M.K. Bhadrakumar in an Asia Times column discusses something that I have noticed in the past, namely Obama’s bizarre failure to have much of anything to say about U.S.-Indian relations during the entire campaign. First, this is from an early August post of mine:
While it is not in East Asia, India appears nowhere in his major statements, and the extent of his campaign’s references to U.S.-Indian relations is, so far as I know, his campaign’s dismissive description of Hillary Clinton as the Senator for Punjab.
Bhadrakumar explains that the Indian government is not pleased with Obama’s initial moves after the election:
Delhi finds it appalling that Obama phoned Pakistani leader Asif Zardari on Saturday and the two leaders reportedly discussed the Kashmir issue. External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee promptly reacted, invoking the Simla Accord of 1972 as the cornerstone of India-Pakistan relations, which rules out third-party mediation over the disputed territory of Kashmir.
It is a long while since an Indian statesman mentioned the Simla Accord. It is a “back-off” message and it comes amid reports that in a move to inspire Islamabad to perform better in the “war on terror”, the incoming US administration may coax India into a settlement of the Kashmir problem and that Obama proposes to appoint former US president Bill Clinton as special envoy to undertake a sustained mediatory mission between India and Pakistan [bold mine-DL].
Indians might have fondly overlooked Clinton’s incurable flaws and warmed to him as president, but his anointment as Kashmir envoy will not go down well. Public opinion would see it as a failure of the government’s foreign policy. And the ruling Congress party is gearing up for a string of tough provincial and federal elections.
If true, all of these moves by Obama would be as clumsy and stupid as his handling of the Russian government was sensible and intelligent. The Indian relationship is probably the one major foreign relationship that Mr. Bush has managed to improve over the last eight years, and the nascent alliance with Delhi has been one of the few that has become noticeably stronger despite foreign policy blunders everywhere else. Embarrassing the government that negotiated and is trying to pass the nuclear deal over strenuous objections from the Indian left and criticism from the BJP hardly seems the right way to develop that relationship. What makes even less sense is that it was the previous Democratic administration that engaged Delhi after the end of the Cold War (Clinton famously being the first American President to visit India), which marks this odd Obama tilt towards Pakistan, if it continues, as something of an inversion of the old partisan pattern.
Bhadrakumar assumes that discussion of Kashmir is merely a diversionary effort to keep the Indians occupied while Obama focuses on the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and he asserts:
But Obama cannot be naive enough to conclude that his route to Afghan settlement lies through the treacherous minefields of the 60-year-old Kashmir dispute.
I would like to think that no one is this naive, but what is really gained by annoying the Indians over Kashmir when it must be obvious that there is not going to be a resolution of the dispute anytime soon?