Byline: Nisid Hajari
Why India can't escape its neighborhood.
The most striking new building in Mumbai--the first stop on President Obama's Asia trip--is a gleaming 27-story tower that sits atop ritzy Malabar Hill. What's remarkable about the skyscraper is its purpose: it's a single-family home, meant to house only industrialist Mukesh Ambani, India's richest man, and his wife and three kids. (This being India, his mother has a spare floor, too.) Mumbai's rich have always sought ways to distance themselves psychologically and physically from the city's dirt and chaos; one person involved with Ambani's "house" likened its rising girders to a "vertical driveway," separating the family from the heaving masses below.
India, too, would love to escape its neighborhood. One big reason Obama won't be visiting Pakistan this week is because New Delhi no longer wants to be considered in the same breath as its dangerously failing rival. It's not an unreasonable desire: India has a GDP of $1.2 trillion, an economy that's growing at more than 8 percent annually, and a middle class that's almost as big as the population of the United States. Washington and New Delhi share interests far beyond the tense Indo-Pak border. The Pentagon relies on the Indian Navy to help police the region's sea lanes. America is bolstering India's ties with other Asian democracies, in part to counter the spread of Chinese influence. India sees itself as a global power--and Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka as fragile societies, if not basket cases.
There's something deeply ironic about all this. Indian leaders fought the 1947 Partition that gave birth to Pakistan tooth and nail. Now they'd just as soon pretend their nuclear-armed neighbor did not exist, like one of those ragged street dwellers Mumbai's stockbrokers step around on their way to work.
America, though, needs to be promoting even closer relations between India and its neighbors. Rightly or wrongly, the Pakistani military maintains ties to jihadists, including those battling U.S. troops in Afghanistan, largely because they are seen as potential proxies against India. Islamabad isn't likely to shift more troops from its eastern border to tackle the Taliban until that rivalry is eased. Obama is smart enough not to raise this point publicly. But it's at …