Wednesday 13 December 2017

Barack Obama India visit: President refuses to condemn Pakistan

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama dance with students during a celebration of Divali. Photo: Getty Images
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama dance with students during a celebration of Divali. Photo: Getty Images

Dean Nelson and Alex Spillius

Barack Obama risked incurring Indian anger on a trip to the country by putting ties to Pakistan before succumbing to local pressure to condemn outright its links to terrorist groups.

The US president said Pakistan had acknowledged the problems caused by terrorists operating within its borders, and that while it was taking action, "the progress is not as quick as we'd like."

His comments were made in response to a question from a pupil at Mumbai's St Xavier's School during a "town hall" meeting, who asked why the United States had stopped short of branding Pakistan as a terrorist state.

Mr Obama however sidestepped the question and said Pakistan was a "strategically important country, not just for America, but for the world".

He said it was in both India and Pakistan's interests to resolve their problems through dialogue without US mediation.

"The US can be a partner but cannot impose this process. India and Pakistan have to arrive at an understanding. My hope is that in time, trust develops between India and Pakistan and dialogue on less controversial issues and building up to more controversial issues."

The pupil had risen to a challenge from Michelle Obama, the first lady, who had urged students "to ask (him) some tough questions. This brightens his day."

India has expressed grave concerns that a terrorist suspect now in American custody has admitted filming the targets of the 2008 Mumbai attacks and that senior Pakistan military intelligence figures had been involved in the planning of the massacre.

David Headley's two wives have also reported his terrorist links and activities in Mumbai to the US embassy and FBI staff but Washington failed to pass on the information to India.

A spokesman for the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who said it was a "complete disappointment" that Mr Obama had not mentioned the role of Pakistan's intelligence service.

Mr Obama, who will visit Pakistan at a later date, has been keen not to let the fraught relationship between the South Asian rivals overshadow his trip.

Accompanied by 200 chief executives, he has touted the trip as an opportunity to drum up overseas business for the US, where unemployment has been at about ten per cent for more than a year.

"It is hard to overstate the importance of Asia to our economic future," Mr Obama wrote in the New York Times, adding that jobs would be created in America by doing what "Americans have done best: discovering, creating and building products that are sold all over the world".

On what will be his longest overseas trip, taking in Indonesia, South Korea and Japan, Mr Obama has inevitably been followed by domestic politics, given the drubbing the Democratic Party received during last week's mid-term elections.

He acknowledged before his student audience that he must make some "midcourse corrections", without providing further details.

The presidential itinerary has included sightseeing, and relatively relaxed day in Mumbai, where he and the first lady danced with schoolchildren celebrating Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights.

The president and his wife traveled to the Indian capital New Delhi last night where they were met at the airport by Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister

On the first day of their visit, on Saturday, a policeman caused a security scare when he accidentally shot himself in the leg outside the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel where the Obamas were staying. Assistant police inspector Subhas Chandhari was taken to a nearby hospital.

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