The President’s balancing act

Obama must carefully approach our new relationship with India

SATURDAY, NOV. 6: President Obama arrives in Mumbai, India. Down the Air Force One jet ladders, he and his wife wave and smile. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh greets the president and first lady. Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan gives Obama a memento, Michelle a bouquet. Hands shake hands. Obama and his wife are led to the Taj Hotel where they will stay the first day of the ten-day visit in Asia.

In other news, our unemployment rate stands at 9.6 percent. Many are still left jobless. Insurgent Republicans won the House and eroded the Democratic majority in the Senate in hopes of reshaping fiscal policy. Obama’s trip to India will help him redeem his losses.

India is US’s 12th largest trading partner. Obama hopes to assess the potential for expanded economic cooperation with the South Asian nation. Prior to the president’s visit, the U.S. had dozens of pending export deals with India, with a total net worth of $10 billion — potentially creating 54,000 jobs in the United States. Moreover, Indian companies have struck plentiful trade deals. Spice Jet Airplanes purchased 33 737s, Reliance Power purchased $750 million worth of turbines, the Indian Air Force purchased $5.8 billion worth of 10 C-17s and purchases for dual-use technologies are pending.

Obama is on one serious business trip. India is an emerging global power, and Obama wants to position the United States to capitalize on a positive relationship with the growing economic giant. He’s asked for increased market access and easier foreign investment-making.

But more is expected of Obama than just business deals. Currently, there remains tension between India and Pakistan from the Nov. 26 attack on the Taj Hotel in Mumbai by Pakistan-based militants, Lashkar-e-Taiba. India has all but called off the peace process ever since. Now, India is leaning on Obama to take diplomatic authority and address the complex relationship between India and Pakistan.

But Obama took the high road. Obama went to the Mumbai attack site, met survivors, and commemorated the deaths at a nearby memorial by delivering a maiden speech. India’s main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, called Obama’s speech “a disappointment,” for not having declared Pakistan responsible for the attack. When visiting St. Xavier College in Mumbai, Obama was asked by students about his stance on the political state of Kashmir. He dodged the question by reaffirming that more dialogue is needed first between Pakistan and India.

Now, Obama has welcomed India with open arms to a permanent seat in the U.N. Security Council, deepening bond of trust between the U.S. and India. But this open embrace drew a backlash from Pakistan, which released a response saying that Obama’s move was a “huge disappointment.” Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, will try to persuade Chinese president, Hu Jintao, to help block India’s seating. But any outreach to India will incur criticism from Pakistan, and vice-versa. Indeed, Indians criticize Obama’s speech for being too soft on Pakistan; they urge him to declare Pakistan a “terrorist state.” But the President hasn’t budged. So is Obama partial to India or to Pakistan?

The truth is, Obama is appeasing both sides. Obama’s priority is to lay the foundation for international business growth. His agenda for Pakistan will not be compromised by that of India. His role is not to mediate — he has enough problems doing that at home. He condemns the Nov. 26 acts of the terrorism but he will not declare Pakistan a terrorist state because they still have a major role to play in Afghanistan. Thus, Obama wants the U.S.-Pakistan relationship to stay firm, so he will not bow to Indian pressure to condemn Pakistan for acts of terrorism. He wants India and Pakistan to pursue a “healthy dialogue” — but he will leave it at that.