TOPICS > Politics

Mission to India

March 22, 2000 at 12:00 AM EST


MARGARET WARNER: For more on President Clinton’s trip to India and the whole U.S.-India relationship, we get four perspectives. Teresita Schaffer was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia during the Bush administration. She is now Director of the South Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Sumit Ganguly is a political science professor at Hunter College, and has written extensively about the subcontinent. He was born in India, and is now a U.S. citizen. George Perkovich is Deputy Director of the Alton Jones Foundation, and the author of “India’s Nuclear Bomb: The Impact on Global Proliferation.” And Mohammed Ayoob is a Professor of International relations at Michigan State University. He’s written extensively about South Asia. Born in India, he’s now an Australian citizen. Welcome all. Ambassador, explain – what is the nub of the problem between India and the United States? Why do the world’s two largest democracies not get along better?

TERESITA SCHAFFER: Well, I think there are couple of things. The first is what you might call the legacy of imperialism. Over the years, the United States came to be looked on by India as the surrogate imperial power with all the resentments that that implies. The second is Cold War baggage. The setup piece described the U.S. alliance relationship with Pakistan and the very close ties between India and the Soviet Union. But there’s a whole slew of other aspects to this Cold War baggage, which both countries are carrying. And the net result of it is that we have really looked at the world in quite different ways.

MARGARET WARNER: What would you add to that, Professor Ganguly?

SUMIT GANGULY: I agree with everything that Ambassador Shaffer said. I would only add to that the two following points: One is that our relationship with India right from the very outset, from independence onwards was not particularly robust. We had no great strategic interests in the region, we had no great cultural ties to the region. American investment was fairly low. And, as a consequence, we could afford to ignore India. It really didn’t matter to us. Simultaneously, India presented a very different vision of world order — going to the non-line movement as your piece pointed out. And as a consequence, the paths really diverged.

MARGARET WARNER: But George Perkovich, there are many countries with whom the United States had very poor relationships in the Cold War and now that baggage doesn’t seem to hang over it. Why does it here?

GEORGE PERKOVICH: Well, I think in this case, you also have, in addition to the points that Ambassador Shaffer and Sumit made, you have countries that tend to be very morally self-righteous in their foreign policies, both are big, both see themselves as global powers. But this kind of moral self-righteousness adds a certain oomph to the relationship. And yet when we don’t see things eye to eye, you’re more convinced that the other guy is that much more in the wrong, and it adds a kind of acrimony to the relationship.

MARGARET WARNER: Professor Ayoob, weigh in on this.

MOHAMMED AYOOB: Well, I think we should now begin to talk of the future, rather than the past. I think if you look at the vision statement very closely, the statement that was issued in Delhi, it becomes very clear that there is now a qualitative difference in the relationship between the two countries. The tone is very warm. It covers a whole gamut of issues, economic, technological, political, and security. And what it impressed me was the frankness with which the two sides recognized the differences on the nuclear issue and still pledged to work together on the issue of non-proliferation. And -

MARGARET WARNER: I’m sorry. Let me just interrupt you for a minute – and I want to get on to the analysis of the trip – but first I think we need to explain a little more what’s at stake. Why does it matter to India and the United States now that they have a better relationship, and is it more important now than it was 10 years ago?

MOHAMMED AYOOB: Well, I think it is more important now than it was 10 years ago, and it matters both in economic as well as in political and security terms. The economic argument has been made time and time again. The opening – India’s opening of the economy provides both market and sources of goods, services, and so on for the United States. And vice versa. But I would argue that the strategic dimension of this relationship is equally if not more important. India and the United States share a whole range of interests where their objectives converge, ranging from countering terrorism to containing China. And I think the vision statement – the dimension in the vision statement about a security dialogue ranging throughout Asia or covering Asian issues widely is an indication of that recognition. It was always recognized in New Delhi. I think Washington is also beginning to recognize that China is not a strategic partner but a potential strategic competitor in Asia and that it needs India to weigh in on its side to counter Chinese dominance in Asia.

MARGARET WARNER: Ambassador, do you agree? Do you think that the United States sees this relationship now as more important than it used to?

TERESITA SCHAFFER: I do, but not really for the reasons that Professor Ayoob talked about. I think the U.S. sees the relationship as more important because of India’s tremendous economic potential, which has begun to be realized in the last 10 years, and I think where that growth goes is going to say a lot about at happens in the relationship. As far as the strategic dimension is concerned, I think that there is something to this argument that you have two great big continental powers in Asia, India, and China, there’s a natural rivalry between them, and the United States as a world power is going to want to keep important relationships with both. But interestingly enough, all three governments involved are quite uncomfortable the idea of playing the triangle game, as we talked about. But the third point is that many of the issues that the President is highlighting in this visit and that came up in the vision statement are really the diplomatic and international issues of the future, preserving the environment, negotiating trade rules, the explosive growth of the information technology industry, which is a cutting-edge industry both here and in India — and that, too, it seems to me, pushes us in the direction of needing to pay more attention to this very large and important country.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you think, though, George Perkovich, that the President would be making this much of an effort if India were not now a nuclear power? In other words, how much of it is not just the opportunity of which the ambassador and the professor spoke, but also now the potential danger with the subcontinent with these two countries now nuclear?

GEORGE PERKOVICH: Well, the reality is actually the President wanted to go to India in 1997, before it tested its nuclear bombs…

MARGARET WARNER: He put off the trip.

GEORGE PERKOVICH: The nuclear tests put off the trip. So I think the interest in India was really for the reasons Ambassador Shaffer mentioned, economics first of all, and the sense that this is the world’s largest democracy. The nuclear issue has added a more intense complication to that relationship. But the interest would have been there in any case.

MOHAMMED AYOOB: Could I say a few things here?

MARGARET WARNER: Let me just let Professor Ganguly get back in first. Go ahead, Professor, I mean, look at both U.S. interests but also India’s interests. I mean, I understand about the economics, but India got along quite well without the U.S. for a very long time.

SUMIT GANGULY: That’s correct. But we live in a fundamentally changed world. One of the major concerns that the Indians had immediately at the end of Cold War was the emergence of a unipolar international system dominated by the United States. And there was acute fear that, you know, India was going to be left out in the cold, and particularly with the United States building what appeared like a strategic relationship with China. This disturbed the Indians no end. But there are areas of potential cooperation. I think Ambassador Shaffer has outlined some of them. I’d like to very quickly elaborate on them. On global warming, a global climatic change, if India decides to disregard the rest of the world and say, “we’re just going to burn coal because it’s important for our industrialization, we are going to be faced right here in North America within 20 years a serious problem. The ozone depletion will look considerably worse. On international trade, if India decides to try and wreck international property rights, it can play a very large spoiler role. In the area of humanitarian intervention, India’s voice will have to be taken into account. So there are a number of areas where it is in our interests to engage India and not simply harp on the nonproliferation issue.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, Professor Ayoob, back to you now. What will it take to clear away some of this underbrush? I know you think that this is happening now on this trip. But just expand on that a little more. What does the United States have to be willing to do? What does India have to be willing to do to make this relationship stronger?

MOHAMMED AYOOB: I think, as far as India is concerned, it has to recognize the fact that the United States is a global power and has global interests. And I think it has begun to do so. The talk of unipolarity, while it does continue and aversion to unipolarity in terms of the public media and so on — but the government of India I think clearly recognizes the fact that there is only one super power in the international system today, and that it has to come to terms with that reality.

On the part of the United States, there must be a clear recognition of the fact that India is the regional, managerial power; it is the preeminent and predominant part in the region, and it is able to provide public goods to its neighbors, which means that is essential to maintain the stability and security of the region. The United States must also recognize that it cannot either mettle on the Kashmiri issue, and also that it should put pressure on its friends in Pakistan to desist from the dangerous game they have been playing now, because in the context of a nuclearized subcontinent, infiltration and aiding and abetting insurgencies, even if you take the moral high ground on that, is a very, very dangerous affair.

And there is, I would argue, no give on the Indian position on Kashmir, no matter what, because it would reopen — any concession on Kashmir would reopen all the wounds of partition, the trauma of partition. India cannot afford another division of the country on the basis of religion because it would have a tremendous negative impact on the future of the 130 million Muslims in the rest of the country who are citizens of India and equal citizens of India and should be treated as so. Opening up this Pandora’s Box would pander to the basis instincts of those Hindu chauvinists who consider all Muslims fifth columnists. So there is no give on the Indian position on Kashmir. The 120 million Muslims of India cannot be sacrificed at the altar of so-called rights of the three or four million Kashmiris.

MARGARET WARNER: Professor Ganguly, you wanted to jump in on this?

SUMIT GANGULY: Yes. I wanted to jump in on that. I completely agree with Ayoob that significant territorial concessions are not on the cards. On the other hand, what the government of India has failed to do is address the genuine grievances of Kashmiris. It has basically followed a male-faced strategy and sought to wear down the insurgents without much regard for the civil political rights of the Kashmiris that, in fact, there have been flagrant violations thereof, and to win the hearts and minds, to use an old phrase from Vietnam, of the Kashmiris, the government needs to couple its male-stressed strategy with some gestures, some movement towards bringing back political institutions in Kashmir.

TERESITA SCHAFFER: I would like to add another dimension to that. First of all, like it or, the Indian government does have to recognize that it has unresolved issues with Pakistan. Obviously, they know that. I completely agree with Professor Ganguly that they’ve got… That there’s an internal dimension to the Kashmir problem, which India has to address. But I would go further and say, no matter what India might agree with Pakistan, and no matter what others might be able very quietly to persuade Pakistan to do by way of stopping its infiltration across the line of control, it won’t be stable unless you have solved the problem of governance in Kashmir. I would also like to take issue with something else Professor Ayoob said. I don’t think the United States needs to recognize India as the managerial power in the region. It is the largest, there’s no question about it. It is the most important and the most powerful. But when you go the next step and say the United States in some sense recognizes an Indian role for managing the security affairs of the other states in the region, I think that’s one step farther than the U.S. wants to go or should go.

MARGARET WARNER: Nobody’s mentioned the nuclear issue, which got so much attention on this trip. Do you think that’s a hurdle, or can that be kind of set aside?

GEORGE PERKOVICH: Oh, I think it’s a big hurdle for a variety of reasons. One of the reasons why it’s so important is there’s a global nuclear nonproliferation regime and the U.S. has been a leader of that. And there are 186 countries that are a part of it. If the U.S. accommodates and kind of puts to the side India and Pakistan’s nuclear programs, you have countries like Japan and Brazil and Argentina, that could have built bombs but didn’t. They will start saying, “wait a minute. We’re being sold out.” So the U.S. has to do this balancing act while dealing with the countries in the subcontinent while keeping faith with countries that have given up nuclear weapon options. And that’s a very difficult problem that won’t go away.

MARGARET WARNER: So what do you think the chance is, Professor Ganguly, of some give from India or some accommodation toward what the U.S. would like to see in the nuclear issue?

SUMIT GANGULY: In the nuclear realm, it’s going to be quite contentious, I agree with George because I think there are fundamentally different views about the utility of nuclear weapons in terms of Indian defense and security strategy and American global interests. I also believe that our policy to some extent is quite disingenuous because we refuse to recognize that one of the B-5 members, China, has been bolstering Pakistan’s capabilities over an extended period of time, and the Indians to a certain extent responded to this. China in many ways had up become a surrogate for… I mean Pakistan had become a surrogate really for China in many ways in the subcontinent and we simply refuse to countenance that.


MOHAMMED AYOOB: Could I say two things very quickly?

MARGARET WARNER: You know, I’m sorry, but I have to bring this to a close. We’ll come back to it, I’m sure. Thank you all very much.