Enthusiasm and caution greet Obama speech

January 21st, 2009 - 9:19 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack ObamaNew Delhi, Jan 21 (IANS) US President Barack Obama’s inaugural speech has been greeted in India with some enthusiasm and guarded optimism, with most diplomats and analysts seeing continuity in bilateral ties that have been transformed by a landmark nuclear deal.There are, however, notes of caution about possible US pressure to resolve the lingering Jammu and Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan.

“We are hopeful that India-US relations will continue to grow stronger. It is early days to comment on specific promises made by Obama in his inaugural,” said a diplomat who did not wish to be identified by name.

The Indian government has not reacted to Obama’s speech outlining how he planned to run the presidency. But his declaration that the war on terror will henceforth focus on Afghanistan-Pakistan and not Iraq has been welcomed by most diplomats and political observers here.

These experts are also happy about the the Obama administration’s latest position that links economic aid to Pakistan with more accountability and results against terrorists.

Soon after Obama moved into the Oval office Tuesday, the White House released its foreign policy agenda document that said: “Obama and (Vice President Joe) Biden will increase non-military aid to Pakistan and hold them accountable for security in the border region with Afghanistan.”

Said Lalit Mansingh, a former Indian ambassador to the US: “In a sense, the real strategic partnership between India and the US will begin now. The focus will be now on expanding trade and investment, cooperation in defence and agriculture and not so much on the nuclear deal.”

Not everyone is this enthusiastic. Some fear that an intrusive Democratic presidency may come in the way of the burgeoning India-US relations, transformed by a path-breaking nuclear deal last year.

Amid global euphoria about the Obama presidency, former national security adviser Brajesh Mishra told IANS: “There is no change in policy. It’s too early to make a judgment.”

Mishra was asked if Obama could herald major changes in the US foreign policy.

India and the US enjoyed excellent relations under George W. Bush, and Obama’s aides have previously declared that they planned to strengthen the relations between the world’s oldest and largest democracies.

Chintamani Mahapatra, a professor of American Studies at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, added: “It will be more of a continuation rather than a real, substantial and qualitative change.”

Unlike his November victory speech, Obama’s inaugural speech heard by millions across the world was more sober and serious as he comes to grip with the presidency, Mahapatra said.

In the short term, Pakistan is set to draw more attention from the Obama administration for security reasons. China too will prominently on the radar screen of Washington for economic reasons.

In the long term, all durable structures of India-US relations will be strengthened, said Mahapatra.

There are some anxieties, however, about the likely activism on the part of the Obama administration to resolve the Jammu and Kashmir dispute that has cast a shadow on India-Pakistan relations for decades.

But officials here are hopeful that Obama will see the larger picture and will not pursue a policy that will risk alienating India.

There are some lingering concerns over renewed focus on pushing for ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

The ratification of the CTBT will, however, not be easy as it will require a two-third majority in the Senate, which the Democrats do not have.

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