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COLUMN - India's optimism about Obama not unjustified
(K. Subrahmanyam is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are his own.)
By K. Subrahmanyam
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Obama's election as the 44th President of the United States was hailed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as an inspiration for not only the American people but also around the world.
The Prime Minister was reflecting the views of the overwhelming majority of the Indians. In his telephone call to the Indian Prime Minister, Obama is reported to have described the Indo-U.S. strategic relationship as very important and assured Dr Singh that the new set-up in Washington would work together with New Delhi on all important issues.
This reassurance chimes in with the earlier letter Senator Obama wrote to Dr Singh on 23rd September, 2008.
In that letter, Presidential candidate Obama had indicated his strong support to the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal and called for redoubling U.S.-Indian military, intelligence and law enforcement cooperation.
He emphasised that both India and U.S. were victims of terrorism and shared the common goal of defeating the forces of extremism.
Similarly he favoured that India and America should work together to promote democratic values and strengthen legal institutions in South Asia and beyond.
He suggested that the two nations should work hand in hand to tap into the creativity and dynamism of the entrepreneurs, engineers and scientists to promote development of alternative source of clean energy.
He wrote, "Imagine our two democracies in action: Indian laboratories and industry collaborating with American laboratories and industry, to discover innovative solutions to today's energy problems. That is the kind of new partnership. I would like to build with India as President."
He could hardly have written a letter in similar vein to the leaders of China or Pakistan.
In that letter Obama had also expressed his commitment to the goal of a world without nuclear weapons and assured that he would make this a central element of U.S. nuclear weapons policy.
India had always favoured nuclear disarmament and went nuclear only after Rajiv Gandhi's nuclear disarmament plan in the UN was ignored by the nuclear weapon powers in 1988 and in the light of the nuclear weapon proliferation between China and Pakistan which was looked away from by the Nonproliferation Treaty community.
India is the only country in the world, facing two unfriendly neighbouring nuclear arsenals linked by proliferation ties. Now Obama promises to make a world without nuclear weapons as the central element of his policy. India welcomes this.
Obama will be taking over as President at a moment of economic crisis which in terms of its gravity is next only to the Great Depression which had to be tackled by an earlier Democratic President, Franklin Roosevelt who also assumed office calling for radical change.
He turned out to be the most revolutionary leader in institution building and succeeded in making US the world leader. The most apt comparison for Obama is not Kennedy or Reagan but Roosevelt.
While Obama has shattered the glass ceiling of racial prejudice, Roosevelt too, had to overcome the grave disability of being crippled by polio.
If Obama is to rescue the U.S. economy from recession at the earliest possible time he should expand U.S. trade, develop opportunities to cut costs, improve productivity and innovate organisationally.
While off-sourcing may reduce some jobs in U.S., the resulting cost-cutting and economies of scale will lead to further generation of jobs in US itself.
This understanding helps to uphold the optimism of Indian software industry, Obama has already called for collaborative, concentrated attention between India and U.S. on clean energy.
The Indian Prime Minister has suggested massive global infrastructural investments to revive the global economy along with reforms in global financial management and more effective monitoring of global financial markets while President Bush and the Republicans may overly emphasise the untethered free market economy -- the inadequate regulation of which led to the present crisis.
It is hoped Obama will be more in tune with more regulated global financial markets and more representative international financial institutions.
Obama has made it clear that "Having China as our banker isn't good for our economy. It isn't good for our global leadership. It isn't good for our national security.
History teaches us that for a nation to remain a preeminent military power, it must remain a preeminent economic power".
If this objective is to be achieved then Obama will have to continue the Bush-Condoleezza Rice policy of helping India in its efforts to become a world-class power. That Obama intends to pursue such a policy is implicit in his letter to Dr Singh.
On Pakistan Obama has said that he would hold that country accountable for the massive military aid it had received from Washington. He has pointed out that Pakistan did not face a threat from India but from across its Western borders and internally from Al Qaeda, Taliban and other jehadi extremists.
He has noted that Pakistan had misused the military aid provided by US, to prepare for a war against India. He proposes to send additional troops to Afghanistan and increase the pressure on Pakistan Army to act against Al Qaeda and Taliban.
India has no problems with the President-elect's approach to China or Pakistan as spelled out so far.
His consideration of the suggestion to send a special envoy to Kashmir was accompanied by his recognition that the past US involvement in Kashmir proved to be a tar pit.
The Indian concern was that people of past Democratic Administrations who had developed a relationship of cronyism with Pakistani military, intelligence and diplomatic establishments should not mislead the new president as happened in the first term of President Clinton.
One of the radical changes Obama may have to carry out is to weed out elements from the U.S. bureaucracy who were responsible for policies that led to US being taken for a ride for the last eight years by Pakistan which resulted in continuing safe-haven for Al Qaeda and resurgence of Taliban in that country.
In these circumstances the Indian optimism about Obama is not unjustified.
(K. Subrahmanyam is an independent strategic expert)
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