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India's new president: focus is on prosperity, not terrorism

Pranab Mukherjee's acceptance speech highlights how India sees its sharpest threat as slower-than-expected economic growth, not Pakistan and its Islamic militant proxies.

By Staff writer / July 25, 2012

India's new President Pranab Mukherjee, right, in a traditional horse driven carriage, waves to the media as he arrives at the Presidential Palace, in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, July 25.

Manish Swarup/AP


India’s new president, Pranab Mukherjee, took the oath of office and described his nation as so focused on achieving prosperity that it would not be distracted by “noxious practitioners of terror” and, by unstated extension, the long-running rivalry with Pakistan.

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Ben Arnoldy is managing editor for Monitor Frontier Markets. He has served as the Monitor's bureau chief in India and Northern California. 

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He described terrorism as a “fourth world war” that followed the cold war, and said that India faced it long before many other nations understood its scope. Yet, President Mukherjee also appeared to be declaring victory and nudging India off a war footing, laying out peaceful prosperity as the challenge ahead and describing terrorism as a “trap” for those who overreact. 

“Peace is the first ingredient of prosperity,” Mukherjee said in a speech before Parliament after ascending to the mostly ceremonial post. “I am proud of the valor and conviction and steely determination of our armed forces as they have fought this [terrorism] menace on our borders; of our brave police forces as they have met the enemy within; and of our people, who have defeated the terrorist trap by remaining calm in the face of extraordinary provocation."

He added: "India is content with itself, and driven by the will to sit on the high table of prosperity. It will not be deflected in its mission by noxious practitioners of terror." 

The speech fits well with how India interprets its current place in the world: The longtime rivalry with Pakistan has essentially been won, with India pulling ahead in terms of economic development and global stature. And, in this view, the sharpest threat comes from the slower-than-expected economic growth of late, not Pakistan and its Islamic militant proxies.

With Pakistan slipping into pariah status internationally and making little economic headway, the country has by most objective measures been left behind by India. But whether Pakistan’s insecure military establishment will quietly accept that position and stay in peaceful dialogue with New Delhi remains an open question.

Mukherjee’s reference to “extraordinary provocation” no doubt includes the 2008 Mumbai massacre, which India blames on Pakistan, with growing evidence to back it up. The Indian public has stoically avoided pressing political leaders to exact revenge, allowing New Delhi the chance to portray itself as the responsible player in South Asia by resuming peace talks and to further isolate Pakistan with intelligence dossiers on the attacks.

However, Pakistan still has cards to play in Afghanistan and Kashmir. As the US troop presence in Afghanistan draws down, Pakistani support for the Taliban could draw India into military support for the Afghan government. And while Pakistan has largely desisted in recent years from encouraging Islamic militants to infiltrate Indian-controlled Kashmir, that policy could change – especially given festering Kashmiri frustration over the lack of any political settlement there.

Where's the accountability?

It’s in India’s handling of domestic uprisings in places like Kashmir where Mukherjee’s comments become far more patriotic than truthful.


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