Obama’s Trudge From Oslo to Delhi – Jawed Naqvi

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If recent events on the India-Pakistan border are an indicator then Obama’s presence at the Republic Day celebrations in Delhi is more inclined to escalate, not lower, tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbors

JAWED NAQVI
[dropcap]P[/dropcap]RESIDENT Obama will be in Delhi for India’s Republic Day parade on Monday. The event must mean a lot to him and Prime Minister Modi, the host. What else can explain the unparalleled neurosis the visit entails?

Most countries observe their national day, as they should, with fervor and a sense of fun. The Australians, in fact, share their national day with India on Jan 26, but have we heard of Sydney or Melbourne being locked down for a day of joy?

It is reported that a seven-layer security ring will guard the enclosure on the British-built Rajpath from where Obama and his Indian hosts will watch two hours of cultural pageantry and military display. The airspace over the area will be monitored by a radar being especially set up to turn the Indian capital into a fortress.

Besides the 80,000-strong Delhi Police, an additional 20,000 paramilitary personnel have been pressed into service to ensure fail-proof security in the city.

Metro stations and offices around the Rajpath area will be jammed 72 hours in advance at the request of US security personnel. Snipers will take up positions at vantage points while the Indian Air Force will provide air cover to the parade area and the VVIPs on the ground.

The inconvenience caused by security concerns for the world’s most protected visitor will pale before the palpable fear of something going wrong, not necessarily in the impregnable fortress that Delhi would become, but an incident even in faraway Kashmir could trigger political tremors.

As is the norm, Pakistan has been pre-emptively named the suspect. Therefore, during the three days that Obama will be in Delhi with his family, peace-loving Pakistanis and Indians should pray hard and also continue to hold their breath. If religious fanatics must target a school during the morning assembly it should be in Pakistan, not India. A slip up will have “consequences”, the Indian media reports ominously, quoting unnamed US sources.

In simple words, if recent events on the India-Pakistan border are an indicator then President Obama’s presence at Delhi’s Republic Day celebrations is more inclined to escalate, not lower, tensions between the two cavalier nuclear-armed neighbors.

The prognosis already looks forbidding. Even as he prepares to fly in for the Indian rendezvous — and he must have pondered the visit with considerable seriousness — reports have spoken of stepped-up activity at a ‘now operational’ nuclear weapons facility in Pakistan. And of course this activity is not linked to Islamabad’s engagement in the military mobilization on its western borders. A message is being sent to India.

That being the narrative on the one side, how will Obama respond to traditional applause on the other, when all the three wings of India’s armed forces join the march with their respective proto-types of nuclear weapons? And how will he look at the China-specific Agni missile usually on display on Indian parades? Or has it been discreetly agreed between the two sides that weapons Washington publicly frowns on would not be flaunted in Delhi? It’s an unlikely scenario but not impossible.

Mr Obama’s second India sojourn actually offers him the opportunity to redeem a pledge he made to his Nobel Peace Prize givers. He might want to look hard at the numerous commitments he had made while accepting the coveted silver medallion.

At that time about 60pc Americans thought that he didn’t deserve the honor. It is likely their number has increased, not without reason though given the global mess. However, let’s stay with Obama’s India nexus since some of the vignettes from his Nobel speech are urgently relevant during this trip.

Remember what he said about our moral compass going adrift? The non-violence practiced by men like Gandhi and King may not have been practical or possible in every circumstance, Mr Obama said, but the love that they preached — their fundamental faith in human progress — must always be the North Star that guides us on our journey.

“For if we lose that faith — if we dismiss it as silly or naïve; if we divorce it from the decisions that we make on issues of war and peace — then we lose what’s best about humanity. We lose our sense of possibility. We lose our moral compass.” How does the moral compass apply to South Asia, and specifically to his Indian hosts?

On the larger question of nuclear threat to the world he promised to alleviate, has it increased or decreased on his watch?

“One urgent example is the effort to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, and to seek a world without them,” Mr Obama had said of the tasks at hand. In the middle of the last century, nations agreed to be bound by a treaty whose bargain is clear: “All will have access to peaceful nuclear power; those without nuclear weapons will forsake them; and those with nuclear weapons will work towards disarmament.”

How does the American push for the so-called civilian nuclear cooperation with India blend with that commitment? Furthermore, Mr Obama had said that no nation could insist that others follow the rules of the road if it refused to follow them itself. “For when we don’t, our actions appear arbitrary and undercut the legitimacy of future interventions, no matter how justified.”

That’s among the fairest things any powerful leader has said. How will Mr. Obama then explain the story that got buried by the Paris cartoons mayhem? That “doomsday planes” are being upgraded, that four E-4B flying command posts to be used by US leaders to manage military operations in a nuclear war will receive communications upgrades to enhance their “connectivity” during a conflict that could spell the end of civilization as we know it. How does the Delhi parade fit in with the big picture? Or is it mere a sideshow?–Courtesy Dawn

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