Bush to tour India, Pakistan

President will try to give U.S. new footing in burgeoning nations at odds with each other

February 26, 2006|By MARK SILVA | MARK SILVA,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON -- Six years ago, P.V. Kannan founded 24-hour call centers in Bangalore and Hyderabad where thousands of college-educated Indians have become the "help desk" to the world.

His workers in India have a starting salary of $250 a month, generous there but paltry by U.S. standards. And where does Kannan live? In a swanky suburb of San Jose, Calif.

Technology has enabled a ready connection between India and the rest of the world. The transition of these jobs to a low-cost provider holds great promise and peril for the U.S. economy and for the increasingly closer but complicated relationship between the U.S. and India.

"The whole notion of distance is such a mental barrier for people," Kannan said. "A lot of these things bring the two countries face to face."

When President Bush travels to New Delhi this week for a three-day tour that will also take him to Pakistan, the trip will highlight not only the common interests that three nations long at odds have found in a global war against terrorism but also the tensions that remain.

Bush is attempting a delicate balancing act with India, one of the world's burgeoning powers. He is praising an expanding and ultramodern high-tech economy while assuaging the fears of Americans that they are losing some of their best jobs to a land of bountiful cheap labor. At the same time, he is encouraging growth of a countervailing force to China while also assuring official Washington that India can be trusted with nuclear might.

India's future as a peaceful nuclear power, after decades of developing atomic weapons and maintaining a Cold War alliance with the Soviet Union, is the most crucial concern Bush will address in New Delhi, but he will also focus on rapidly expanding economic ties.

"It's true that a number of Americans have lost jobs because companies have shifted operations to India," Bush said last week at the Asia Society. "And losing a job is traumatic. ... It puts a strain on our families."

But rather than responding with protectionist policies, Bush told Americans in January, the United States must compete.

In India and Pakistan, Bush's campaign for democracy likely will prompt questions about the stark contrast between the democratically elected government of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the military regime of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, an army general.

Bush has placed exceptional confidence in both leaders, with his offer of nuclear technology for India and reliance on the Pakistani president to help the United States in its hunt for terrorists.

In India, Bush will praise the technological and agricultural advances of the world's largest democracy and tour Hyderabad, a center of India's high-tech industry.

Bush will also pursue an agreement to provide U.S. support for development of nuclear power in a nation that has twice tested atomic bombs but has never signed an international nuclear nonproliferation treaty.

In Pakistan, Bush will address the war on terrorism in a nation that has provided safe harbor and financial support for terrorists.

In both places, the president will wade into a long-simmering border dispute that has prompted three wars and nearly sparked a showdown between two nuclear powers in 2002.

"As far as India is concerned, we see Pakistan as the primary source of terrorism across the region, and in terms of international terrorism as well," said Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi.

Musharraf possesses the right intentions, yet he is wrongly clinging to military rule, suggested retired Pakistani army Lt. Gen. Talat Masood, known as a moderate.

"His greatest weakness or failing is that he is not understanding or deliberately ignoring the fact that you cannot develop moderation, you cannot develop a normal state, unless you also develop [free] institutions," Masood said.

For those reasons, the United States is offering India far more than it is offering Pakistan. Bush is not even close to considering the sort of nuclear cooperation with Pakistan that he wants with India, the president said in a recent interview with Pakistani reporters.

Mark Silva writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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