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Obama should make a grand bargain with India

By Mansoor Ijaz, Special to CNN
  • Obama will visit India with a group of American business executives
  • Mansoor Ijaz says trip offers opportunity for a grand bargain with India
  • By striking a deal on economic, military, security issues, the two nations would benefit, he says
  • Ijaz: Progress on peace in the region and in the fight against terrorism could result
  • India
  • Barack Obama
  • Diplomacy
  • Pakistan
  • Terrorism

Editor's note: Mansoor Ijaz, an American of Pakistani origin, was a co-author of the blueprint for a cease fire between Indian security forces and Muslim militants in Kashmir in July and August 2000. He is chairman of Aquarius Global Partners Limited, a private equity firm focusing on renewable energy technologies.

(CNN) -- President Barack Obama arrives in Mumbai Saturday morning for three days of deal making, cultural engagements and talks on regional and global security.

He and Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister, have much to discuss. America is the world's most powerful democracy; India is its largest and most vibrant. America needs India to stabilize a rough neighborhood; India needs America to counter China's growing power.

America wants to develop a strategic military alliance by arming India with the modern tools of war; New Delhi prefers a more limited transactional relationship with Washington to replace its depleted Soviet-era fleet that avoids making India the operating base of a future conflict.

America wants less outsourcing and more trade to create badly needed new jobs at home; India, whose protectionist economic tendencies have given way to a meritocracy driven by entrepreneurial spirit, wants more U.S. visas to train its bright minds and can't understand why American innovation has given way to a defeatist closed-door, anti-immigration mentality.

President Obama's electoral defeat in Tuesday's midterm elections assures domestic gridlock for the remainder of his first term in office. Prime Minister Singh's government -- racked by corruption and a bloated bureaucracy -- has shown little interest in executing the reform mandate it was elected to undertake last year. Roads have not been built. Taxes have not been streamlined or collected. Health care is no better.

A hallmark nuclear pact reached with Washington in 2005 to make India energy self-sufficient threatens to be derailed five years on by reactionary legislation introduced in Singh's own party. Kashmiri separatists riot in the north. Maoist rebels surge in the east.

India, Singh must think to himself at times, is nearly ungovernable. Yet crippled domestic agendas offer both men an opportunity to lead in foreign policy. Obama must strike a grand bargain with Singh that commits both leaders to take steps that create an open-architecture security environment for South Asia. Intelligence needs to be gathered, analyzed and shared communally to combat threats facing the entire region, not just any one country within it, so the landscape for economic revitalization and political reconciliation improves.

India, President Obama should tell his hosts, must now assume the responsibilities imposed upon it by its growing political stature and economic power.

Pakistan, the epicenter of Islamist extremism, is the obvious place to start. Singh refuses to engage Pakistan beyond superficial matters because he argues, with cause, that whatever is left of his political clout would evaporate if one more Mumbai-style terror attack was launched from Pakistani soil.

As Hamas often did during the course of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, South Asia's terror groups would surely attack at any sign of rapprochement between Islamabad and New Delhi.

What are peacemakers to do? Obama must offer to bridge the trust gap that keeps India and Pakistan apart on security, economic and political issues. He should start by asking his military commanders to bring Indian and Pakistani army and intelligence chiefs together in secret at a neutral location (Geneva, Switzerland; Oslo, Norway; or Stockholm, Sweden) so they can reformulate conditions for sharing critical intelligence.

The countries' former intelligence chiefs, Chander D. Sahay of India and Gen. Ehsan ul Haq of Pakistan, did just that from 2003 until 2005 with stunningly effective results. Afghan military and intelligence officials could join in after the primary Indo-Pakistani relationship is framed.

Through such cooperation, India might find grounds for taking Pakistan into confidence on its operations to stabilize Afghanistan's economy and to assist in rebuilding its domestic police and paramilitary forces, allaying Pakistani army enmity and fears of an east-west squeeze play on their borders by New Delhi.

Pakistan could commit, in return, to close down or starve from an operational standpoint camps that support the Haqqani terrorist network in northern Waziristan, from which many who would attack India are trained and ideologically nurtured.

India might also get significant, albeit nonpublic, assistance from Pakistan to douse the flames of revolt in Kashmir by encouraging Pakistan-backed separatist leaders to engage with New Delhi in dialogue -- at a minimum, fewer people would then die.

Done correctly, such earnest dialogue could form the basis for a long-term peace contract in the Himalayan enclave. Obama could then offer U.S. support for India's permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council if India demonstrated it was ready to play a major regional role as economic big brother to lesser economies, starting with a trade pact for Pakistan.

Jobs to employ today's extremists in Pakistan through bilateral trade would reduce tomorrow's pool of would-be bombers who could threaten Indian centers of commerce. To incent Pakistan to open up, Obama could ask his friends in the U.S.-India Caucus to lobby for congressional passage of textile tariff relief for Pakistan that fuels growth in an industry critical to India-Pakistan trade: Indian-Americans helping Pakistani trade get off the ground -- detente indeed.

Finally, Obama could lean on his Indian host to invite Pakistan's president over for a summit. Asif Ali Zardari, inept and ineffective as he might seem to outsiders, is perhaps in greater control of Pakistan's political machinery than most give him credit for. And while Pakistan's generals despise what they consider his corrupt ways, Zardari's commercial instincts will serve him well in using trade as a cornerstone for peace with his eastern neighbors.

If Singh reaches across the divide and offers a political breakthrough that gives Zardari a face-saving reason to say "yes" to peace, he might be surprised at how fast the Pakistani leader accepts the chance to rise above the politics of distrust and dissension and engage in making peace across the array of issues that divide both nations.

India must learn, as America did long ago, that with power comes responsibility to take care of those less fortunate around it. In a region where ultra-power (China) and ultra-poverty (Afghanistan) co-exist, India must take advantage of America's experience and its energetic president to bring peace and prosperity to the region in a manner befitting its rising global stature.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mansoor Ijaz.