Obama triggers ‘Cold War’ in region

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How on earth did not one anticipate that the US President Barack Obama’s celebratory visit to India would be the onset of a weather likely to trigger another spell of the Cold War in this region? The common perception then – as conveyed to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif by President Obama at the time he accepted Prime Minister Modi’s invitation to attend India’s Republic Day celebrations – was that the visit is going to be merely a formality. But that has not happened. President Obama has taken a huge U-turn on two vital anti-proliferation positions, which had restricted implementation of the nuclear deal the two sides had signed nearly six years ago. Now India would have unquestioned access to the international nuclear market, which was not available mainly for two reasons. One, an Indian law – enacted after the 1984 Bhopal tragedy by the Indian parliament – which demands that in case of a nuclear accident the supplier companies should be held responsible. Two, as to where the supplied nuclear materials or nuclear technology would end up the Indian nuclear establishment was opposed to its ‘tracking’, that was required by the US laws. Both sides now plan to evolve an insurance pool mechanism, which would fix liability in case of a nuclear accident. And that will happen sooner than later given the American nuclear companies’ consistent pressure on the Obama administration to resolve this issue for actualisation of the US-India nuclear power generation agreement. The question how the United States government can overlook the issue of keeping track of the supplied nuclear materials needs to be answered. Also, by leaving this issue as the baby of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to take care of, the US government exposes itself to the charge of double-standards. If India is to be groomed as a strategic counterweight to China, the West has got to make some unholy compromises – like the one the United States has agreed to with President Obama. And if the US-led West wants India to stand up to China – its own experience of being on hard ground in far off lands being not very pleasant – there is Narendra Modi who is more than willing to enact that role.

During President Obama’s sojourn in India of the things that happened in the region three merit mentioning. One, the entire Kashmir Valley was locked down in protest, putting a question mark on Modi’s consistent moves to end the occupied state’s special status unilaterally. Last month, the Kashmiris had delivered him an electoral snub by refusing his party, BJP, the 44-plus majority in the state assembly. The visitors from Washington must strive to seek an answer to the question: Why did the people of Kashmir observe a ‘black day’ when the Modi-led government was celebrating India’s Republic Day? Two, during the same time Pakistan suffered one of its longest power outages, the responsibility for which has been claimed by an insurgent group active in Balochistan that is known for its foreign patronage. Isn’t it the case that someone staged this theatre for the visiting American leadership and media to ‘know first-hand how intense is the separatist movement in Balochistan’? Third, when Modi was disparaging Pakistan’s military operation across the confines of good and bad Taliban as ‘selective’ in choice of its targets the military top brass of China, which too is fighting terrorism and extremism, was all praise for the Operation Zarb-e-Azb. Addressing CoAS General Raheel Sharif, his hosts said: “we the two countries are the iron brothers and strategic partners”. And the Chinese media’s message to India was ‘don’t fall into rivalry set by the West’.

Even if one thought President Obama was carried away by Modi’s bear hug and the pungent flavour of tea poured for the visitor by a former railway tea-stall boy there is a clear tinge of bluster to the visiting leader’s comments and statements in New Delhi. We thought he would ask the belligerent new leadership in India to cultivate friendly relationship with neighbours. But he was sketching a new world order with the Washington and New Delhi calling all shots. New Delhi and Washington “are prepared to step forward firmly to accept responsibility of this global partnership for the two countries and for shaping the character of this century,” said Barack Obama. And for that to happen, which looks so much like an early whiff of the second spell of the Cold War, he offered to India a number of defence technologies to deepen its defensive – in practice offensive – capabilities. No wonder these words were music to Modi’s ears, who put on show in the Republic Day parade fly-past anti-submarine and long-distance aircraft – both to project India’s capabilities to dominate blue waters of the Indian Ocean and fight high-altitude confrontation with China. But both US and India must not lose sight of the fact that China, world’s second largest economy, has already transformed itself into a ‘regional hegemon’ due to its comprehensive defence modernisation plans. The former Middle Kingdom has occupied a lot of space vacated by the Cold War’s end and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Last but not least, Beijing’s increased diplomatic activism since Deng Xioping’s rule has immensely contributed towards making China more integrated with Asia and the world.