Obama’s India visit

Published January 25, 2015

Even before US President Barack Obama arrives in India — he is expected to arrive late this morning — Pakistan has already featured in the conversation.

In an international norm for such high-profile visits, Mr Obama gave an interview to a local publication (in this case, India Today) prior to his arrival on a state visit and, perhaps inevitably, he was asked about the Mumbai attacks and the issue of militant groups with regional agendas operating from Pakistani soil.

Read: Obama says elements behind Mumbai attacks must face justice

Mr Obama spoke plainly, though he said nothing new or surprising — or even disagreeable.

After all, the political and military leadership of this country now routinely insists that its goal is to eliminate terrorists ‘of all stripes’ and ‘every hue and colour’ from Pakistani soil, so when an American president says that safe havens are “not acceptable” and that the architects of the Mumbai attacks must “face justice” that only echoes what Pakistani leaders themselves have been saying.

In addition, Pakistan itself has put on trial Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi and several other members of the Lashkar-e-Taiba for crimes related to the Mumbai attacks — meaning that the Pakistani state itself believes justice has yet to be delivered to the victims of that shocking episode in 2008.

To be sure, there is an element of playing to the gallery involved in all such visits. Indian officialdom and its relatively nationalist media will likely try and elicit further comments on Pakistan from Mr Obama and other American officials that can be used by India to portray Pakistan in an even more negative manner.

If they are to fail in that objective, perhaps some Indian official himself will say something provocative in the next three days to grab the headlines.

Here in Pakistan, that will present a dilemma for the government and foreign policy establishment — say nothing in response and risk being labelled as weak or say something through the Foreign Office and risk getting into a fresh war of words with India.

Difficult as it may be, perhaps silence would be the better option here. To begin with, Pakistan and India need to get out of this habit of incessant, meaningless competition: if Mr Obama goes to India, that is India’s business; when Mr Obama visits Pakistan, that should be Pakistan’s bilateral matter.

In addition, nothing any Pakistani official says here in the midst of an US-India summit would have any impact on what’s discussed by those two sides.

Perhaps the only thing that should be remembered, or even reiterated publicly, is that dialogue between Pakistan and India needs to restart; there are several major and legitimate concerns on both sides; and, regardless of the state of relations with India, Pakistan’s foremost concern is to win the fight against militancy domestically — against all militant and terrorist groups.

Every turn in the spotlight for India should not automatically alarm Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, January 25th, 2015

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