Drawing parallels


There is a clamour in the media that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should take a cue from US President Barack Obama and call off a proposed meeting...

There is a clamour in the media that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should take a cue from US President Barack Obama and call off a proposed meeting with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in New York next month during the UN General Assembly session to convey the country’s collective outrage against the killing of five Indian soldiers by Pakistani regular Army men on Tuesday. On Wednesday, when parliamentarians were up in arms against the brazen attack near the Line of Control in Poonch sector of Jammu and Kashmir – and Defence Minister AK Antony’s faux pas implying terrorists instead of a special Pak Army unit in the cross-border raid – President Obama cancelled summit talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir V Putin scheduled for September in Moscow.

Obama’s snub, the first ever by an American President to the head of state of Cold War era foe in recent decades, follows the Kremlin decision to grant temporary asylum to Edward J Snowden, former National Security Agency contractor who disclosed secret American surveillance programmes, and reject the White House request to repatriate him. Calling it quits may be a hard decision for Obama since he has put in so much effort to reset Russo-American relations in an attempt to conclude a new nuclear arms reduction treaty before the end of his second and final term. In the coming months, chances of another summit meeting between the two adversaries look bleak with Putin bent upon not heeding Washington’s pleas as far as Snowden is concerned.

To say the Snowden episode is the only reason to deal a blow to the two big powers’ relations is not seeing the wood for the trees. After early successes in forging cooperation, both the US and Russia have been drifting apart and their inability to reach consensus on international issues such as Syria, Iran, arms control, human rights and trade are well known. In other words, both Putin and Obama have been at loggerheads over almost all the issues and Snowden has come to the former’s rescue to end the loveless honeymoon. Nevertheless, the development does not signal a break but a rupture in ties. The two countries will continue their dialogue, but at a lower level. According to the New York Times, Obama will not even meet with Putin on the sidelines of the annual conference of the Group of 20 nations in St. Petersburg on September 5 and 6, as is customary.

It is easy to draw parallels between what’s happening between the US and Russia and India and Pakistan, although the circumstances under which each country takes its decisions are different. The common element is decisiveness. While Obama can firmly lay down his foreign policy – in Snowden’s case and in cancelling the summit meet both Republicans and Democrats have acted in unison and supported the President – we can’t expect Manmohan Singh to display a swashbuckling confidence in dealing with Pakistan. Moreover, Russia and America are continents apart whereas India and Pakistan are neighbours and seeing them through the same lens is unrealistic.

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