What happens when the world’s largest democracy and the world’s oldest democracy join hands? They acknowledge differences, yet cherish diversity. They recognise common grounds, and establish bridges. They capitalise on their strengths and declare themselves ‘natural allies’.
This is exactly what happened when Modi addressed the joint meeting of the US Congress, earlier this month. “Connecting our two nations is also a unique and dynamic bridge of three million Indian Americans. They are among your best CEOs; academics; astronauts; scientists; economists; doctors; even spelling bee champions. They’re your strength. They are also the pride of India. They symbolise the best of both our societies,” Modi said in the speech.
He referred to President Obama as ‘my close friend’, and the president pushed aside official titles as well addressing the prime minister as ‘my friend.’ Witnesses were in awe of this unconventional affection. “The bromance continues,” tweeted Michael Kugelman, South Asia associate at the Wilson Center.
Their friendship is a recent one. Not long ago Modi was barred from entering the US “The orchestra have sufficiently tuned their instruments, the baton has given the signal,” Modi quoted Walt Whitman, and added, “There’s a new symphony in play.” Indeed there is.
All of Pakistan’s neighbours are looking outwards for global connectivity and cooperation out of self-interest; while Pakistan seems oblivious to the reshaping of the future of the region.
From the climate change initiative to countering terrorism together, the lengthy joint statement released after the Modi-Obama meetup covered various themes including bilateral technology agreements, trade investments, and defence deals. President Obama called ties with India as ‘the defining partnership of the 21st century’.
Slowly, steadily, with patience and precision India has achieved what seemed impossible just a few years ago. Starting from the Autumn of 2008, when Congress passed the India-US Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, “it changed the very colours of leaves of our friendship,” announced Modi.
Resultantly, India is ready to enter the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) — a group that aims to slow the spread of missiles and other unmanned delivery technology that could be used for chemical, biological and nuclear attacks.
The US Congress earlier passed the ‘US India Defense Technology and Partnership Act’, as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. It’s the same NDAA that has earmarked short-leashed 800 million dollars as military assistance to Pakistan, out of which the Congress has restricted 300 million dollars because Pakistan has yet to take demonstrated action against the Haqqani network. Pakistan appears willing to jeopardise its relations with the international community, especially with the US, rather than curtail militant groups.
Interestingly, India’s defence exchanges with the United States exceed the purchases with any other partner. “Defence purchases have moved from almost zero to ten billion dollars in less than a decade,” a remarkable figure that Modi presented in his speech. The numbers may rise in the coming months, as will trade and education cooperation between both countries. It should be noted that Foreign Direct Investment to India has reached 60 billion dollars, while China stands at 100 billion dollars.
In comparison, the Pakistani premier’s second visit to the US last year hardly made gains. The only striking feature of the visit was that Nawaz Sharif took his extended family with him. His daughter, Maryam Nawaz, was handed over the mantle to educate young girls in Pakistan through ‘Let Girls Learn’ — a US-sponsored 70 million dollars initiative. The programme was launched by First Lady Michelle Obama and Maryam attended the ceremony along with both her children. The US contribution towards the programme in Pakistan is to be dispensed through USAID. Since the launch, however, the programme partners have not met and no progress has been recorded.
Another key element in Modi’s second meeting with President Obama at the White House was to seek US backing for its bid to become a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). “The US called on NSG participating governments to support India’s application when it comes up at the NSG Plenary. The US also re-affirmed its support for India’s early membership of the Australia Group and Wassenaar Arrangement,” as per the joint statement issued by the White House.
The US Senate, however, has not been that kind to India and questioned the qualification criteria. “Today we are not only granting India an exemption from global rules but we are in fact lobbying to admit India in the body that makes such rules,” a Senate panel said. The whole purpose of the NSG is to ensure that nuclear technologies remain under full scope of IAEA safeguards. India has not signed the NPT either.
Meanwhile, Pakistan has also applied for membership to the NSG. In the absence of a foreign minister or a forceful political appointee in Washington, it resorted to phone calls to Mexico and Italy for endorsements. Sartaj Aziz spoke with the foreign ministers of Russia, New Zealand and South Korea. Even though China is opposing India’s membership to the NSG, the India’s effort to bring other world leaders to consider its request is commendable. Pakistan desperately lacks this motivation and is becoming increasingly isolated.
The US Pakistan bilateral relationship hopped from one crisis to the next, and each predicament was blamed on foreign intelligence agencies. Pakistan believes that Indian mission in Washington and its intelligence agency RAW has courted American lawmakers to snatch the F-16 deal away. It is yet to be reported anywhere that the Pakistani mission thinks that the Afghan intelligence agency NDS (National Directorate of Security) has been supportive of Indian malice against Pakistan as well.
The Indian government has also always engaged the diaspora to play an instrumental role in the bilateral relationship. A growing number of Indians occupy influential roles within the US government, but there are only a handful of Pakistani Americans who have access to the US leadership – these opportunities are typically used to advance their own individualistic interests and to increase political influence back home.
Historically, members of the Punjab separatist movement in India, and Kashmiri nationalists, gather to protest every time an Indian delegation visits the White House. This time, however, the Kashmiri groups excused themselves “due to the fact that the attendees will be fasting on that day,” according to a message sent to participants.
India might have worked its way up to gain favour, or the Americans may be favouring it out of spite against China; in either case the mark left behind is significant. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s marketing tactics and diplomatic strategies have failed in propping up its stature as well as in countering India’s ambitions at international forums. Recent events, including the drone strike in Balochistan, suggest that the US is exceedingly weary of Pakistan and believes that Pakistan has had it easy till now. Pakistan needs to take a stern look at its priorities as the time to correct its course is fading fast.