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Symbolism in Obama`s India visit worries Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: The government is in two minds about US President Barack Obama`s visit to India, especially over the symbolism hidden in the decision to pick Mumbai`s Taj Hotel for starting the trip as it was the focal point of the Nov 2008 terrorist strikes on the city. New Delhi has all along been blaming Islamabad for the siege, albeit in diplomatic jargon.

obama Speech pakistan newsMr Obama is likely to make a statement on the war against terror from the hotel.

Anxious eyes in Islamabad will meticulously examine how the American president manages ties with India without impacting on long-term partnership with Pakistan. Dawn

Senior officials in background interviews with confirmed that they had been reassured by the Americans that, unlike the British prime minister`s allegations of terror export from Pakistan during his visit to India, there would be no brazen anti-Pakistan remarks.

Nonetheless, they are worried that President Obama will try to ratchet up pressure on Pakistan to act against leaders of the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and its reincarnations; and certainly to speed up the trial of suspects in the Mumbai attack. But the forthcoming statement on terrorism is not Pakistan`s only concern. What Obama, during his three-day stay in India due to begin on Nov 6, says or doesn`t say on Jammu and Kashmir, Delhi`s long-standing desire for permanent membership of the UN Security Council and India-US military cooperation would not only be important for Pakistan, but also for the future of Islamabad-Washington ties.

Jammu and Kashmir and particularly the unrest in Indian held Kashmir in which 111 people have been killed over the past four months is one of Pakistan`s top concerns. The Pakistani leadership, with a belief that the Americans could facilitate talks on Kashmir, has desired that Mr Obama speak about the human rights violations in Kashmir during his stay in India.

Efforts have also been made by Pakistan through diplomatic channels to convince President Obama to meet Kashmiri leaders.

But, sources say, it is unlikely that either of Islamabad`s desires will be fulfilled because Mr Obama can ill afford to offend his hosts, particularly at a time when the Americans are eyeing $10.5 billion defence contracts that Delhi has to give.

However, diplomatic sources say that Mr Obama during closed door meetings with his Indian interlocutors will address the Kashmir issue and press for resumption of India-Pakistan talks on the longstanding dispute.

Equally important for the Pakistanis is the position Mr Obama may take on India`s bid for the UNSC membership.

Some analysts believe that India is already using some of the leverages it has with Washington to extract a statement of support in this respect from Mr Obama.

It may be far-fetched, but some are definitely reading the recently enacted Indian parliament`s nuclear accident liability law in this light, which would leave nuclear suppliers liable for damages from an accident in future. This has made the US civilian energy industry wary of future investments in India because of heavy compensation burden attached to any deal they might ink.

It may be one of the bargaining chips in Indian hand not only for getting the UNSC support promise, but also for forcing the Americans to shed their reluctance to transferring high technology and dual use technology in defence deals in return for agreeing to bring the stringent nuclear-liability regime in line with international norms, which can be acceptable to the US nuclear equipment suppliers.

What could be further important for Pakistan is how Mr Obama defines India`s future role in Afghanistan.

But, it is not completely dark for Pakistan. Islamabad`s foreign policy gurus are sure that President Obama during his stay in India will be extremely cautious in dealing with issues concerning Pakistan — this is partially because of lessons learnt from Nato choppers` aerial incursion episode and its subsequent fallout.

While Mr Obama wants to go to any extent for pleasing the Indians for clinching $10.5 billion defence contracts, he will be the last person to annoy the Pakistanis and risk losing their crucial support for ending Afghan war, analysts believe.

One cannot discount President Obama himself telling Pakistan`s delegation for the strategic dialogue in Washington that there couldn`t be more pro-Pakistan American president than himself. This is highly reassuring for the Pakistani leadership.

The cautious optimism in Pakistan`s Foreign Office corridors was reflected by spokesman Abdul Basit, while commenting on Mr Obama`s visit: “We do not have any concern. Frankly speaking, the US President`s visit should help promote stability and peace in South Asia. This is what we are expecting because the US is major power and it has influence across the world.

“We hope President Obama during his visit to India would take up those issues which are central to ensuring peace and stability in this region.”

Former foreign secretary Shamshad Ahmed, talking to Dawn on President Obama`s upcoming visit, said: “Anything in India-US relations that affects Pakistan`s interests will be crucial for us.”

He said he was little concerned about Mr Obama not visiting Pakistan along with India. “Now that we have got a commitment for 2011, we should prepare for the visit and get the maximum in tangible terms,” he added.

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