If there is one country which is closely watching US President Barack Obama’s trip to India, and with a twinge of anxiety, it is Pakistan. Islamabad and the country’s military establishment are none too happy with Mr Obama’s standalone visit to India and the promise of closer strategic ties between New Delhi and Washington.
Seeking parity: A delusion?
Pakistan, according to some reports, tried hard to lobby with the US administration to get Mr Obama to also include Pakistan in his itinerary, but for all its powerful PR machinery in Washington DC, it could not succeed in its mission of seeking parity with India in the American strategic calculus. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif showed his peeve when India and the US made it official in November that Mr Obama will be chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations, the first American president to be invited on India’s national day. Mr Sharif reacted petulantly and urged Mr Obama to take up the Kashmir issue with India during his trip to the country.
The Pakistani leader, under constant pressure from the country’s all-powerful military, often referred to as deep state, also invited the US president to visit his country. The problem with Pakistan’s leaders is that they stubbornly persist in their delusional pursuit of seeking parity with India, a kind of irksome grandstanding when they should be focusing on existential threats that have made the country look like a failed state, descending rapidly into the grip of regressive Islamist fanatics. George Bush, famous for Bushisms and countless jokes that portrayed him as an exalted buffoon, had more common sense than jokesters would credit him with – in 2006, after sealing the nuclear deal with India, Mr Bush travelled to Islamabad and told President Pervez Musharraf point blank that India and Pakistan are “different countries with different needs and different histories.” This was the most pointed rebuff to Islamabad’s desire to seek a strategic equivalence with India in the hope of getting an India-like nuclear deal from Washington.
But some just don’t give up! The ruling dispensation in Pakistan should take time off from insidious power games to reflect seriously on Mr Bush’s prescient formulation and it will reveal why President Obama has chosen to come to India twice and decided to give a skip to Pakistan despite the fact that Washington badly needs Islamabad on its side to ensure a peaceful exit of its troops from Afghanistan. The answer is not all that esoteric; it lies in the promise of India and a revived faith in the trajectory of the India growth story, which has been given a fresh shine by India’s reform-minded prime minister. On the other hand, Pakistan, sadly, has become a migraine, as Madeleine Albright said a shade dramatically, and a seething cauldron of assorted militant networks that have turned back on their former masters to unleash an unending orgy of mayhem in Pakistan, as underlined by the December 2014 massacre of innocent children at a military-run school in Peshawar.
Modi-Obama meeting: Talk Pakistan
This is, however, no time for gloating or schadenfreude for India, which has been at the receiving end of multiple terror attacks from Pakistan-based militant outfits. In fact, Pakistan should be and will be an important theme of conversation between President Obama and Prime Minister Obama when they sit down for talks in New Delhi on January 25. Prime Minister Modi should ask Mr Obama to use the US’ enormous leverage to get Pakistan to dismantle anti-India terror networks and expedite the prosecution of 26/11 masterminds and perpetrators. India should also reiterate its protest against the US clearing a fresh tranche of aid to Pakistan, which New Delhi suspects could be again diverted for anti-India armoury and activities. But the conversation should go beyond airing the oft-repeated grouse.
Instead, it should be a big-picture conversation about the future of Pakistan and Afghanistan and mapping out new pathways of cooperation to restore the much-needed stability in the region. It’s about replacing a gloom-and-doom narrative that has blighted the perception of Pakistan with a new narrative of opportunity. Maybe Prime Minister Modi should persuade Mr Obama to visit Islamabad at an appropriate time and tell Pakistan’s leaders to stop obsessing about India, and focus their energies instead on national renewal and cleansing their country of terror, regressive ideologies and the curse of abysmal poverty. And when Mr Obama goes to Islamabad, he should go with a high-tech lie-detector that beeps loudly the moment Pakistan’s leaders bluff, evade or make false promises which they know deep down they will never keep. For equivocation will simply not do any more. There is no alternative to sincerity, and trying sincerely to turn around what’s clearly an impossibly hopeless situation.
India and Pakistan may be different countries with different histories, but maybe if they try hard they can dream of a common future of interlinked prosperity, sans the shadow of terror. For now, that looks near impossible. But what’s diplomacy, if it’s not about audacity of hope!
- Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.
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