Obama deflects criticism on Pakistan & Islam

So far US President has impressed me during his visit to  India. He has proven himself authentic and mindful while responding to the toughest questions regarding US front allies in War against Terrorism.

Earlier India’s mainstream opposition party criticized Obama for not taking Pakistan’s name in 26/11 Mumbai Attacks.

Here are a couple of excerpts from recent Q &A session of US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at town hall with students at St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai.

Question: Hi, good day, sir. Hi, my name is Anna and I’m from St. Davis College. My question to you is, what is your take on opinion about jihad, or jihadi? Whatever is your opinion, what do you think of them?

Barack Obama: Well, the phrase jihad has a lot of meanings within Islam and is subject to a lot of different interpretations. But I will say that, first, Islam is one of the world’s great religions. And more than a billion people who practice Islam, the overwhelming majority view their obligations to their religion as ones that reaffirm peace and justice and fairness and tolerance. I think all of us recognize that this great religion in the hands of a few extremists has been distorted to justify violence towards innocent people that is never justified.

And so I think one of the challenges that we face is how do we isolate those who have these distorted notions of religious war and reaffirm those who see faiths of all sorts – whether you are a Hindu or a Muslim or a Christian or a Jew or any other religion, or your don’t practice a religion – that we can all treat each other with respect and mutual dignity, and that some of the universal principles that Gandhi referred to – that those are what we’re living up to, as we live in a nation or nations that have very diverse religious beliefs.

And that’s a major challenge. It’s a major here in India, but it’s a challenge obviously around the world. And young people like yourselves can make a huge impact in reaffirming that you can be a stronger observer of your faith without putting somebody else down or visiting violence on somebody else.

I think a lot of these ideas form very early. And how you respond to each other is going to be probably as important as any speech that a President makes in encouraging the kinds of religious tolerance that I think is so necessary in a world that’s getting smaller and smaller, where more and more people of different backgrounds, different races, different ethnicities are interacting and working and learning from each other.

And those circumstances – I think all of us have to fundamentally reject the notion that violence is a way to mediate our differences.

Question: I’m from H.R. College of Commerce and Economics. We were the privileged college to host Mr. Otis Moss this January. Sir, my question to you is why is Pakistan so important an ally to America, so far as America has never called it a terrorist state?

Barack Omaba: Well – no, no, it’s a good question. And I must admit I was expecting it. (Laughter.) Pakistan is an enormous country. It is a strategically important country not just for the United States but for the world. It is a country whose people have enormous potential, but it is also, right now, a country that within it has some of the extremist elements that we discussed in the first question. That’s not unique to Pakistan, but obviously it exists in Pakistan.

The Pakistani government is very aware of that. And what we have tried to do over the last several years, certainly – I’ll just speak to my foreign policy – has been to engage aggressively with the Pakistani government to communicate that we want nothing more than a stable, prosperous, peaceful Pakistan, and that we will work with the Pakistani government in order to eradicate this extremism that we consider a cancer within the country that can potentially engulf the country.

And I will tell you that I think the Pakistani government understands now the potential threat that exists within their own borders. There are more Pakistanis who’ve been killed by terrorists inside Pakistan than probably anywhere else.

Now, progress is not as quick as we’d like, partly because when you get into, for example, some of the Northwest Territories, these are very – this is very difficult terrain, very entrenched. The Pakistani army has actually shifted some of its emphasis and focus into those areas. But that’s not originally what their armed forces were designed to do, and so they’re having to adapt and adjust to these new dangers and these new realities.

I think there is a growing recognition – but it’s something that doesn’t happen overnight – of what a profound problem this is. And so our feeling has been to be honest and forthright with Pakistan, to say we are your friend, this is a problem and we will help you, but the problem has to be addressed.

Now, let me just make this point, because obviously the history between India and Pakistan is incredibly complex and was born of much tragedy and much violence. And so it may be surprising to some of you to hear me say this, but I am absolutely convinced that the country that has the biggest stake in Pakistan’s success is India. I think that if Pakistan is unstable, that’s bad for India. If Pakistan is stable and prosperous, that’s good.

Because India is on the move. And it is absolutely in your interests, at a time when you’re starting to succeed in incredible ways on the global economic stage, that you [don’t] want the distraction of security instability in your region. So my hope is, is that over time trust develops between the two countries, that dialogue begins – perhaps on less controversial issues, building up to more controversial issues – and that over time there’s a recognition that India and Pakistan can live side by side in peace and that both countries can prosper.

That will not happen tomorrow. But I think that needs to be our ultimate goal.

And by the way, the United States stands to be a friend and a partner in that process, but we can’t impose that on India and Pakistan. Ultimately, India and Pakistan have to arrive at their own understandings in terms of how the relationship evolves.

Source

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31 comments

  1. He is an intelligent man, I must say. Indians usually MAKE them say things against Pakistan, but he somehow managed not to say anything bad against Pak. It may be due to the reason that they need Pakistan’s support right now. Overall, I am happy with what he said about Pakistan and Islam.

  2. Seems to me Obama is genuinely praising. He has soft corner for Muslims and Islam; which makes him balanced in his views. He does not blindly follow the crowd.

    1. Thats another thing, US policy against India never changes, but at least he dint badmouth about Pakistan, while standing in India, unlike his predecessors.

  3. Obama was viewed with a lot of skepticism in India, but with this visit, Indians have had a profound change in our opinions. Frankly, the statesmanship of the man was appreciated by one and all. TV shows in India were full of praises for the President and Prime Minister Singh, this wasn’t the case during the Bush visit. The government and the opposition thought the Obama visit was successful; infact all political parties except the CPI(M) {the left leaning Marxist party which thinks capitalism is evil} were contended and welcomed his speech with applause.

    Indians (quite understandably for me) have an unacknowledged double standard. While on the one hand, we want the American President (and other world leaders) to say something about terror sympathizing the Indian side, on the other hand, any references to Kashmir we consider offensive. Most American presidents aren’t able to tread this line without fumbling. Obama did a wonderful balancing act, showcasing his political tact and diplomacy. Indians dont wish to hear something bad said about Pakistan as much as they wish to hear something sympathetic being said about their own position. Infact there were voices in major TV channels that wished the President had acknowledged the cooperation being received to US from Pakistan. But, then again, Obama knew quite well what the common mindset is here in India was, so he gave India the carrot and hid the stick.

    His view of Islam is scrutinized more severely in India than in Islamic countries. Political correctness is vital in India (The Satanic version was banned first in India, The Da Vinci code was banned in 7 states in India etc) any hardline views expressed by the American President would have meant a field day for all parties (other than the ruling party) to hold protest marches and demonstrations and to show the President and the host government (Congress) in bad light.

  4. Obama was viewed with a lot of skepticism in India, but with this visit, Indians have had a profound change in our opinions. Frankly, the statesmanship of the man was appreciated by one and all. TV shows in India were full of praises for the President and Prime Minister Singh, this wasn’t the case during the Bush visit. The government and the opposition thought the Obama visit was successful; infact all political parties except the CPI(M) {the left leaning Marxist party which thinks capitalism is evil} were contended and welcomed his speech with applause.

    Indians (quite understandably for me) have an unacknowledged double standard. While on the one hand, we want the American President (and other world leaders) to say something about terror sympathizing the Indian side, on the other hand, any references to Kashmir we consider offensive. Most American presidents aren’t able to tread this line without fumbling. Obama did a wonderful balancing act, showcasing his political tact and diplomacy. Indians dont wish to hear something bad said about Pakistan as much as they wish to hear something sympathetic being said about their own position. Infact there were voices in major TV channels that wished the President had acknowledged the cooperation being received by the US from Pakistan. But, then again, Obama knew quite well what the common mindset here in India was, so he gave India the carrot and hid the stick.

    His view of Islam is scrutinized more severely in India than in Islamic countries. Political correctness is vital in India (The Satanic verses was banned first in India, The Da Vinci code was banned in 7 states in India etc) any hardline views expressed by the American President would have meant a field day for all parties (other than the ruling party) to hold protest marches and demonstrations and to show the President and the host government (Congress) in bad light.

  5. Well, Tanzeel, next article of yours is taking pretty long time to appear on ET. Anyway, it is nice to see you write this blog on Obama’s India visit. I wrote a comment last night in response to a writing in ET on Obama’s visit to India, outlining my impression on the whole drama, but,I couldn’t find it published anywhere in today’s ET edition, mainly because I forgot the fact that in whose response I was inspired to write that comment in the first place!! Ok let me blame it on Rio or on downright booze!!
    Anyway, as a diary writer I tend to preserve whatever I write, therefore I post my same comment(ET published or not) here on your blog hoping that you and your fans out here may enjoy(or may get irritated} by my boozy post. plz don’t take it as slight for posting a 24 hours old post in response to your writing, I do it because it is relevant. Here it is.
    “Despite knowing about Obama’s oratorical prowess, I really never liked him. What irritated me most was his frequent mention of India as a stealer of American jobs. The truth is, skilled Indian workforce and our cheap service sector is helping, in keeping innumerable American businesses afloat and enabling them to stay competitive in the market. In spite of this truth, he kept misleading his country on it. But, in India he was completely a different man!
    Anyway, after his India visit, at least some of my anger has subsided. His dynamic personality, exceptional brilliance and the ability to strike a chord with his audiences, is awful indeed. Indians of all kinds of opinion, will remember his address to the parliament for a long-long time. The main points of the speech might have been written by the experts, but the the way he delivered it with the relevant compassion, facial expression and a melodious tone, left everyone spellbound.
    Obama’s endorsement of India as a permanent member of the UNSC, though important, but not such a big achievement for the country. The real achievement was the lifting of sanctions on the import of high tech American goods and advanced technology. India is not just a energy hungry country but, it has an enormous hunger for advanced technology too. The need for high tech is not just confined to space, aviation, agriculture, electronics etc., but, we need it in the simple sounding sector such as mining also.
    Indian state such as Chattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa may be extremely poor, but nature has blessed them with enormous mineral wealth, worth trillions of dollars( literally), buried deep beneath the ground. States such as above, are not just mineral rich, but they are also covered with dense forests of exemplary beauty.
    That is why India needs advanced technology in mining too, so that, natural wealth could be tapped without disturbing the environment, flora and fauna. We Indians are thankful to the Obama administration for offering cooperation in business, investment and technology. With lifting of the sanctions, India has now been placed on par with America’s close allies like UK, Germany and Japan. That is an achievement indeed!”
    Thank you, regards.

  6. Neeraj, you should be proud of being Indian. Believe me. I still remember when he said that he has come to India to create jobs for Americans. I mean this was the pleasant surprise for me (though I am a Pakistani). I take India is an emerging Superpower of the world would support the idea of its permanent seat in UN IF it takes Pakistan into confidence and look forward for an amicable solution on Kashmir. I am all for the Strengthening of South Asia block which is impossible in absence of India. Obama came to US because its his need, as you know US has still not been able to get out of the financial crunch and even if the stimulus bill could bring much boost to the economy of Super power. Its time for India to dictate its terms to the USA as US would love to serve India at this point of time, due to the China and the economical issues America is facing.

  7. Tanzeel, Thank you buddy for your complementary reply. I apologize for my late reply. Please understand that when I reply to you it is 3 AM in India and I am not at my home but at my workplace! Yes, when India sleeps, the other side of the world is awake and I am, as a corporate employee, suppose to answer dozens of queries of my company’s franchisees, partners,clients and even bulk consumers by e-mail or phone, but, no regrets, after all, I am being paid a rather fat salary by my employers for my services. Hey! don’t ever dare think that I am misusing my working hours by reading and commenting on ET, your blog and others, in fact, my bosses say that it is a good strategy to keep myself awake when there are no queries form other side of the world.
    Anyway, coming to the subject of our discussion, as a corporate employee I always knew about the contribution of India to the American economy and therefore was not surprised at Obama’s expressed gratitude to India and Indians. Having said that let me tell you this too, that we Indians are in no position to dictate terms to the US or the west, as we desperately need their wholehearted support to get ourselves into the next gear of development.
    Many of my fellow Indians get jingoistic at our place in today’s world, but I who visited China( for purely on personal reasons,as my co-brother, mousi’s son, got married to a Chinese girl, both of whom fell in love in Sweden) can tell you that China is at least a decade and half ahead of us India.
    As for the South Asian integration is concerned, I have always been a staunch supporter of the idea. While working for the south Asian division of my company I visited not only almost all states of India, but, also traveled to countries such as Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. But, sadly I missed Pakistan. That is because there are no trade relations between our two countries. Pakistanis have no idea that how much they can benefit from the trade relationship with India.
    When a highly educated person like you inadvertently expresses a pleasant surprise at India generating jobs in the US, then what can be said about the ordinary misguided Pakistanis who still believe in the perception of an evil and kafir India. Trust me buddy! If ever trade is opened between our countries then the Pakistan would be a big-big beneficiary, not India as is projected in your media.
    If you ever happen to visit Bangladesh or Sri lanka then, you would be surprised to see Indian companies dominating every aspect of the local populace, but,not in negative terms. In fact, Indian multi-nationals have provided thousand of jobs and hundred of thousands of indirect livelihoods to the local people. And they thank us profoundly!
    Pakistan can reap same kind of benefits by opening trade with India, if it ever happens in my lifetime, then I am sure, I would be one of the first business executives to visit your country and I am going to love that.
    Rest of the talk I leave it for tomorrow.
    Good night.

    1. Nice thoughts buddy. I am really glad to have such a thoughtful person on my blog. Thanks for enlightening me!

      Btw may I know in which country you are, and in which field you are working ? (only if you feel comfortable sharing)

  8. I wont go for a long narration – all I would say is that the American president has shown signs of statesmeanship, which have been lacking in some of the previous ones. He spoke with logic and far reaching ramification of each word he minced rather than making firesy and emotional speeches to please his audiance.
    I wish someday leaders of both pakistan and India also learn to be statesmen rather than bullying each other – which would never solve the problems we are living with since 1947.
    Thank you for sharing these moments with us Tnzl!!

  9. well guys..
    he was in India, which as the 3rd largest muslim population of the world..he couldn’t just come here and bad mouth Islam or Muslims can he???
    why r u guys so happy about it..

  10. Tanzeel, I am sorry for the delayed reply. It was mainly because of the weekend. Unexpectedly, my girl dragged me to the spot where I dread to tread most, her mom’s place! At best I was expecting to settle for a movie, a dinner at some decent place or at worst the second most dreaded proposition called shopping! Anyway, I am back to my good old chair of my office without any major damage and ready to reply you.
    But yaar, you have flattened me with your single sentence of praise. You know, it is possible to resist a femme fatale’s advances, but, almost impossible not to fall prey to a praise. Anyway, thank you very much, for making me an honored guest at you blog. I would keep visiting you.
    As for my personal introduction, I wrote everything about it, but, on second thought, I erased it, specially the name of the company I work for, as I think it would be improper on my part to give details about my employers.
    Short of giving the name of the the Indian multinational giant that I work for, I intend to share all the other details, with you, as briefly as possible.
    Of course, I live in India, to be precise in Mumbai, but, I am an immigrant to this city. My grand parents migrated from Peshawer to India (Delhi) during partition and then my father settled in Hyderabad(deccan). There he fell in love with a local girl(my mom) and I came to this world, that makes me a Hyderabadi, a proud one indeed. The migration continued to haunt my family and I now live in Mumbai, away from my family in Hyderabad, working in a very senior position(unimaginable for the people of my age), for a very very big Indian multi-national giant, with operations spread throughout the world, that manufactures everything which is imaginable. My rise was partly due to my hard work and I must admit luck too played a major role in it.
    You asked me which country I live in and don’t blame you for that, because my posts, either to you or to any other forum, are usually posted at late hours,that creates confusion. I work for a certain sector or division of my company and currently I am on night duty. My duty is to answer queries from our foreign partners, overseas branches, franchisees and bulk consumers who are spread throughout the world. Quires are mostly related to the technical, marketing, financial, legal and logistics aspects etc., which we(the staff on duty) try answer them quickly, but, if the question is complicated then it is forwarded to the expert committee.
    Only this much I can say tonight, but, you are free to ask me any other question, I would be glad to answer. And yes, if you allow me, I would like to share some of my hilarious experiences, which I encountered at various places in India and abroad, with you and your readers in future and hope to entertain you guys/gals and of course myself!

    1. That is not even the point I am trying to make. My point is here your military is adamant in using terrorists against India. In light of which I can assure you there will never be anything constructive on the issue of Kashmir period. You can not do what you did in Mumbai (26/11) and expect the peace process to get anywhere. UK has transcripts and phone recordings of handlers in Pakistan clearly orchestrating the Mumbai attacks. Show me a parallel evidence of India hurting Pakistani civilians and I’ll listen. It was Pakistan which staged Kargil right after your then head of state promised peace in Lahore. As far as Afghanistan – a stash of earlier leaked intelligence cables reveals the ISI ordered the hit on the Indian embassy in Kabul to limit India’s presence. India has put in a lot of money into Afghanistan – except we are not just focussing on armed conflict – we are building roads and infrastructure there – as well as leaving a significant cultural footprint through bollywood.

    1. Thats unfortunate but they were definitely not sent by Government of Pakistan to carry out such activities, do you think this is the enough reason to nuke Pakistan ?

  11. No one ever has any reason to nuke anyone! Which is why India has a clearly defined no first strike policy. My point is Indian leadership understands that solutions to our disputes will not come from military conflict – unfortunately that realization has not quite sunk in in the Pakistani military who still continue to use a proxy war in the hopes it will bring India to the negotiating table or get US involved to mediate. What you are not realizing is that while we would be more than happy to negotiate – it can never come at gun-point. Just honestly asses the strategies adopted by Pakistan and India since ’47 and the results are apparent for you to see.

    1. Sanket, negotiations for the sake of negotiations won’t serve the purpose. If India has defined no first strike policy its not because of peaceful nature of India but India knows Pakistan wouldn’t sit quiet in return. Pakistan also maintains the policy of no strike in first place. You have already witnessed what happened in Jammu lately, local people of that region came out on streets and asked for freedom.

      Paistan wants to negotiate with India but on what grounds when the core issues are still not on the table.

      1. A book titled ‘The Clinton Tapes’ reveals assessment of what would happen in case of a full fledged nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan – it says – India would suffer 500 million in casualties and Pakistan would suffer 121 million or 98% of its population. It also says – we came close to that during the Kargil conflict of 1999.

        Until there is a realization that we – the citizens of both countries can not – JUST CANNOT let this scenario happen – we have no path forward.

        Following the Mumbai attacks, I was so angered that I – in my emotional ignorance almost wished that there was an armed conflict. Reading these numbers now – and comprehending their absurdity – I truly feel ashamed.

        Whatever the disputes – and even the best of friends have disputes – we have to TALK and resolve them Tanzeel – this notion that somehow having more weapons will solve anything is ridiculous.

        I can tell you without any ego – that India can not afford to pay this price for Kashmir – nope – thankfully there are people at the uppermost echelons in India that do realize this. Also during the Kargil conflict the Pakistan Air Force played a crucial role in preventing escalation of the conflict and should be commended for it.

        Sadly, there are religious airheads on both sides that do justify the 500 million and 121 million equation – airheads that I suspect might not even know how many zeros there are in a million.

  12. This is an impasse. And the argument will never end.

    In the fires of his anger – he burned the planet and in turn burned himself. And when faced with GOD man asked why was he given such a cruel destiny, GOD said – “Because for all your wisdom and powers, you couldn’t learn to love”

    Anyways, heres a white flag – this song represents perhaps one of the most apparent things we have in common – sung by a Pakistani singer (my favorite of all – by the way) its a really good song. http://www.4shared.com/audio/yz2giDEp/xRG_My_Name_Is_Khan_-_03_-_Ter.htm

    1. I liked your posts Sanket and this is perhaps the reason I am against religion domination in Pakistan, something which we sowed by ourselves… by the way how is Musharraf perceived in India ? he took quite alot of steps for peace initiatives b/w two countries .

  13. Musharraf is perceived as the primary architect of Kargil. He was welcomed at the Agra summit – and through back channels we were very close to an agreement on Kashmir. By the way – recent exchanges between our foreign secretaries indicates we could still continue from that point. I can’t speak for whole of India – but I perceived him as the strongest leader Pakistan has produced in some time. When he was in power there was no question who was in command of Pakistan. Right now India is extremely wary and does not trust the civilian government of Pakistan to take any concrete steps. We continually wonder if there is going to be a military coup.

    – Sanket

  14. Even in Pakistan we perceive him progressive and least aggressive leader when it comes to India but do you know India has not issued visa to Musharraf even for lecture ?

    1. Tanzeel – Musharraf was the one that led Pakistan into Kargil – he did not consult with other armed forces like PAF and proceeded with a half baked strategy that nearly led India to have an all out war – he was many things – but to call him least aggressive to India would be a mistake. Yes, after the debacle of Kargil – and after assuming presidency, he did become a realist and wanted a truce – but even from the records of the Agra summit – it seems that he did come with an unrealistic agenda and misjudged India’s government.

  15. Back in 2000, me and my theatre group were all set to go for a performance in India but Kargil happened, to this day I dream of visiting India one day..sigh
    I don’t like Musharraf, as Sankeet rightly mentioned that he is surely the primary architect of Kargil, and that lead us Pakistanis into the bleak state we are in today..how can we forgive him for that? And what about what’s happening in the northern areas? He completely mishandled the jihadees, and now they are seeking revenge from whole of Pakistan.
    Besides, a man in uniform cannot be our leader, he was another Zia in the making. Civil politicians however weak, corrupt or whatever..they are elected and it counts. It is sad that the democratic process in Pakistan has been disrrupted so many times, why do we feel insecure about having a politician run this country? why can’t we learn from India??
    As for Obama..who cares what he said or didn’t say, as far as I see, Mrs. Clinton’s comments are more important.

  16. Musharraf was denied visa because he made comments to the effect that he considered Kargil war a success and in general presented views that India’s Home Ministry found objectionable. Musharraf has many crazy ideas – he believed he could get into Kargil – deny involvement of Pakistan’s armed forces and have the international community enforce a cease fire that would then expand POK to Kargil. He is also said to believe that 9/11 was a US insider job.

    Anyway, you can’t be disrespectful – publicly contradict a country’s foreign policy and expect them to be hospitable.

    One of the issues of contention is the alleged involvement of India in Balochistan. Let me tell you – from a purely logical point of view. India does not want to do anything – I repeat do anything that will jeopardize Pakistan’s internal security. You see India realizes that an unstable Pakistan is the last thing it needs. India is currently obsessed with competing against China – and competing on a world stage – anything that diverts attention and funds from that process is a diversion and India wants as little diversion as possible.

    Right after the Mumbai attacks, if you’d taken a national poll – asking should India go to war – you would have found a high positive response. In other words – it was the perfect opportunity if India truly intended to wish a military conflict with Pakistan. But India didn’t – no matter how popular it would have been – India realizes it would derail it from the path to being a world power that it is on right now. So theres something to think about when Pakistan’s armed forces claim with conviction that India wants their destruction. India doesn’t.

    At the moment India is just waiting – waiting for a time when Pakistan will have a credible and stable civilian government. A government that can exert credible control over ISI and the Pakistan Army – as true democracy mandates. At that time, I believe the peace process will move forward.

    As to Amna’s wish to visit India – Pakistani civilians are always welcome – I do hope you visit India soon.

    – Sanket

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