TYPE=ON THE LINE
TITLE=ON THE LINE: U.S.-INDIA RELATIONS
EDITOR=OFFICE OF POLICY 619-0037
THEME: UP, HOLD UNDER AND FADE
Anncr: On the Line a discussion of United States policy and contemporary issues. This week, "U.S.-India Relations." Here is your host, Robert Reilly.
Host: Hello and welcome to On the Line. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's visit to Washington was the first such trip by an Indian leader in six years. Mr. Vajpayee addressed a joint session of Congress and met with President Bill Clinton at the White House. Mr. Clinton made a state visit to India in March. The reciprocal visits are evidence of the further strengthening of U.S.-Indian relations, which have improved markedly since the end of the Cold War ten years ago. In fact, some observers claim to detect a tilt in U-S's policy away from the US's Cold War ally, Pakistan, and toward India. But the United States continues to be concerned about India's nuclear ambitions and tensions between India and Pakistan, especially over Kashmir.
Joining me today to discuss U.S.-India relations is Karl Inderfurth, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs. Welcome to the program. How would you characterize the achievement from this visit?
Inderfurth: Well, may I make an historical point first?
Inderfurth: I heard you use that word "tilt" in your introduction. I think it's important to note that really "tilt" is Cold War terminology. It was said during the Cold War that India tilted toward the Soviet Union and that Pakistan tilted toward the United States. During that time the United States was seen as tilting toward Pakistan. That's over. The Cold War is over. In fact, it's been over for ten years. And we believe that "tilt" is really no longer a meaningful term to use in the context of our relations in South Asia. We're not tilting toward either country, India or Pakistan. We do have a growing relationship with India, as the Prime Minister's visit here and the President's visit there clearly demonstrate. But we also have a longstanding friendship with Pakistan, one that we do want to strengthen, and we will take those steps when we are presented with those opportunities. But neither relationship is targeted or directed at the other. This is not a zero-sum game, to use that expression. Now, I can tell you that I'm very pleased that none other than General [Perez] Musharraf of Pakistan himself supports that view that we're not tilting. He said recently in an interview, he was asked whether U-S priorities in South Asia had changed and whether it had affected Pakistan. He admitted that U-S priorities had actually changed in South Asia. However, he said it absolutely did not mean that the U-S had marginalized Pakistan in any way. He said that the U-S was transforming its relations with India for the sake of its bilateral interests. And that's the key. Our national interests suggest to us that we should strengthen our relations with India. But as he said, Pakistan has not lost its significance either. We agree entirely. So a rather long comment, but one that's important to address because we need to break out of this hyphenated notion of thinking about Indian and Pakistan. They are two separate countries and we'll deal with both of them on their own merits.
Host: Well, the reason why some people continue to use the word "tilt," quite outside of a Cold War context, is because of the continuing tensions between Pakistan and India, which would lead one to expect one side to react negatively if they see the United States warming in its relationship with the other. But you just answered that question so eloquently by quoting the head of Pakistan's government in saying that they don't see it that way.
Inderfurth: I can't do it any better than to quote the head of the Pakistani government, General Musharraf. In terms of Kashmir and the continuing differences there -- very dangerous differences, by the way -- when the president was in the region in March, he talked about what have now become know as "the four Rs," and they apply to both countries, namely: mutual restraint; respect for the line of control, which is that dividing point between Indian-held Kashmir and Pakistan-held; rejection of violence, meaning there cannot be a military solution for this; and resumption of dialogue. And the resumption of dialogue is something that we think is absolutely essential. They can never resolve this difference unless they do talk. The president said that in both New Delhi as well as Islamabad. In that sense, we are trying to get the same message across to both, and we'll continue pursuing that.
Host: What do you think is going to have to happen in order for that dialogue to resume, which seemed to offer so much hope a couple of years ago
when Mr. Vajpayee went to Lahore?
Inderfurth: Well, there was hope. When the prime minister went to Lahore and met Prime Minister [Nawaz] Sharif of Pakistan. This was fundamentally important. This was bus diplomacy. There was ping-pong diplomacy in U-S-China relations many years ago. Well, this was bus diplomacy. There was a declaration issued. They agreed to discuss Kashmir and other outstanding issues. Prime Minister Vajpayee went to a memorial in Lahore called the Minar-e-Pakistan, which is actually a symbol of the Pakistani State. This was a signal that was sent that India recognizes the sovereignty of Pakistan. Very important. Unfortunately, soon thereafter, there was the Kargil crisis, where insurgents from the Pakistani side of the Line of Control crossed over. We believe that there was Pakistani government support for that. We said it publicly. Fortunately, that crisis did not escalate further. The Indian military responded very forcefully to it. President Clinton got involved with Prime Minister Sharif at a famous Blair House meeting on July fourth . And those forces that had crossed the Line of Control withdrew; they went back across the line. Since then, there has been very little movement. That's why we are trying to support both countries in efforts to see a dialogue resumed. But what will be necessary for that to take place is the level of violence in Kashmir must be reduced.
Host: And it's actually increased in recent days.
Inderfurth: It has increased. It has spiked at various times with one attack or another. There is no question that there is an incompatibility between continued violence in Kashmir and dialogue. There are also very legitimate concerns about human rights in Kashmir. There are very legitimate concerns about governance in Kashmir. It's the Kashmiri people that are suffering most from this. Somehow, all of these things have to be addressed. But the first place to begin is to lower the level of violence so that there can be an environment in which talks could be productive. Talks are never productive when a gun is being held to the head of the other party.
Host: There are obviously people interested in subverting such a dialogue because they are continuing to commit the acts of violence, which are preventing that dialogue from taking place.
Inderfurth: We believe that, on both sides, in both New Delhi and Islamabad, there are those who want to see a peace process begun. We believe that they recognize that the cost to both countries of this conflict, which has gone on now for almost fifty years, fifty years exactly, is one that cannot be sustained by both countries over time in the sense that it pulls them both back. And quite frankly, Pakistan pays a greater price because of India's larger economy. It's a larger nation. So it's pulling both countries back. But there are those who do not want to see a peace process started.
Host: Who are they?
Inderfurth: Various militant groups and those who cannot see the future and are only tied to the past. We see that in the Middle East. We see it in Northern Ireland. We see it in conflict areas around the world where the sides are so entrenched that some want to break out of it and some will not alter their longstanding positions. The fact is, for Kashmir to be resolved, there will need to be some accommodation and flexibility on both sides. Both sides will have to recognize that, whatever agreement is reached, it must be acceptable to both New Delhi and Islamabad, and vice versa.
Host: I know that, during the prime minister's visit here and in other discussions, the concern had been raised about terrorism in South Asia. Prime Minister Vajpayee mentioned specifically Afghanistan and the role of the Taliban. The United States is apparently beginning joint efforts with India to combat terrorism. To what extent is that a problem in fomenting the trouble in Kashmir?
Inderfurth: Well, it's certainly a part of the problem. Afghanistan is becoming a launching pad for terrorist activity throughout South Asia and beyond. Just recently, we've had a team in New Delhi, led by our coordinator at the State Department for counter-terrorism, Ambassador Michael Sheehan, discussing counter-terrorism with the Indian government. We recognize that this is a problem that must be addressed by the international community. India and the United States have both been targets of terrorist activities. We have a lot to discuss. And we will see where we can take appropriate action together.
Host: I just want to take a moment to remind our audience that this is On the Line, and we're discussing U.S.-India relations with Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs, Karl Inderfurth. Let's turn for a moment to the nuclear issue and its impact on these tensions between India and Pakistan. In a way, may not the fact that these two countries are now nuclear powers have brought a kind of sobriety to the situation in that, if they let these tensions between themselves over Kashmir or any other issues get out of control, they're faced with consequences that are truly catastrophic?
Inderfurth: One would hope that would be the case,
but clearly groups continue to operate inside
Kashmir that are not looking at the longer term
consequences, or the possible longer term
consequences, of their actions. The fact that both
India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons should be
a sobering thought for all concerned. They have
fought three wars. The Kargil crisis is sometimes
referred to as a fourth war. Having nuclear
weapons should serve
as a break for further violence because these
things cannot get out of control. During the Cold
War, which I referred to earlier, the United
States and Soviet Union never fired directly at
each other. We were not neighbors. We had
oceans separating us. India and Pakistan are not
in that category. They are neighbors. There is
firing across the Line Of Control everyday. There
are people killed in that context, as well as
attacks inside Kashmir. These things inflame
public opinion. You can never be certain that
something that you see might not escalate, either
through calculation or miscalculation, into a
larger conflict. This needs to be resolved. The
fact that they have nuclear weapons puts an
exclamation point on the need to find a peace
Host: Of course, India has other security concerns. When President Clinton was in India last March, his intimation to the parliament that India might not be all that better off having nuclear weapons was not received with great acclaim. They are faced on one side with a nuclear power, Pakistan, and on another side with the largest country in the world, China, which is, of course, a nuclear power.
Indefurth: We understand that. We understand that there are security concerns of the Indian government. We've engaged in a two-year dialogue led by their Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh and our Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbot. We have met in several locations on numerous occasions to discuss India's security concerns as well as our concerns, U-S concerns, about the global non-proliferation regime. We've made progress in understanding each other. We do believe that, as the joint statement that was issued after the prime minster's visit to the states, India is committed to no further nuclear testing. In fact, in that statement, it says that India will continue its voluntary moratorium on further testing until the C-T-B-T, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, comes into effect. So that's a firm statement of intention. And we know that efforts are under way in India to see if a national consensus can be developed for signing that. We hope that that will take place. But at the same time, we have entered into this discussion with India with a firm understanding that it has its own perception of its security needs. At the end of the day, it will make its own sovereign decisions.
Host: What about this perception that Indian government representatives have put forward in the past? And that is that they are concerned that they are the object of a pincer movement conducted by China through China's relations with Pakistan and with Burma, and that China's diplomacy is aimed at keeping India from becoming a regional power. That is not a concern that they've expressed?
Inderfurth: I've never heard references to pincer movements and the rest. That has not been an expression of the Indian government in the meetings that I've attended. But what is important is to understand this: that China is a very large and important player in Asia and, indeed, globally. So is India. We intend, the United States, intends to deal with both of these giants of the Asian mainland. Some have suggested that, by our increased attention to India, we're trying to offset or, in some fashion, do a balance-of-power with China. Again, these things are old-think. We are going to pursue our relations with China and India on their own merits. They both have nations of one billion people plus. They both play an important role regionally and internationally. We're going to deal with of them. So the notion of pincer movements and the rest did not come up.
Host: Did they mention at all their relations with China?
Inderfurth: Oh yes. In fact they were very pleased to report that Indian President [Kocheril Raman] Narayanan recently had a very successful visit to Beijing. President Narayanan, when he was there, said to his Chinese host, President Jiang Zemin, that India and China have a historic necessity to be closer friends. And we urge them to do so.
Host: Let's turn to the interesting contrast in the economic development of these two countries. I saw a figure that there has been forty-five times greater capital investment in China over the past decade than in India. Does India contain the kind of economic promise that a country of its size, with a democratic system, seems to offer? There is that sardonic joke that India is the country of the future, and always will be, because it seems to offer this promise but then doesn't fulfill it. Do you think it's taking off?
Inderfurth: I think India is increasingly the country of the present, not of the future. I think that it is very clear that India, which began its economic reforms much later than China -- remember those reforms under the Chinese government, Deng Xiaoping began in 1978. China had a real head start in terms of liberalizing its economy, attracting foreign investment, making it clear that it wished to be a part of the global marketplace. India's reforms only began in the early 1990s. So they have come a very far distance in a short period of time. Prime Minister Vajpayee is committed to what he calls a second generation of economic reforms, which are taking place. There may need to be a third and fourth generation. But they're moving in the right direction and they're beginning to realize that potential. The Chinese relationship is still ahead economically. But India is moving forward especially in areas like information technology and software. China can't match India in those areas. Another reason why China and India may draw closer is because the Chinese recognize that they can gain a great deal from the Indians in those areas that will be so important to the world economy in the twenty-first century.
Host: One thing that I wanted to mention is that in the state dinner that the president hosted for the prime minister, I believe the largest in the history of the White House, seven hundred people attended, many of them from the American community of Indians, who have either immigrated or are maybe second generation, who are the wealthiest single ethnic group in the United States now because of their entrepreneurial skills in this high-tech area.
Inderfurth: Exactly right. The president called attention to the fact that, at this very large and very warm dinner, and I don't mean the weather outside. It was just a feeling of good will that permeated the evening at the White House. It was under a large pavilion on the south lawn. The president said that, as he looked out over the audience, I think that at least half of the Indian American community is represented here. He said I welcome you. He said, on the other hand, the other half are all mad at me that they're not here as well. He did something that was actually one of our primary purposes with the visit, which was to focus attention on the enormous contributions being made by the Indian-American community. In this country, almost two million strong. Across the board, whether it be literature or in I-T [information technology] or even in the national spelling bee. You know the winner of the national spelling bee this year was a twelve-year-old by the name of George Thampi, who is the son of Indian-American parents. Fortunately, he spelled the word that won that prize for him correctly which was, for those of us at the State Department very important, the word was demarche. We live with that word and he spelled it.
Host: Can I close with just one last question? As India's importance continues to grow, is the United States prepared at some point to meet its request to support its claim for a permanent seat on the U-N Security Council?
Inderfurth: There's no question that India is a very strong contender for permanent membership on the Security Council. Its size, its role in the world, its economy, its contributions to U-N peacekeeping, all of these things make it a very serious and strong contender. But I want to go back to your first question about the prime minister's visit. It was a great success and I believe it will be carried into the next administration and beyond because this is fundamentally important, the new relationship.
Host: I'm afraid that's all the time we have this week. I would like to thank our guest -- Karl Inderfurth, Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs -- for joining me to discuss U.S.-India relations. This is Robert Reilly for On the Line.