Nov 18, 2010

Why Obama is skipping Pakistan

Mosharraf Zaidi
Most of the Pakistani response to the visit by President Barack Obama to India seems to be of the sour-grapes variety. These sour grapes are the fruit of Pakistan's intoxication with regional parity. Pakistanis are upset, even jilted, that the recently humbled President Obama is visiting India, and not paying Pakistan a visit on the same trip. Surely, we jest.
There's something exceptionally problematic about the misplaced Pakistani pride that expects the United States to treat Pakistan in the same manner that it treats India. Pakistan is a net-consumer of American taxpayer benevolence. India is a net-contributor to the American taxpayers' bottom-line. What part of "more money" is so difficult for the Pakistani nationalist elite to understand? Perhaps some numbers will help populate the imagination.
Pakistan has the injuriously infamous Kerry Lugar Bill of course, which is a $1.5 billion gift from American taxpayers to the Pakistani elite, to help purchase the things that the Pakistani elite should be paying for-bridges, schools and other brick-and-mortar infrastructure that contractors across the country will find much harder to scam than they would like.
At the "strategic dialogue" this past month of course, Pakistan was also able to secure a promise from the ever-weakening Democratic administration, that it would seek an additional $2 billion in military funding for Pakistan, from a House of Representatives that is fresh from a set of victories for the Jamaat-e-Tea faction of the Hizb-e-Republicans.
So this friendship between America and Pakistan (regardless of what it has cost Pakistan), potentially costs the American taxpayer a cool $3.5 billion a year in cash and military hardware.
To get a look at some of the things President's Obama's entourage will be doing in India-other than horrendous (though very cute) attempts to seem like they are down with Bollywood-we turn to the excellent reporting of Paul Beckett (Wall Street Journal) and Alister Bull (Reuters). Their summaries of business deals on Obama's agenda include:
$917 million for Bucyrus International, a Wisconsin-based manufacturer, to sell mining equipment to Sasan Power in Madhya Pradesh for a 3,960 megawatt powerplant.
$2.7 billion for Boeing to supply 30 Boeing 737s to the plethora of Indian airlines that have helped transport tens of millions of creative, innovative and risk-loving Indian entrepreneurs around their country.
$4.5 billion to $5.8 billion for the purchase of 10 C-17 aircraft, as well as hundreds of engines and spare parts for the Indian military.
$50 million for Caterpillar to supply marine engines to the Indian Coast Guard.
$800 million for General Electric to supply fighter jet engines to the Indian Aeronautical Development Agency for a light combat aircraft for India.
$500 million for General Electric to supply super heavyweight gas turbine engines for Reliance Energy.
These deals alone are worth more than $10 billion in total transactions, with the cash heading from India to the shores of the recession-prone American economy that can't seem to create jobs without someone's benevolence. They do not include some of the massive deals for which dollar figures are not public, because they are deals between private sector companies in both countries.
One of the most promising potential deals is the one between the Tata Group and two firms, Eaton and Cummins. Together these companies have developed the already in-operation Hybrid Tata Starbus-which was used at the Commonwealth Games to transport players to and from venues. Potential contracts for this kind of bus will be in the thousands, with New Delhi alone looking to add 6,000 vehicles to its public sector transportation network.
Another potential deal for India's transportation sector that has yet to be finalised is the purchase of 4,000 state-of-the-art diesel engines, worth at least $4 billion by Indian Railways, from either GE or Caterpillar.
The total value of these deals is one thing. The total number of jobs these deals will produce in the United States is another. Obama Administration officials are confident that the deals will deliver at least 50,000 jobs for manufacturers in the US.
So just to recap the numbers here, Pakistan is a country that the United States is paying $3.5 billion in total, because without this money Pakistan threatens to go Talibankrupt. That $3.5 billion is going to come from the American taxpayers' paycheck. Its money they're forced to pay because of the gullibility and guilt of centrist American politicians.
In contrast, India is a country that is going to spend more than $10 billion to buy American goods and services, and in that process, will help create 50,000 jobs, and the paychecks that go with them.
Now ask yourself which country is going to get special treatment? That melody in the distance is the sound American violins playing Vande Mataram.
Of course, none of this means that the US-India romance is righteous. It is what it is. The flowery rhetoric of shared values between the US and India are cute-but America will not and cannot treat Oregon the way India has treated, is treating and will continue to treat Kashmir. The closest thing the US has to a domestic insurgency is Keith Olbermann's moral uprightness, or the Tea Party's commitment to making sure rich people don't have to pay taxes. India has a Naxalite problem that is fully and wholly existential in nature. America is a fully grown organism, as nation-states go. India is still growing into its own clothes, and into its rightful place on the world stage.
Picking at India's soft underbelly is for the bitter and the out of touch. It is hardly constructive or relevant to the Pakistani condition. The only relevant lessons from the Obama visit to India are the ones to be gleaned from the deals being made.
It is unfortunate that Pakistan's deeply polarised national discourse is so obsessed with identity. This political piƱata of identity has always been exploited by both ends of the spectrum, sucking out all the air from the discourse and leaving no space for talking about the economy or jobs. Thanks to 9/11, it is now the overwhelmingly dominant lens for foreign policy (India, Afghanistan, America etc.), for social services (education curriculum, population control etc.) and even for technology (Facebook bans, "media Taliban" etc.).
All the while, there are mouths to feed, money to be earned, deals to be made. While we drown in the inanities of this country's infinite and perpetual search for identity, we are deepening our current bankruptcy, and ensuring a future of mostly begging for handouts. Obama next stops are South Korea, Indonesia and Japan. The reason he is not visiting Pakistan is obvious. Pakistan does not belong on that list of countries. And that is not India's fault.

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