Obama’s India trip could tip power balance: Pakistan officials

Saturday, November 6, 2010

WASHINGTON - The delicate balance of power between nuclear-armed neighbours India and Pakistan faces the risk of being upset by US President Barack Obama’s four-day visit to India beginning Saturday, Pakistani officials have warned.

Obama’s decision to visit India while bypassing Pakistan has sparked anxiety among government officials in Islamabad, The Washington Post reported. The officials have warned that the trip risks upsetting the delicate balance of power between the two countries.

Pakistan’s main concerns are the Obama administration’s apparent unwillingness to get involved in the long-standing dispute over Jammu and Kashmir, the blossoming US-India civil nuclear partnership, and the symbolism of Obama starting his visit at the Taj Hotel in Mumbai, site of the 2008 terror attack that has been blamed on Pakistani militants, the Post said Friday.

Although the US has recently announced a $2 billion aid package for the Pakistani army and last year signed off on a $7.5 billion civilian aid deal, government officials in Islamabad said the US has yet to prove itself a reliable partner.

“Unfortunately, on core issues, the US continues to stick to its traditional anti-Pakistan policies - whether it is our nuclear energy programme, the Kashmir dispute, our relations with India or our position vis-a-vis Afghanistan,” the Post quoted a senior foreign ministry official as saying.

“So long as Washington does not revisit these issues, it will continue to be very difficult for Washington to make any headway on winning hearts and minds in Pakistan,” the official added.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi requested several times that Obama should also stop in Pakistan during this trip, according to Pakistani officials, but the president declined and instead promised to visit Islamabad next year.

The Pakistani ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, said: “Pakistan looks forward to President Obama’s visit to our country in 2011 and hopes that his trip to India will help bring lasting stability to our region.”

Still, the decision could prove risky for Obama, whose popularity here is lower than it is in any other Muslim country. A recent poll found that just 8 percent of Pakistanis expressed confidence in Obama, down from 13 percent in 2009, the American daily said.

Pakistani officials say they are particularly interested in seeing Obama push India to do more to settle the Kashmir issue.

“We expect America to use its influence to nudge India in the direction of initiating a peaceful dialogue on the Kashmir situation,” said Tariq Fatemi, a former Pakistani ambassador to the US.

“And if that is difficult, then at least use your position to point out to India that the interest in human rights is deep and broad-based in America and you cannot have daily violations of human rights,” Fatemi said.

Pakistani officials said at least they expect Obama to avoid the confrontational stance taken by British Prime Minister David Cameron, who said during his India visit in July this year that Pakistan is promoting the “export of terror”.

The officials also fear that the president will seek to enhance the civil nuclear partnership with India. That, they said, could disturb the military balance in the region, the report said.

“If there is an effort to build India up as a regional influence, a country that is assigned the responsibility for security in the region, that is unacceptable for Pakistan,” said Maleeha Lodhi, another former ambassador to Washington. “Clearly, for deterrence to work, we need the minimum threshold of conventional balance.”

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