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It gives me great pleasure to participate in this Seminar and to share my views on a topical subject: “US President Obama’s visit to India and its implications.” Such an interaction provides a useful opportunity to deliberate upon issues of importance and to draw lessons for policy makers.

Before taking up the implications of President Obama’s visit to India, let me refer to the far reaching changes in the geo-political, security, economic and social spheres in South Asia.

We are in fact living in a time of profound transformation in global politics and economy with paradigm changes not only in South Asia but also in Europe, Central Asia and West Asia:

– There is a discernable shift of the economic centre of gravity with rumbles of new alignments in which China and Russia are cooperating in Eurasia through trade and energy connectivity and many new financial institutions and organizations like SCO.

– The “Asian pivot” or “rebalancing” – though primarily focused on the Asia-Pacific – is also generating new dynamics in South Asia.

– The rise of potent non-state actors, like ISIS, has changed the global threat matrix and is beginning to imperil the stability of many states and societies.

– Terrorism, climate change, economic interdependence, regional integration, and a shrinking globe, are all facets of the infinitely complex world that we are destined to grapple with.

– Meanwhile, globalization continues to forge ahead, with all its positive and negative ramifications.

In assessing the longer term implications of President Obama’s visit, it is important to keep in mind, that the situation in South Asia is affected by these phenomena, and is heavily conditioned by the global environment, which itself remains in a state of flux and instability.

Similarly, this visit to India is taking place at a time, when Pakistan’s bilateral relations with USA are witnessing a significant improvement. After the crisis ridden relationship of 2011-2012, the official visit of the Prime Minster to Washington in October 2013 put the relations back on a positive trajectory. This was followed by the two rounds of the Strategic Dialogue that were suspended in 2010, the first in Washington on 28 January 2014 and the second in Islamabad on 12-13 January 2015, just a fortnight before President Obama’s visit to India.

The improvement in US-Pakistan relations is based on several important policy changes and initiatives by Pakistan in the past 18 months. These changes and initiative were motivated by Pakistan’s own national interests but they also addressed some of the US concerns and priorities:

First, is the strong commitment to fight terrorism. Starting with the Karachi operation in September 2013, then the operation Zarb-e-Azb in June 2014 and finally the comprehensive National Action Plan launched in December 2014 with the support of all political parties. Intelligence based counter-terrorism operations and non-discriminatory actions against all terrorists are being undertaken in all parts of the country.

Second, there has been a remarkable upgrade in Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan specially after the advent of the new Government under President Ashraf Ghani. This has not only helped to create a conducive environment to facilitate a smooth drawdown of US forces from Afghanistan but also improved the prospects for a stable and peaceful Afghanistan which in turn is also vital for stability in Pakistan.

Third, the comprehensive interactions in 5 Working Groups on the economy, energy, defence, nuclear issues and counter-terrorism have helped to broaden and deepen US-Pakistan cooperation in these areas.

During Secretary Kerry’s visit, we shared with him Pakistan’s continuing desire to have a peaceful neighbourhood and also our disappointment that India by cancelling Foreign Secretary talks scheduled for 25 August 2014 had not reciprocated in carrying forward the peace process. On the contrary, ominous developments were taking place along the Line of Control and the Working Boundary. In this background, we conveyed our concerns quite forcefully, that US should take a comprehensive view of strategic imbalance in South Asia and avoid any steps that may jeopardize strategic stability in South Asia.

President Obama’s Visit

As expected the two day visit of President Obama to New Delhi was marked by a well orchestrated media hype and a carefully laid out programme to demonstrate that the partnership between India and USA, started a few years ago, was now witnessing a “qualitative reinvigoration of strategic ties”. The two sides issued a lengthy joint statement, a Declaration of Friendship, a Joint Strategic Vision for Asia Pacific and Indian Ocean Region.

The center piece of this new partnership seems to focus on security and military cooperation based on Defence Technology and Trade Initiative and a framework for US-India Defence Relationship for the next 10 years.

The second important component was the understanding on the implementation of Civil Nuclear agreement finalized in 2006. While details are still unclear, they have agreed to create an Insurance Pool of Rs.15 billion to cover the liability risk of American nuclear companies. It is too early to predict if these companies would find this insurance pool sufficient to facilitate large scale export of nuclear reactors.

The two sides also signed a US-India Investment Initiative, and an MOU on cooperation of many high tech items with $2 billion private investment in clean energy.

USA also offered its support for India’s bid to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council and join the Nuclear Suppliers Group. They also agreed to “work together” on climate change to seek a positive outcome of the Paris Conference by the end of 2015.

From the US perspective, closer relations with India fit in well with its Asia Pivot policy as it tries to boost India’s status as a key regional power and a counter-weight to China.

While the final outcome of the visit will unfold in due course, Pakistan has already spelled out its initial concerns and expectations about the visit.

Pakistan’s key concern is the paramount importance of strategic stability in South Asia.

India has embarked on a massive military build-up, through sizeable arm purchases both from Russia and USA. This will inevitably worsen the conventional imbalance.

In addition, India is also expanding its fissile material production facilities that would boost its weapons programme and is seeking access to advanced technology in missile and related delivery systems.

These conventional and nuclear imbalances between India and Pakistan are growing at a time when India is accentuating tensions and unprovoked firing across the Line of Control and the Working Boundary. It has also launched a systematic campaign to isolate Pakistan by dwelling on its favourite themes of the past few years and by refusing to acknowledge Pakistan’s determined efforts to eliminate terrorism from the region.

While Pakistan reserves the right to safeguard its national security interests, it expects USA to recognize the importance of strategic stability to allow space and resources to focus on the objectives of economic development and poverty reduction and reduce the possibility of a reinvigorated arms race in the sub-continent.

We hope that not only USA but also other important members of the international community will also support this objective of regional balance and strategic stability in South Asia.

Any objective evaluation of this visit would also recognize that while USA is keen to push India towards its Asia Pivot in the Eastern half of Asia, Pakistan is an important player on the Western half of Asia, which includes Afghanistan, Iran and the whole Central and West Asia. As one of the few stable and well functioning states in the Muslim world, Pakistan’s role in promoting stability and in facilitating connectivity in this important part of Asia, is indispensable and well recognized not only by USA but also by Russia and China. This should reduce any apparent worries that some observers may have generated after Obama’s visit.

Islamabad
29th January, 2015

031/2015
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