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Pakistan Tops Global Priority in US-India Summit

By Anju Kaur, SikhNN staff writer, Washington Bureau
Posted: Saturday, September 28, 2013 | 01:13 am

President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh meet for their second White House summit. Obama calls for protection of minorities in Afghanistan. Singh said Pakistan was the "epicenter" of terrorism.

Photo Source: White House

President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met Friday for their second White House summit since the November 2009 State Dinner, and for the first time since the Delhi summit in November 2010, when Obama cancelled his visit to Harimandir Sahib in Amritsar.

Obama and Singh talked to the press in the Oval Office following the private meeting.

After a brief statement on Syria, Obama said Singh has been "a great friend and partner to the United States and to me personally during his tenure as Prime Minister of India.

"There is a natural convergence between the United States and India," he said. "Part of that has to do with the incredible people-to-people ties that exist. Indian-Americans make extraordinary contributions to the United States every single day - businessmen, scientists, academics, now Miss America is of Indian-American descent..."

Obama said they had discussed a number of issues including the signing of the first commercial agreement between a US company and India on civilian nuclear power, a wide-ranging security cooperation in battling terrorism and a 50 percent increase in bilateral trade between the two countries.

They also discussed their shared interest in making sure that Afghanistan continues on its path to a peaceful, democratic country, he said. Both plan to ensure they help Afghans stand up for the rights of all groups inside of Afghanistan, and that the rights of women and minority groups are protected, which is of particular interest to Afghan Sikhs that are increasingly brutalized by the Taliban and driven out of their ancestral homes. The two leaders will be keeping a close watch on the upcoming election and will make sure it happens in a way that maintains and continues to strengthen stability in that troubled country.

Obama said they also discussed their shared interest in Pakistan in seeing a peaceful reduction of tensions on the subcontinent. He thanked Singh for "a consistent interest in improving cooperation between India and Pakistan."

Although Obama did not elaborate on Pakistan, top secret documents on the "black budget" for US intelligence provided to The Washington Post by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, who now has asylum in Russia, show that while the US spent nearly $53 billion on unambiguous adversaries such as al-Qaeda, North Korea and Iran, it secretly spent a comparable amount on one purported ally: Pakistan. According to the Post's Aug. 12 report, "No other nation draws as much scrutiny across so many categories of national security concern... And fears about the security of its nuclear program are so pervasive that a budget section on containing the spread of illicit weapons divides the world into two categories: Pakistan and everybody else."

Other classified documents provided to The Post expose allegations of years of systemic human rights abuses and extrajudicial killings by the Pakistani government. Sikhs in Pakistan have also felt the wrath of the Taliban with impunity from the government.

In his remarks, Singh said India and the US were cooperating in expanding the frontiers of trade, investment and technology. "Our bilateral trade today is $100 billion, American investments in India are $80 billion," he said. "And they are growing despite the slowdown in the global economy."

The two leaders are exploring cooperation in new areas such as energy, clean coal technologies, energy-efficient technologies, environment, defense and security-related, intelligence gathering and counterterrorism.

But Pakistan still is India's greatest global concerns.

"I explained to President Obama the difficulties that we face given the fact that the epicenter of terror still remains focused in Pakistan," Singh said. "And I look forward to meeting with President Nawaz Sharif, even though the expectations have to be toned down given the terror arm which is still active in our subcontinent."

Domestically, Singh acknowledged India's need to reduce poverty.

"I explained to the President that India is a poor country," he said. "Our basic task is to improve the standard of living of our people, to get rid of mass poverty, ignorance and disease, which still afflict millions and millions of our people. And in that struggle, we want America to stand by our side."

The Indian prime minister arrived in US on Sept. 26. He left for New York on the Sept. 27, after the summit. He will address the United Nations on Saturday and is likely to hold a bilateral meeting with the Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, on Sunday.

Singh was accompanied by Salman Khurshid, external affairs minister; Sujatha Singh, foreign secretary; Shivshankar Menon, national security advisor; Nirupama Rao, Indian Ambassador to the US; Jawed Ashraf, joint secretary from the prime minister’s office; and Vikram Misri, private secretary to the prime minister.

Obama was accompanied by Susan Rice, national security advisor; William Burns, deputy secretary of state; and Nancy Powell, US ambassador to India.

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