Obama’s Indian Safari: Why’re Pakistanis So Worked Up? – Karamatullah Ghori


Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif shakes hands with US President Barack Obama during their recent meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. AP
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif shakes hands with US President Barack Obama during their recent meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. AP

Obama is doing what any pragmatist leader in his place would do. Pakistanis may think he’s ignoring or shunning them but that doesn’t change the calculus of power driving Obama and his tilt towards India. It’s not, necessarily at the expense of Pakistan


[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he ironies are in spades and quite jarring for Pakistani minds not nuanced sufficiently to see shades of grey. Barack Obama has, apparently and not too subtly, given the short shrift to one of the oldest ‘allies’ of US in favour of a country which, for much of its existence, has been aloof from it, if not openly hostile.

It is, after all, a fact of history that Pakistan has been tied up to the American apron-strings since the early 1950s when the then Eisenhower administration had taken fancy to Pakistan’s smart and elegant soldiers. The two armies—of US and Pakistan—haven’t looked back, ever since, although on the political level the two allies’ relationship has gone through many a roller-coaster.

What has, perhaps, incensed and annoyed the Pakistanis most is that Obama is openly courting an Indian leader—the two, Modi and Obama, hugged each other like bosom buddies in full limelight of the world media—who’d been a pariah to US until not too long ago. Such was the American allergy to a chauvinist and brazenly communalist leader like Narendra Modi that he was refused to set foot on American soil.

So, what really explains the sea-change in American attitude toward Modi and the country he leads? And why shouldn’t the black-and-white-only seeing Pakistanis be more pragmatic and realistic about the radical turn in relations between the world’s two leading democracies?
For one, US is a global power—and an imperialist power, at that. Pakistanis ought to understand history’s gospel truth that imperialist powers are ruthless and cold-blooded.

For Western expansionist powers—of which US is the latest and most powerful  exponent—the template is the Roman Empire that ruled over its vast possessions with absolute cruelty, if not barbarity.

So, Barack Obama could be least concerned that Pakistani feathers would be ruffled by his disdain for Pakistani sensitivities and unabashed courting of India.

Pakistanis would also be doing themselves a favor by reminding themselves of Lord Palmerstone’s old dictum: ‘There are no permanent enemies or permanent friends’ for a country in inter-state relations; only a country’s interests are permanent. That dictum sums up the place of morality or fair-play in international and inter-state relations.

India is a huge market to US. Its consumer-fetish middle class outnumbers the entire population of US. India is also the world’s number one importer of weapons, and US with its bulging arms industries has the answer to India’s hunger for weapons and demons of war.

Under the BJP philosophy of a revanchist India powerful enough to flex its muscles and project its power far beyond its shores, there couldn’t be a more salubrious and welcome ambience for US to become India’s principal supplier of ordnance. It’s like a match made in heavens.

Obama may think he can do business with a Modi ready to take India on a trajectory of perceived greatness endemic to the BJP philosophy of Hindutva. It doesn’t matter to Obama that Modi has hands soiled with the blood of thousands of Gujrati Muslims. With billions of dollars at stake, Obama isn’t going to be put off by Modi’s tainted and sordid past. It’s pragmatism all the way. And that’s how an imperialist power bent on putting its cachet on everything associated with power has behaved in the annals of recorded history of mankind. Morality has no place in the almanac of raw power.

Whether it’s filling India’s arsenal with state-of-the-art hi-tech weapons or providing it with nuclear power reactors—ostensibly for civilian use—it’s a win-win case for the US corporate world. A lame duck Obama, with his horns locked with a doggedly hawkish and revisionist US Congress would be hard put to even think of putting principles before worldly gains.

Obama didn’t have to look far for incentives to get into the race to cater to India’s huge shopping list for nuclear reactors to generate power. US opened its technology and nuclear industry to India back in 2008 when George W. Bush waived aside all reservations to give India access to civilian nuclear technology. But caveats built into that agreement have stood in the way of US corporations reaping a rich harvest in India.

 Meanwhile, India, not prepared to wait for US regulations to cut through the thicket, went to Russia for 12 nuclear power reactors, which sent alarm bells ringing in the American corporate world, which has Congress in hog since long. The bottom line for them is to not let Russia monopolize the Indian market.

So Obama is doing what any pragmatist leader in his place would do. Pakistanis may think he’s ignoring or shunning them but that doesn’t change the calculus of power driving Obama and his tilt towards India. It’s not, necessarily at the expense of Pakistan.

Taking a non-cynical view of a development that has agitated  most minds in Pakistan on a purely sentimental note, it should be a wake-up call for Pakistan why Obama hasn’t deemed it his call to visit an ally which has rendered greater services to the cause of fighting terrorism than any other US ally. A toll of 50,000-plus lives paid in the cause is no mean sacrifice.

And yet the Pakistanis have become a nation of naysayers—a people in perpetual denial of the realities making up their political landscape. But they must accept the reality no matter how unsavory it is. And the reality is that Pakistan has a horrible, really messy, problem of terrorism gone berserk.

That we’ve, belatedly, accepted the presence of the hydra-headed monster of terrorism in our midst is still commendable. The National Action Plan (NAP), now in force, is expected to pave the way for a concerted civil and military grand plan to combat the scourge of terrorism at all levels in the country.

But these baby steps are a little too late to convince the outside world, including the US, that Pakistan is a safe place for a US President. They aren’t prepared—at least for the moment—to lower the risk factor that goes with Pakistan’s classification of one of the most dangerous places on the planet as far as basic norms of security are concerned.

Add to it the lackadaisical performance—a non-performance, in fact—of the political leadership of Nawaz Sharif & Co. For a brief spell of time, immediately after the blood-bath of innocent school children at Peshawar Army School, they’d given semblance of jogging into action. However, much of that ersatz energy seems to have fizzled out, already. They are nearly back to their laid-back style of governance in which no one is accountable and none is ready to accept responsibility. The petrol crisis of a week ago was best illustrative of Nawaz Sharif’s utter failure to understand the causes of this horrendous cycle of shortages in basic commodities of life, much less come to grips with them.

The civilian government’s paralysis is best epitomized in a nearly dysfunctional Foreign Office which, under Nawaz, has been lurching like a rudderless ship. The absence of a Foreign Minister has seriously handicapped its performance. But the odd situation is worse compounded by the in-fighting for upper hand between the two contenders for PM’s favors who are said to be into a turf war at the FO. But whatever other evil fallout of this turf war, Pakistan’s diplomatic projections abroad are going unattended by default.

The Pakistani diaspora in North America is, rightly, unhappy at the cold shoulder given to Pakistan in the US administration despite its massive efforts to contain the tide of terrorism. However, this diaspora ought to make an introspection of its own tentative efforts in the crucial department of lobbying. It goes without saying that lobbying moves the levers of power in the US administration and, much more, in Congress.
That’s where the Pakistani diaspora is found so short and wanting, compared to the professional caliber and capabilities of the Indian diaspora in the US.

The Pakistanis are afflicted by the same syndrome of self-projection that has become the bane of politics in Pakistan. The so-called social activists on behalf of Pakistan in US are busy-bodies seeking self-recognition for their input. The end-all of much of their social activity is to have themselves photographed with this or that senator or congressman and not much more than that. That photograph, in a glitzy frame, adorns their drawing room and becomes their ticket to fame. That’s about the sum total of their ‘lobbying’ for the mother country. This feudal instinct will have to be restrained if they really mean to become movers and shakers in the real sense of the term for Pakistan.

That Obama shunned Pakistan and chose to openly court India should become a reality check for Pakistanis, both at home and abroad. However, bemoaning the insult alone wouldn’t change the equation in favor of Pakistan. It would take nothing short of a massive, all round, effort on more than one front will be needed to turn the fortunes and make Pakistan a palatable place for world leaders. It will not be easy.


All opinions and views expressed in columns and blogs and comments by readers are those of individual writers and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Caravan


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