One of the few times President Obama received bipartisan applause in his State of the Union address was when he boasted that “our combat mission in Afghanistan is over.” But when he arrives in New Delhi this weekend, he won’t hear any cheers for the pullout.
Instead, Obama will encounter considerable anxiety and much concern over the future among India’s leaders. It is why, when he isn’t marching in a parade or visiting the Taj Mahal or doing the other symbolic events that dominate his trip schedule, he will need to reassure Prime Minister Narendra Modi that America isn’t about to abandon South Asia or the Indian subcontinent.
There are other issues on the agenda, including climate change, defense cooperation, terrorism, immigration, and nuclear liability. But it is Afghanistan that will demand the most hand-holding.
The backdrop—as always in India—is how the U.S. pullout affects the country’s longtime enemy, Pakistan. The Indians see Pakistan harboring terrorists who up to now have been focused on crossing into Afghanistan to fight American troops and support the Taliban. But they fear terrorists will now feel free to refocus on fighting India.
“They’re extremely concerned about that,” said Richard Rossow, an India expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “That certainly is at or close to the top of the list.” The Indian public, Rossow said, is “concerned that America’s drawdown in Afghanistan will release militant groups in Afghanistan, and India’s concern is that that will result in more cross-border terrorism on themselves.”