliament on Monday but it is safe to presume that the letter that Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Omar Farooq has collected signatures for, is not going to figure. At least not in his formal statements and conversation with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his team.
It was interesting though to see President Obama distinguish between terrorism and jihad, in response to a question from a student in Mumbai. He spoke of Islam being a great religion and sought to distinguish between the terrorists and the billions of Muslims who, he said, did not believe in violence or support the extremism. He also struck a different note in his glowing references to Gandhi and Martin Luther King, speaking at length of their contributions, of their values and their principles. As he told a student, had it not been for Gandhi and King neither would he, an African American been the President of the United States or India a country free from colonialism. Clearly Indian leaders could have taken several pages from his book, as one has never heard Prime Minister Singh or Congress President Sonia Gandhi, or the Congress itself, pay more than token attention to Gandhi. And here a US President was virtually taking a class on the forgotten Mahatma and what he stood for in an Indian college.
He did not stress on non violence though, as he perhaps knew better than others that the President of the United States, waging wars in Iraq and now Afghanistan, could not afford to preach what it was definitely not practicing. In fact he went on to justify the wars, with not a word about the terrible torture and killings of innocents that have taken place at the hands of US and Nato troops in both countries. But there is certainly more to this US President than meets the eye, and while he appears to toe the conservative line set out by successive US administrations, his mind has still not been tamed.
Pakistan has got a long rope, as President Obama is certainly reluctant to castigate the country. He admitted that the process of containing terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan has been slow, but made it clear that Pakistan was an ally of the US and would remain so. This might not have been manna to Indian ears, but at least it was honest, with the President making it clear that he remained committed to a dialogue between India and Pakistan, was not going to be aggressive about it at this stage, and at the same time was not prepared to berate Pakistan to please anyone.
It is strange how smaller governments and peoples tend to look at a US President as Santa Claus, forgetting that for any good President the first consideration should be his own people. The Kashmiris want President Obama to resolve their issue, New Delhi wants President Obama to censure Pakistan and help tackle the terror groups and so on and so forth. Whereas all that President Obama, beleaguered and beaten at home, wants to do is to revive the US economy, create more jobs and take more money in. This is his priority as he has to deliver on the economy front if his dipping popularity ratings are to revive. He cannot afford to be anything but uni-focus now as the Americans matter to him more than any other peoples. So while sufficient lip service will be paid to a few causes, the focus will remain on the economy as he looks to add to the ten billion dollars of trade through hard sell of military and nuclear equipment.
So a word of advise to those looking at the US President for deliverance. You are literally barking up the wrong tree.
(The author is National Affairs Editor, News X. Feedback at email@example.com)