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Opinion

January 28, 2015

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An ominous embrace?

No, not necessarily - unless you are forged in a competitive edge while considering Indo-Pak relations in the traditional zero-sum mould. But let that come later. First, the embrace itself.
As President Obama alighted from his flight at Palam for his second visit to India in five years, Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, and ever the manifestation of a common man having done well in life, gave him that typical South Asian hug that breaks all barriers and inhibitions of physical contact between two people. Elsewhere in the world only lovers would engage in such intimacy, and that too away from any public glare.
It seemed to have done the trick for Modi though; both he and Obama reconnected from where they had earlier left in Washington. Whoever says personal chemistry doesn’t deliver? It is a huge force multiplier in developing inter-state relations and pursuing foreign policy interests. Who wins, though, is another matter.
Twenty-five years from now, if not earlier, four nations will stand tall on the map of the world: the United States of America, China, Russia and India. The first among the four, the US, is the newest and at present the most dominant power of the world – and likely to remain so in the foreseeable future; the other three have known greatness in their past while some are once again rediscovering their predominance. India will soon be up there with them, which is why I say twenty-five years. If these countries interact, sometime competitively and at other times harmoniously, it shouldn’t come as any surprise. India and the US met each other over the weekend as members of that super-league.
Given India’s present state of challenges on all fronts, which dampen its potential, to some it might be too early an endowment of the greatness status, but these are interactions between two likely partners of a future great power construct. Already a member of the G-20, Brics, and an aspirant of a permanent seat at the Security

Council – support of which was reaffirmed by Obama in India, again – a big league player in the international economy given its liquidity and reserves, and host to a huge emerging middle-class as a market of juicy potential; and of course the world’s largest arms buyer for the last five years running, India has a lot to look forward to. Greatness itself cannot be far away. In nuclear technology there are prospects of planned spending of around $150 billion in ten years; the plan has remained unimplemented since 2008 when the Indo-US nuclear deal was formalised.
In Pakistan this will be hard to swallow – but swallow Pakistan will. Again, not necessarily at its own cost because a great good lies for us too in the future as we must chart our route outside of the Indo-Pak stranglehold. As they say, the strategic layout of the world is changing and only the prescient will find their places sooner on it.
That isn’t necessarily bad. Away from this Indo-Pak construct Pakistan too will find the essentially needed freedom to liberate itself from the traditional mode of relative and competitive existence with its neighbour. Away from such binds Pakistan will: 1) join a nation in its own league to interact with in various fields of that are mutually gratifying and enriching; and 2) will be able to design its own rise at the pace that will suit its own needs and capacities. Sometimes while running against a super athlete one can exhaust one’s self rather too quickly.
Back to who gained more in Delhi: the scorecard of the Obama-Modi meet is pretty equal. The civil nuclear deal was lying dormant for want of some face-saving innovation away from the straitjacketed legal holds on both sides. Both played that well, though there still remain questions on how the details will play out with the American suppliers and Indian parliament and the courts. To circumvent the liability issues – distasteful to the American sense, and a legal bound for Indian policymakers – tracking of nuclear materials was added as a tactically useful negotiation tool, in 2011.
As the US accepted a way-around for the tracking part of the impasse by permitting the IAEA to do the honours, it opened the way for matching accommodation by India on the liability issue. A INR1600 crore insurance fund to cover the liability aspects of the deal will be suitably instituted. Who will fund the fund remains moot – and whether American suppliers fall for the bait is also to be seen. For the moment circumspection is the more common resort.
If agreed between both sides, however – which is eventually likely – that will then open the way for American nuclear plants manufacturers such as Westinghouse and General Electric to sell and give meaning to the long-held US plan of ‘nuclear renaissance’, opening up jobs in the US while Delhi will accumulate more brownie points for resorting to nuclear power and give a boost to the need for its role to reduce the carbon footprint. That is a typical great power-big money win-win for the modern times.
A similar fix for CISMOA (Communications and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement) that lays down the rules of sharing communication codes and fixes through the US only, enabling interoperability and assurance of security of the American source codes, could ease the ways for India buying American military equipment. This is particularly true for most combat tools that India needs and Washington wants to sell.
Another ‘work-around’ could route even more Indian money making its way to American companies creating even more jobs in America. Modi’s recent mantra of ‘Make in India’ permits an increased equity to all international players wishing to do business with India if they open manufacturing facilities in India for what India needs. On the Indian side this will open the route to useful transfer of technology that it needs to graduate to the next level of manufacturing in most of its industries. This is the same route to industrial modernisation that China took decades back.
The other notable reference was to India’s elevation as the US’ global partner. Obama mentioned the sensitivities in South China Sea and the Indian Ocean, and the need to throttle China’s freedom to assert itself in its proximity. If India can be inducted into an enhanced role of countering China in the Indian Ocean, which matches India’s own ambition to lord over the Indian Ocean exclusively, that could only be a useful check to China’s expansive designs. Therein lies the role that the US wishes India to play for all the bonhomie that goes for the new-found closeness between the two, and was enacted to perfection in Delhi on this trip. For the moment, this is where the convergence between the two appears most promising.
Keep in mind, though, that while strategic constructs evolve and are enacted in time, the US and China remain each other’s largest trading partners while China is the US’ largest foreign creditor; India and China trade heavily closing on to around $100 billion in the near future. China and Russia have also closed ranks on the back of many energy deals, as also in response to counter-American assertiveness the world over. Russia is also India’s largest arms exporter with 70 percent of Indian arms, especially in the navy, sourced from Russia.
Modern interstate relationships are more complex than the zero-sum assumptions we in Pakistan are used to from the era of alliances. That is why the silliest assumption in Pakistan during this entire period was to ascertain if General Raheel Sharif’s visit to China was timed to match Obama’s visit to Delhi, and if it gave a matching response to the evolving Washington-Delhi nexus. Mostly there is no answer to such naiveté.
The writer is a retired air-vice marshal of the Pakistan Air Force and served as its deputy chief of staff. Email: [email protected]

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