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Indians love Obama, but call him naïve on Pakistan
Tuesday, 03.03.2009, 11:20pm (GMT-7)

NEW DELHI: On my first day of a visit to India, the media here was pre-occupied with an event they kept describing in horror as "shocking" and "audacious." It was a terrorist attack in Lahore, Pakistan on the Sri Lankan cricket team that left eight players with minor injuries.

The story dominated every one of the broadcast media and for hours seemed to be the only story they were covering. All day long, at times with a dizzying speed, anchors would interrupt their anxiety-laced presentations to cut to an expert explaining what the "cowardly act of terrorism" meant, to a Pakistani official vowing "we will get the bastards," to comments from Indian sports celebrities saying how smart their team was not to go to Lahore.

CNN's sports reporter called the event "an atrocity," a term his station has never used to describe any of the horrific and fatal attacks against Israel. Nor did his station hesitate for a moment to label the attackers "terrorists," never once militants. To an outsider, the level of horror seemed out of proportion to the attack and casualties, especially in a region that sees far worse on a numbingly regular basis.

The reality, however, is that it was not.For the former British colonies and especially the nations of South Asia, cricket is treated almost reverentially; as a sanctuary from always tense India-Pakistan relations and the region's growing political violence.

In true British fashion, cricket was simply out of bounds as a terrorist target. The attack on Sri Lankan cricketers crossed a red line, and the fact that it was crossed in Pakistan gave it greater implications. Cricket officials from London to Sydney were unanimous in refusing to send their players to Pakistan where, according to one broadcaster, "no one who visits here is safe." The Sri Lankans already were replacing Indians, who refused to attend the tournament out of security concerns.

The consensus was that the attack was part of a pattern of lawlessness in Pakistan. Indeed, the attack seemed more than anything else to say that terrorists there can strike whom they want and where they want at will. Several commentators said that that "growing militancy" was making the nation where Daniel Pearl was beheaded one where police are simply incapable of enforcing law. I interviewed numerous Indians at random in Delhi's commercial hub Connaught Place a few hours after the Lahore attack and asked them about US President Barack Obama.

In the wake of the attack, I asked them about his recent statements that confirm Pakistan's role in the war on terror, including US funding. The good news for Obama is that every person I interviewed liked the US President and looked to him as an inspiration. The bad news is that every one of those fans was adamant that Obama was making a serious mistake with Pakistan. "He's really inspiring," said one young professional. "A majority of Indians really like him [and believe he is] capable of bringing democracy back where it was."

But when I asked him about funding for Pakistan, he said, "That';s a very funny story. All of us know what's happening with that money." This was a frequently repeated sentiments; specifically, that Pakistani intelligence and military divert US funds to attacks on India with the tacit approval of several Pakistani governments. "It's been very evident," said one young woman. Another young man, whose father was a journalist said he was "completely againstâ" giving any funds to Pakistan. "It's a global fact [that] Pakistan has been sponsoring terrorism against India for the last 60 years, and it is increasing day by day.

He also expressed a sentiment that US actions are meant to "insure that the American people are safe, and they're not taking into consideration the lives of other people of other countries." Said another young woman who claimed to be a huge Obama fan that if given the opportunity to speak with the President she would tell him, "There's no other democracy like India [and] we must work together [which means him making] Indian-favoring decisions also."

As one person noted, Barack Obama has inspired a great many people with his words, but ultimately "we will have to see how they are translated into action, and that is how he will be judged."

- Dr. Richard L. Benkin
Chicago Illinois USA

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