'Our engagement in Af-Pak region should be seen as supportive of India's interests'


Tihar Jail
Oct 2, 2009
C. RAJA MOHAN: A few months ago, you spoke about 'strategic reassurance' as a concept where the West accepts China's rise in return for China agreeing that it will not rock the boat, it will not hurt anybody else's security. We hope you have some similar big ideas for India.
The evolution of the India-US relationship has been one of the most significant developments in the evolution of the US global strategy. It has been fuelled in a very positive sense by the end of the Cold War and dramatic changes in both countries, including political and economic changes taking place in India that have opened up India to the world and propelled it to its tremendous economic and political achievements.

From the beginning of the Obama administration, we have placed enormous importance on building this relationship. We have tried to accelerate the relationship, beginning with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit here a year ago, and the Indian Prime Minister's state visit to Washington, the first state visit by any head of state in the Obama administration. Most recently, the Prime Minister participated in the Nuclear Security Summit and had a meeting with President Obama.

Before I gave a speech about China, I gave a speech about India. It's a reflection of the importance I attach to this relationship. In that speech, I used the metaphor of a three-stage rocket—about how, during the Clinton administration, we launched the first stage of that rocket to help us get off the ground through President Clinton's very powerful visit to India. In the second phase was the very strong commitment of President Bush towards building a more strategic relationship with India through the civil nuclear deal. My argument was that the third stage, which is the stage that puts the payload into orbit, should be reflected in the growing breadth of the relationship between the United States and India, on a government-to-government, a people-to-people, a business-to-business, and NGO-to-NGO level. This is reflected in the initiation of the strategic dialogue between United States and India, the next round of which will take place in Washington in the first week of June.

RAJA MOHAN: In the Indian policy establishment, there has been a sense of apprehension that when it comes to global issues, the new administration is more in tune with China. There is talk of a G-2. Also, the emphasis on Af-Pak issues puts Pakistan at the forefront. India seems to be falling off the map. How would you address those concerns?

From our perspective, the centrality of this relationship couldn't be clearer. It's no accident that President Obama chose to invite the Indian Prime Minister for the first state visit. It is a powerful signal. I think President Obama has felt a very strong sense of partnership with the prime minister of India, both as an economic partner and as a strategic partner. The fact is that Secretary Clinton has travelled to a lot of places but her longest visit to any place, as Secretary of State, was to India—four days. So, from our perspective, there is a deep investment in the relationship. We don't feel that our engagement or interest, whether in dealing with the Afghanistan problem or trying to ensure that we have a stable relationship with China, is in any way in conflict with that. I think one of the things that has been important in building the India-US relationship is that we both have agreed that this is not an India-China issue. Our having good relations with China is in India's interest just as China having a good relationship with India is in our interest. We have issues to work through in the India-US relationship but they are in no way nearly as challenging as some of the difficulties we have in the US-China relationship.

I know there is a great deal of concern in India about our engagement in Afghanistan, about our working with Pakistan to deal with the problems of terrorism, both in Afghanistan and in Pakistan itself. From our perspective, our engagement there is something that should be seen as supportive of India's interests. It is our goal to have a stable, sovereign, inclusive Afghanistan that can stand on its own feet without outside interference. This is very much in the interests of India and the United States so that Afghanistan does not become a source of insecurity for India or for the US. Our engagement with Pakistan is designed to deal with not only the terrible threat of terrorism and violent extremism but also to help build a more stable, outward looking, and positive Pakistani society and government which can be a better partner for all the countries in the region.

Manu Pubby: In a strategic sense, India and the US have come together in a serious manner during the past few years, which includes military exercises. Where does it go forward from here, keeping China in mind? Is there a limit to our military and strategic cooperation in the region?

I don't think there are any inherent limits to it. Our view of this relationship is that it is a relationship that benefits India and the United States but is also in the interests of regional and global stability. Our partnership with India is not adversarial to anybody. We have common interests in maritime security, in keeping the shipping lines open, in making sure we have an environment which is open to trade and one that supports our goals in energy and environment. I don't see any ceiling on it because it's not designed or oriented against anyone else.

We have a very positive relationship with China but we don't do exercises together. The point is that we are able to pursue these kinds of relationships with only a relatively small number of close partners of the US.

VINAY SITAPATI: Can you give us one positive outcome of President Obama's multilateral policies in Iran, Israel or any other part of the world?

We just had an enormous success in our relations with Russia, not only in terms of negotiating the first really significant arms control treaty in the post-Cold War world but also developing a stronger relationship on a number of common challenges, including Afghanistan.

President Obama made it very clear that he was prepared to engage with Iran and because of our diplomatic engagement, it has become perfectly clear why there is a problem there. It's not the United States that is causing the problem. It is because the Iranians are not taking advantage of the opportunity to build a different kind of relationship.

The other core area where diplomacy has made a huge difference is the global economic crisis where President Obama's efforts at the G-20, in organising the international community to move forward, have made a huge difference.

Even on the Middle East peace process, I think it is important that we have been able to show all the communities in the region that the United States is engaged, that we are not indifferent. You don't necessarily need results overnight; sometimes it takes a long time to bring about peace.

SHUBHAJIT ROY: You were in the government when India carried out the Pokhran-II tests. A decade later, India attended the Nuclear Security Summit. How does Washington see this transition?

I think there has clearly been an evolution in the way we think about the longer-term strategy in dealing with the challenges of nuclear weapons and security. The United States is one of the founding conceptualisers of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and was obviously concerned about the spread of nuclear weapons and the increased number of nuclear weapon states. We also understood that we first had to deal with the realities of the world that we found ourselves in; secondly, we recognised that we had to move forward in a positive way to deal with the constructive role India could play even as a country with nuclear weapons. India made a choice which was available to it—to stay out of the NPT. We would have preferred a different course, but India had a strong record of dealing with some of the other challenges of arms proliferation which we took very seriously. So rather than fight past battles, we have tried to think of how we can move forward in a positive direction.

MIHIR SHARMA: Coming back to your doctrine of strategic reassurance and China. Suppose it was the case that China's lack of reassurance about the rest of the world was born out of a sense of historical victimhood, then an attempt at reassuring them would turn into appeasement, wouldn't it?

What I spoken of is the absolute obligation of countries, particularly countries that are rising powers, to provide the kind of assurance to others that they do not seek to achieve this at the expense of others. We don't view the modernisation of India, in any way, as a threat or challenge to the United States. It never comes up. Why not? Because we have a lot of assurance about how India sees its strategic environment, and what it's trying to do, and there's no reason why China under similar circumstances, notwithstanding its history, can't provide similar assurances to others.

MANU PUBBY: There are a number of irritants in Indo-US relations. One, India has repeatedly raised the issue of misuse of military aid by Pakistan. Second, the US has some concerns about India; we have still not signed the logistics support agreement. Also, we are still not part of the Proliferation Security Initiative. How are you addressing these?

On the misuse of assistance, I understand the concern although I think you should feel confident that our Congress is attentive at ensuring that the funds are used in a direction that they want to see done. In Pakistan, they thought there were too many conditions on the assistance. This is a reflection of the fact that we do expect accountability.

No relationship is without issues and we need to do something to strengthen our ability to cooperate particularly in defence, space and technology related areas. I (met) the Indian Defence (Minister) and we spoke about some of the agreements that you talked about and we have had a very good and productive exchange on it.

RAJA MOHAN:The sense in Islamabad is that the US is with them and therefore they can pursue their support to terrorist groups directed at India.

We do not make any distinction between that it's not okay to support terrorist groups that target the United States and it's okay to support terrorist groups that target somebody else. In this case, groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba are not just a threat to India, they are a threat to us too because these groups are increasingly interconnected. So, we have made clear in unequivocal terms to our friends in Pakistan that we expect an unqualified effort to end it. The best way to do this, in the long term, is to strengthen the civilian government and civil society in Pakistan.

MINI KAPOOR: In the early stages of the financial crisis, there was a huge amount of international cooperation, and not just the G-20. There were consultations between central banks. Has that experience changed the way the US looks at multilateral arrangements?

I think it has. We recognise two things. One, none of these problems can be solved by the United States alone, no matter how powerful we are. We have seen that diplomatic engagement is essential to meet those needs and we need to broaden the base for that engagement. That is why we have welcomed the transformation of the G7 and the G8 into the G20.

Copenhagen was also another example of our commitment to work with others. In the past they said the US was not prepared to deal with the climate change issue, but we got in there, rolling up our sleeves. While everybody recognises that there is a lot of work to do going beyond the Copenhagen protocol, it was an example of deep and multilateral commitment to try and find a common ground among developing and developed countries. So, I think we are seeing a very creative period in multilateral diplomacy.

COOMI KAPOOR: There is a sense that the American government is treating David Headley with kid gloves, and also puzzlement as to why the Indian authorities have not been allowed to interview him.

I don't think we consider the arrangement that we have reached, the plea bargain, to be kid gloves. The President and the Prime Minister have discussed this, and we are working to facilitate access to Mr. Headley.

SHAILAJA BAJPAI: You have worked with President Clinton, and President Obama and Hillary Clinton. Can you give us a personal sense of their strengths?

They are people who have tremendous personal energy and commitment and the ability to think out of the box to deal with new challenges. One of the things that I found powerful about President Clinton was that he always urged us to think of the problem from the point of view of the person on the other side of the table. That is a lesson that served him well, and served our country well in terms of his role as a peacemaker.

President Obama is obviously a president who brings enormous personal dimensions to his understanding of the world. He is the first president who has really had that sort of extraordinary experience outside of the United States. It is important not only in terms of the kind of leadership he can provide to the US, but also the ability of the rest of the world to see him as someone who can understand and work through their problems.

One of Secretary Clinton's greatest strengths is that she is able to (conduct) the people-to-people dimension of the US engagement with the rest of the world more ably than people who have been professionally involved with diplomacy.



Tihar Jail
Oct 2, 2009
US working with India on Af-Pak: Petraeus

The US is trying to reverse the momentum of the Taiban in Afghanistan and has been working actively with India with regard to the situation in the Af-Pak region, a top American General has said.

"It (India) is not in the title (of Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke), but he has certainly had a lot of activity with our Indian partners," General David Petraeus, Commander of the US Central Command, told Charlie Rose Show on the PBS.

Appreciative of the recent Pakistani military operation against the Taliban and al-Qaeda along the Pak-Afghan border, Petraeus said the US forces in Afghanistan are trying to regain the momentum in the country.

"It (Taliban) has been resurgent. It did indeed have the momentum. And what we're trying to do now is reverse that moment and take back areas they have been able to take control of," Petraeus said. The American General said that defeat of the Taliban in Kandahar is very important for victory in the war against terrorism.

"It really is the birthplace of the Taliban. It is also where the 9/11 attacks were originally conceived. That's where they were planned. So it has enormous importance to the Taliban," he said.

"It will not be a hub-to-hub offensive. This is not going to be something like the clearance of Ramadi or, say, southwestern Baghdad. This in fact is as much political as it is military," he said.

Responding to a question on Pakistan, Petraeus said there has indeed been considerable progress by the Pakistani army and frontier corps against the Pakistani Taliban in the country's northwest, including Swat and tribal areas, but clearly it is a very tough work. "And again, the extremists there, the Pakistani Taliban and their confederates, have sought to fight back by doing what they do, which is carry out acts of indiscriminate violence against innocent civilians as they did before, as well, as they assassinated Benazir Bhutto and blew up visiting cricket teams and thousands and thousands of innocent Pakistani civilians and security force members," he said.

Global Defence

New threads