There’s definitely a fine Brahminical hand at work. First, the bromance at Houston to a 50,000 plus cheering crowd, and then the bonhomie at the press meeting at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) at New York. It’s not every day that a prime minister gets likened to Elvis Presley, a demi-god of American music, and that too by the President of the United States.
President Donald Trump is nothing if not a realist. He’s thrice complimented Prime Minister Modi, perhaps a little enviously, on his sweeping electoral win; clearly saw the Houston event as a chance of winning the substantial ‘Indian’ vote; and has used the run up to the whole to win a good trade deal. A large part of that is likely to be energy, and defence. You can’t say he hasn’t got his priorities right.
Timing of ‘Howdy Modi’ Was Shrewd
No less the Delhi delegation. The timing of the Houston event was shrewd, and even sharper was the gifting of a solar energy system to power the UN Headquarters.
If the prime minister was (far) less than his usual ebullient self at the climate change event, this initiative, which cost a mere USD 120 million, more than made up for that.
Plus Delhi is to announce its biggest single-use plastic ban in history on 2 October. The ban includes cups, plates, straws and ‘small bottles’. Whether that will draw in the products of major manufacturers like Pepsi is unclear, but business is worried whether too much will again be done too quickly. Criticism on the lines of the GST implementation can be expected, with many questioning what will fill the gap. Their respective grandfathers could point to stainless steel plates and sal leaf cups if someone asked. Probably nobody will. It’s easier to concentrate on the profit lines.
Both India & US Allies Warn Against China Further Extending a Hand of Friendship
The UNGA meet obviously saw a plethora of other meetings on the side lines, with Foreign Minister S Jaishankar holding talks with his Iranian counterpart, in a reach out that is significant. India may decide to re-start Iranian oil shipments — now down to virtually nothing — as the attack on the Saudi oil wells by the Houthis has set back production probably for more than a month. India has also emerged as something of a broker, between the US and Tehran.
Delhi wants to re-start Chabahar, after companies were unsurprisingly spooked by sanctions; President Trump doesn’t want war with Tehran, but doesn’t like the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) deal done by his predecessor. New inputs suggest that Tehran may consider a new deal without a ‘sunset clause’. That means a permanent closure of a future nuclear option, which is what the White House wants.
Meanwhile, both India and US allies are warning that China is further extending a hand of friendship, even if rumours of a massive USD 400 billion investment plan may not entirely hold water.
‘Pakistan’s Obsession With Kashmir Made it Blind to its Own Achievements’
The website of the Indian Mission to the UN shows a jam-packed schedule for the PM and his men. If Modi was calling for more effective cooperation on terrorism at the world body — noting rather credibly that “there is no bank for terrorists, and terrorists do not have ordnance facilities” — his foreign minister was pumping the hands of several dignitaries from around the world. Modi also had the time for a quick hug to the President of Maldives, and an equally warm welcome to the Emir of Qatar.
The contrast with Pakistan could not be greater.
The website of its mission remains uncompromisingly focused on Kashmir, and that too, without much content. Imran Khan’s presser with Trump saw the former far from comfortable, even as Trump offered mediation, if ‘both countries wanted it’.
Both leaders were well aware that the prospects of such a request from India was as remote as the Vikram moon-lander. Unsurprisingly therefore, there’s no talk of a ‘world cup’ win for Pakistan, and the reaction is muted. It seems that the ‘bilateral’ aspect has sunk in, somewhat.
At the UNGA, Pakistan’s obsession with Kashmir made it blind to its own very real achievements.
Pakistani Must See Opportunity Instead of Threat
At the climate change conference, the Pakistani delegation could have pointed to the fact that this is a country that has planted and sustained more than 3 million trees, and is now reaching out for 10 billion. Now that’s something to focus on. Instead, the Federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs, Ali Amin Gandapur, was outside the Houston hall with protesters. And no one, no one at all, said a word about the earthquake in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.
Pakistan needs to see opportunity instead of threat.
India’s actions on Kashmir has made it entirely possible for it to provide its occupied areas with the rights and privileges accorded to its own citizens. These may not be much, but it’s better than the legal blackhole these areas are in now. Gilgit Baltistan has long been demanding full provincial status, and ‘Azad Kashmir’ a semblance of freedom to at least administer itself.
As Pakistan’s army hurries into POK for disaster relief, one cannot but help remember the 2005 earthquake, when its army used the first week to check its border defences, before turning to civilian relief.
Again, a problem of getting its priorities right. Hopefully, in a future dialogue with India, that setting of priorities should change. ‘Pakistan First’, would be the obvious slogan, not a set of motley issues it can do nothing about.
(Dr Tara Kartha was Director, National Security Council Secretariat. She is now a Distinguished Fellow at IPCS. She tweets at @kartha_tara. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for them.)