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President Obama is likely to get a friendly but subdued welcome when he begins his visit to India tomorrow. Many Indians feel that the United States has neglected their country while cultivating strategic relations with its rival, Pakistan. That perception will be tough to overcome as Mr. Obama seeks India's help on a range of issues. NPR's Corey Flintoff reports from New Delhi.
COREY FLINTOFF: The latest sore point for many Indians is a�$2 billion military aid package for Pakistan that the Obama administration said it was requesting from Congress last month.
The administration wants Pakistan to use that military equipment to fight militants along its border with Afghanistan, but many Indians believe that any military aid to their long-time enemy is a threat.
M.J. Akbar, the editor of India's Sunday Guardian newspaper, says Pakistan's military has always been focused on potential conflicts with India. He notes that Pakistan's army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, has been quoted as saying his defense posture is India-centric.
Mr. M.J. AKBAR (Editor, Sunday Guardian): And announcing that arms will flow into the sort of bottomless pocket of General Kayani is not the happiest way of announcing your trip to India.
FLINTOFF: President Obama is promoting a huge sale of American jet fighters to India, but�Rajiv Shikri, a former Indian diplomat, says it's more than just a matter of buying military hardware.
Mr. RAJIV SHIKRI (Former Indian Diplomat): I think that we have entered into a defense relationship of buying and selling without coordinating our strategic postures.
FLINTOFF: Shikri says before the two sides can conclude any really big deals, they must have a shared vision on defense strategy, including U.S. acceptance that India may need to use the equipment to defend itself against Pakistan.
India's defense minister has declined to say where India will make its next big purchase of warplanes, but competitors for the sale include France and Russia.
President Obama would also like to open India's retail markets to more investment from U.S. firms such as Wal-Mart, whose CEO visited India just a few weeks ago.
Shikri says the United States needs to understand India's political concerns about foreign investment in an area where huge numbers of jobs could be at stake.
Mr. SHIKRI: You have so many mom and pop stores and family-run businesses which - which sustain the livelihoods of millions of people. Now, if they're wiped out, it creates a problem.
FLINTOFF: There is one area where the United States and India seem closer to agreement, and that's concern over the rising political and economic power of China. M.J. Akbar says the United States should be more aware that India is really its natural ally in Asia.
Mr. AKBAR: Americans must remember that India is the America of Asia. We are both modern nations. China may be an advanced nation, but it is not a modern nation, because it has no democracy.
FLINTOFF: Indians are hoping that the Obama visit to their country will balance the president's trip to China last year and provide solid recognition of India's power in the region.
Corey Flintoff, NPR News, New Delhi.
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