NEW YORK - President Barack Obama is likely to raise with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi the issue of how the two nuclear-armed neighbours can resume dialogue and reduce their hostilities when the two leaders hold talks during the US leader's shortened trip to India, according to an American media report.
Citing administration officials and analysts, the Wall Street Journal noted that Obama's visit to India comes at a time of escalating tensions between India and Pakistan, after weeks in which the two countries have traded heavy fire across the disputed Kashmir region. Dozens of civilians and soldiers on both sides have died in the bombardments, which have continued on and off since October.
The pursuit of dialogue “is something that the United States has consistently supported, and we will continue to do so,” Ben Rhodes, White House deputy national-security adviser, told a briefing Wednesday. Adding to their tensions, the paper pointed out, Sartaj Aziz, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's adviser on foreign affairs, this week delivered the most strongly worded attack on India since Nawaz Sharif became prime minister in June 2013, warning of “India’s dangerous desire to create a space for war.”
“Relations between India and Pakistan are in tatters,” Sherry Rehman, a former information minister and ex-ambassador to Washington, was quoted as saying in the dispatch. “I haven’t seen anything this bad since the Mumbai attack,” she said.
India now is on alert amid concern that Pakistan-based militants may stage headline-grabbing attacks during the US president’s visit, the Journal said. The paper quoted Joshua White, an analyst at Washington-based think tank, as saying that as long as India and Pakistan aren’t talking there is a heightened risk that a terrorist attack in India, or a spiraling border skirmish, could spark a crisis.
“President Obama is likely to urge Prime Minister Modi to resume some kind of dialogue with Pakistan,” White said. “To avoid being seen as chiding his host, the president probably intends to deliver this message behind closed doors.” Pakistan, a key ally of Washington through the Cold War and a partner in the US-led war on terror after the September 2001 attacks, has looked on anxiously at warming US-India ties in recent years, the Journal said in a dispatch from Islamabad.
Obama’s decision to visit India without coming to Pakistan is so sensitive to Islamabad that he called PM Sharif to explain why, according to officials in Washington and Islamabad.
“We don’t view these relationships as taking place at the expense of the other; that we can have a good relationship with India and we can have a good relationship with Pakistan,” said Rhodes, the White House press secretary.
Still, Indian observers see Obama’s visit as a sign the US administration is ready to engage New Delhi without a tit-for-tat outreach to Islamabad, the report said.“India’s relations with the US are no longer hostage to what happens with Pakistan,” said Baijayant Panda, an Indian member of parliament.
New Delhi has taken a much harder line on Pakistan since Modi’s hawkish government assumed power in May last year, accusing Islamabad of not taking enough action against terrorists.
Planned peace talks were called off by New Delhi in August after Pakistan’s ambassador to India met with separatist political leaders from the Indian occupied Kashmir, and India has since rebuffed attempts by Pakistan to revive dialogue.
Sharif, an advocate of improved relations with India, has seen his power shrink following a protest movement that saw him effectively cede control of foreign policy to his country’s military, it was pointed out.
Analysts say that New Delhi’s reluctance to engage in talks has also helped Pakistan’s military reassert its traditional antagonism toward India. India has also been calling for the planners of the Mumbai attack to be brought to justice in Pakistan.
“I would say that we need to give India time,” said Aziz Khan, a former Pakistani ambassador to New Delhi. “My only fear is that fatigue will set in here and people will become disinterested.”