Domestic Politics Dominate US South Asia Policy
Just a few months later, however, considerable doubts are growing in the Muslim world about President Obama's resolve to effectively and evenhandedly address the long-standing territorial disputes confronting the peoples of the Middle East and South Asia. The hopes for course correction in US policy on Kashmir and Palestine are fading fast with the Obama administration's dramatic retreat on both fronts.
After repeatedly emphasizing that Kashmir issue between India and Pakistan is inextricably linked to Afghanistan crisis, President Barack Obama backtracked on the need for resolving Kashmir when the issue was dropped from special envoy Richard Holbrooke's mandate under pressure from Indian lobby in Washington. According to Washington Post, India managed to "prune the portfolio of the Obama administration's top envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard C. Holbrooke -- basically eliminating the contested region of Kashmir from his job description".
In run-up to the last US presidential elections, it was widely known that Obama believes the situation in Afghanistan is inextricably linked to the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan. “The most important thing we’re going to have to do with respect to Afghanistan, is actually deal with Pakistan,” candidate Obama said in an interview on October 30, 2008 with MSNBC. “And we’ve got work with the newly elected government there in a coherent way that says, terrorism is now a threat to you. Extremism is a threat to you. We should probably try to facilitate a better understanding between Pakistan and India and try to resolve the Kashmir crisis so that they can stay focused not on India, but on the situation with those militants.”
Obama reiterated his emphasis on Kashmir in a December 7, 2008 interview on NBC's Meet The Press. He said, "...as I've said before, we can't continue to look at Afghanistan in isolation. We have to see it as a part of a regional problem that includes Pakistan, includes India, includes Kashmir, includes Iran. And part of the kind of foreign policy I want to shape is one in which we have tough, direct diplomacy combined with more effective military operations, focused on what is the number one threat against U.S. interests and U.S. lives. And that's al-Qaeda and, and, and their various affiliates, and we are going to go after them fiercely in the years to come."
The story of betrayal is not much different in the Middle East where the Obama administration first insisted on total freeze on Israeli settlements only to retreat after tremendous pressure from the powerful Israel lobby in Washington. In fact, Hillary Clinton not only gave in to the Israel lobby, but described as "unprecedented" Bibi Netanyahu's hollow assurance to "restrain" settlement growth. The immediate effect of this about-face in US policy has been the decision by President Mahmoud Abbas of Palestinian Authority to not seek re-election, a clear signal that the Mr. Abbas, considered a "reliable partner" for peace, feels betrayed by the Americans. This betrayal will only serve the strengthen the extremists on both sides of the Israel-Palestine divide.
Unfortunately, the domestic politics in Washington have trumped good, well-thought policies and plans by the well-meaning Obama team in both of the extremely dangerous regions of the world.
It is well known that the India caucus, consisting of pro-India members who receive campaign contributions from the Indian lobby, is one of the largest and most active in the US Congress. To ensure their loyalty, the Indian lobby is using both carrots and sticks. Following the Israel lobby's hardball methods, USINPAC helps raise funds for those who support pro-India policies, and threatens to unseat legislators such as Indiana Rep. Dan Burton who are sometimes critical of India. Since its inception, USINPAC has launched campaigns to neutralize Rep. Burton and others who do not do the bidding of the Indian lobby in US Congress. In 2005, USINPAC organized support in Congress to successfully prevent Rep. Burton from becoming the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee. In 2003, USINPAC organized a similar campaign to successfully prevent Rep. Burton from becoming the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee that had jurisdiction over India.
Pakistani Ambassador Hussain Haqqani recently told a US publication that the Indo-U.S. relationship is robust and multifaceted. He mentioned that 26 members of the Obama administration are Indian-Americans. Some of them, such as Sonal Shah, have had known ties with the extremist Hindu Sangh Parivar. An Indian-American Rajiv Shah has been named by Obama as the head of US Agency for International Development (US AID). When confirmed, Mr. Shah will be deeply involved in handling aid to Pakistan under Kerry-Lugar bill.
Taha Gaya of Pakistan's nascent Washington lobby PAL-C explained to the BBC recently that on some issues the Indian and Pakistani lobbies had sometimes cooperated. But the Mumbai attacks last year changed all that.
"When Mumbai happened," Gaya told the BBC, "we saw a resurgence of participation from the older generation of Indian-Americans - those who had grown up in India" - who, he claimed, reverted to what he described as "the old more negative dynamic".
There is inevitable conflict between the two lobbies. The recent Kerry-Lugar aid bill for Pakistan is a good example of this conflict. Pro-India groups lobbied hard for all sorts of conditions to be included in the bill.
Sanjay Puri of USINPAC, the India Lobby, was part of this campaign. This was not about supporting India's interests, he claims, and neither was it motivated by hostility towards Pakistan.
It's clear that Indian-Americans have taken a page from the successful Jewish-American playbook. Not only are they active in the executive branch and on Capitol Hill, they are also being increasingly seen in the powerful financial services sector, high profile US media, major US universities, Washington think-tanks and other places which shape US public opinion and policies. And they are exercising rising influence on South Asia policy in the same way that the Jewish-Americans have on the US position in the Middle East conflict. The rising Indian influence in Washington and close multi-faceted collaboration between India and US are seen as a big threat by Pakistanis.
Indian lobby is collaborating with the American corporate interests and the pro-Israel Jewish-American lobby to gain power in the United States, and influence policies and legislation in Washington. On US policies toward Pakistan, the Indian lobby has already proved its power twice recently: the passage of US-India nukes deal and Kerry-Lugar aid strings. And the Indian lobby's strength is only growing.
Given the growing strength of both Indian and Israeli lobbies in Washington, the lack of progress on Palestine and Kashmir is going to significantly hurt all three nations in the India-Israel-US axis. The Americans will not be able to play the role of an honest broker in either region, unless the Israelis and Indians themselves recognize the consequences of their misguided and self-destructive policies in the Middle East and South Asia. At the same time, the growing Mid-East like US pre-occupation with the major unresolved and festering issues in two regions of the world is going to hurt America's interests abroad, with China seizing the initiative in a rapidly changing world.
Haqqani on US-India Ties
Holbrook "AfPak" Mission
India Lobby's Success in Holbrook Mandate
Obama Ignores Sonal Shah's VHP Ties
Obama on Kashmir
India Washington Lobby Emulates AIPAC
China's Checkbook Diplomacy
Pakistanis See US as Biggest Threat
US-India Nuclear Deal