How is the Government of India, especially the External Affairs Ministry looking at the developments? Is the old Indo-US bonhomie of the Bush era still on? Or are there discordant notes in the overall foreign policy parameters of the new US administration concerning South Asia?

During his presidential campaign, Obama had indicated his foreign policy goals for South Asia. The first was to win the war in Afghanistan where the Taliban is raising its head again. Pakistan is being affected by the march of the Talibanism into Islamabad. India is in his radar because of his high priority to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Is Obama's rating as high in New Delhi? No doubt, Indo-US ties continue to be important. This was visible in the meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Obama in London early this month. Singh went overboard when he told Obama: “Everyone in India loves you.” Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon's visit to Washington to meet the new administration officials was also a great success as he had interaction on may subjects including nuclear, trade, strategic affairs and business. Not much is being done on the nuke deal because of elections in India. Americans know they will have to wait for any concrete step until a new government takes over next month. Obama has also deputed an interim Ambassador, Burnham, to look after American interests. But despite all these, there is a divided opinion in the MEA that things are not as rosy and that the Americans have failed to take note of Indian interests and have sided with Pakistan.

What was Obama's first action on his South Asian policy? He appointed a special envoy, Richard Holbrooke, who is known for his ability to bully and get things done his way. Although South Block claimed that Kashmir was not included, the cat was out of the bag with the recent clarification that India was very much there with Pakistan and Afghanistan under the jurisdiction of Holbrooke. The Special envoy had been making frequent visits to India in the name of consultation.

The second thing Obama did was to announce his Af Pak policy. New Delhi has reasons to be worried about this policy. For instance, President Obama seems to have taken note of only Al Qaeda and not other terrorist organisations like Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Toiba. These organisations, propped up by the Pakistani Intelligence agency ISI, are playing havoc in the region.

Obama's main concern is to get out of Afghanistan. US Defence Secretary Robert Gates was emphatic when he said the stability and longevity of democracy in Pakistan was central to the efforts by the US-led coalition in Afghanistan and to US-Pakistan relations. US concerns arise from the aggressive efforts by the Taliban insurgency using the federal tribal areas of North West Pakistan. It cannot be achieved by the US alone and he needs the cooperation of Pakistan to bring stability and peace. Pakistan too is affected by insurgency. Al Qaeda Talibani groups are active in the tribal belt of Pakistan. Taliban not only hosted the Al Qaeda but also supported militant groups operating in Kashmir. Therefore, a revival of Taliban set-up in Afghanistan will be undesirable to New Delhi. The US knows that unless they are contained, peace cannot return. That is why the Americans are now talking of good Taliban and bad Taliban and want to isolate the latter. The US military will work to build and strengthen counter terrorism and counter-insurgency capabilities of both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Moreover, Pakistan is being pampered by the Obama administration with a $ 1.5 billion aid for the next five years as a bonus. The US thinks this is necessary to keep Pakistan stable. Pakistan has always been helped by the US. And when Bush was the President, the aid was much more amounting to $1.6 billion a year.

If the Americans are putting pressure on Pakistan to move its forces to the Western border to crush Taliban, Islamabad is pressuring the US to make India do something about Kashmir. The argument is that unless the eastern side is peaceful, it cannot think of moving the forces to the west. The US is also worried about the Zardari government giving in to Taliban.

The US also wants resumption of Indo-Pak peace talks. Obama had raised this issue during his meeting with Singh in London but Singh had made it clear that there can be no talks until Pakistan acted on the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attacks. Moreover, as he is leading a lame-duck government, no hard decisions can be taken. The US understands this.

Above all, the US is alarmed about the possibility of terrorists laying their hands on Pakistan's nuclear bombs. Although Singh had claimed that he had been assured by the highest quarters that Pak nukes are in safe hands, the latest comment from the US officials have created fresh doubts. The White Paper accompanying President Obama's speech pointedly notes the danger of fissile material falling into the hands of terrorists.

President Obama's meeting with the Afghan President Karzai and Pakistan President Zardari on May 5 to 7 is important for the Af Pak strategy. Will Pakistan be able to deliver? South Block will closely follow the deliberations at the May meeting. Only after that will the Indian Government come to some conclusion on the contours of the South Asian Policy of the Obama Administration.#