Conversations With America
Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Philip J. Crowley
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Public Affairs
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Public Affairs
Ambassador Teresita Schaffer, Director of the South Asia Program at CSIS
June 8, 2010
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MR. CROWLEY: Good morning and welcome to the Department of State here in Washington, D.C. and thank you for joining us in Conversations in America, an opportunity for us to discuss a range of issues, important issues with people within the United States and around the world, allows you to watch a live discussion between leading State Department officials past and present as we discuss key regional issues.
Today, we’re going to be talking about South Asia and the United States’ relationship with a very important emerging power in the world, India. Over the past few days, we’ve had many questions that have come to us from around the world, questions about – questions from India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey, and Thailand and we’ve selected a representative sampling of those questions that we’ll provide during the course of this broadcast.
The topic today is U.S.-India relations following the Strategic Dialogue between the United States and India. We have with us Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Bob Blake, and he will be discussing with Teresita Schaffer, Director of the South Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and a distinguished former ambassador of the United States. So with this, we’ll get started as an opportunity to kind of continue to talk about democracy and diplomacy worldwide.
I should say I’m P.J. Crowley, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, and I’ll be moderating this program today.
So Bob, to start with you, we just had the Strategic Dialogue between India and the United States. What do you think are the most significant outcomes?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, thanks, P.J., and first, let me begin by welcoming my old friend and mentor in many ways, Ambassador Schaffer. Tezi was in charge of South Asia for many years in the State Department and has since written many books on the subject, including a book last year on India and the United States in the 21st century. So we’re really happy to have you here, Tezi.
In terms of the Strategic Dialogue, I think it was really quite a momentous achievement for both of our countries. It was the first time, P.J., that we have had a whole-of-government approach in which we had many different ministers and cabinet secretaries from both sides of our government come together and think and discuss strategically how to take the relationship forward. So we had a very good, productive two and a half hour plenary session, followed by a lunch, which all of us believe are – really help us to tee up a lot of very, very important initiatives for what we know will be a very consequential visit by the President to India this fall.
MR. CROWLEY: Ambassador Schaffer, you’ve been focused on the region for a long time. It certainly sounds natural that the world’s oldest democracy and largest democracy should have excellent relations and – but there has been a steady progress, say – from tensions, say, over 30 years to where we are today.
AMBASSADOR SCHAFFER: Well, we’ve gone from a long period during the Cold War where we, frankly, had very little to say to each other and where our common bond of democracy didn’t really spill over into foreign policy, to a period, I would say, going back particularly 10 years, but to some extent even further than that, when we’ve been plugging in with one another much more closely. The end of the Cold War had a big impact on that. So did India’s economic growth and so did the size and vibrance and prominence of the Indian American community.
I would agree with Bob Blake that this was the first time at the official level that you had this panoply of very senior officials trying to look strategically at the relationship. In a way, though, the history of strategic discussions goes back to right after India’s nuclear test, when then Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott conducted an extensive series of discussions with India’s Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh. So we are building on something that went before, but I think we’ve made it much bigger.
And the question I would ask of you, Bob: The subtitle of that book you kindly mentioned was “Reinventing Partnership,” and I gave it that subtitle because it was my view that neither India nor the United States had an existing model of what partners are like to plug into their relationship to one another. Do you think we’ve found one?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I think we have, and the reason I say that is that, as you say, we’ve been building up our bilateral relations for a long time. It started with the Strobe and Jaswant Singh dialogue, but – and really, we began to – first with counterterrorism cooperation and defense cooperation. And now, I think the new thing in our relationship is to look ahead at how can our two countries work together not only to benefit our two peoples, but also increasingly the peoples of the world.
And I was really struck that a lot of the conversation that took place during the Strategic Dialogue was about these big global issues and it was things like food security, about developing an initiative between the United States and India to help the Feed the Future initiative in places like Africa. It was about how can we work together more productively on climate change. Prime Minister Singh, of course, was a very key part of the successful outcome in Copenhagen, and we see him as a very important partner going forward towards Mexico City.
It was about the nonproliferation dialogue that you have written a lot about, which again, I think because of our civil-nuclear deal, which is still in progress and making good progress, we now have completely changed the narrative and we can begin to talk about how we can cooperate globally on nonproliferation issues. And the President was very pleased to host Prime Minister Singh as one of his visitors for the Global Nuclear Security Summit.
AMBASSADOR SCHAFFER: Your comments are particularly interesting, because historically, and even recently, the U.S. and India have always had an easier time getting along bilaterally than globally and multilaterally. When there’s a whole lot of other countries in the room, we tend to scratch at each other a lot more --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: That’s right.
AMBASSADOR SCHAFFER: -- than we do when it’s just the two of us. And I think this is very important. I think this is part of what changes you from having a good relationship to one that has strategic potential.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Yeah.
AMBASSADOR SCHAFFER: Two issues that you just mentioned are important, though. One is climate change. And it’s interesting; when you hear people talk about this in India, it’s frequently put in terms of India’s relations with China. And the spirit of Copenhagen, when India and China participated together in that negotiation, is cited as a basis for optimism about India’s relations with China. Now, there’s another side to that story too, but I’m interested that you put this as a positive in India’s relations with the United States as well.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I put it in two contexts. First of all, we are – we have a joint interest, I think, in working on climate change, but we’re also working extremely hard on clean energy. We had a very interesting conversation that was led by Montek Singh Ahluwalia in which he discussed how really, a lot of the India of the 21st century still has to be built, particularly their urban infrastructure.
So they’re going to be putting in $150 billion into infrastructure development of all kinds, and they really see that the United States can be an important partner in helping to ensure a clean energy and low carbon future for India. And they really see huge opportunities for partnership, not only from our private sector, but also from all the research and developments and science/technology potential that exists out there. So – and we agree with that.
So again, that was a very exciting part of our dialogue. And a lot of that will be driven by the private sector as well, which I’d like to bring into the conversation, because I think that’s an increasingly important part of the overall dialogue.
AMBASSADOR SCHAFFER: Well, I agree with that too. And on the urban infrastructure point, you were ambassador in Sri Lanka, I was ambassador in Sri Lanka, and we both know that urban infrastructure is a disaster area --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Yeah.
AMBASSADOR SCHAFFER: -- in much of the region.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Yeah.
AMBASSADOR SCHAFFER: I think that the significance of the private sector really is that a lot of the economic connection between India and the United States is fundamentally private and is going to carry on, more or less, no matter what the governments do. The governments can make things a little bit easier. But this gives a kind of steadiness to the relationship, which I think it lacked for many years.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: It does. And one of the real drivers in the relationship has been that we’ve created a CEO forum with top CEOs on both sides of the relationship who are going to come together for the first time on June 22nd here in Washington with several of our top ministers on each side to have these CEOs present their recommendations on how the two governments can help to reduce barriers to greater trade and investment on both sides.
As you know, our trade has already doubled over the last five years, but President Obama would like to double that trade again, and we think that that’s certainly possible. And so we’re going to listen very carefully to what they have to say, and then also take their recommendations in areas like education, where we think that there are, again, huge opportunities if India passes this bill that will allow foreign universities to begin to offer degrees in India.
AMBASSADOR SCHAFFER: Let me pick up another one of the topics that you mentioned when you were talking about the many bilateral areas where we’d like to work together – and that’s bilateral and global – and that’s nonproliferation. The U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Deal was a transformational event. It was very controversial in both countries. And I think that this was an area where we both revealed – Indians and Americans – our lack of understanding of how the other country’s democratic processes work. So it was a rather uncomfortable learning experience in many ways, getting the thing through.
But one of the hopes on the U.S. side was that having got that deal in place, it would become possible to bring India more fully into the global nonproliferation system. I’m not talking about the Nonproliferation Treaty, which they can’t sign and won’t, but into the larger system. It’s understood that India wants for nuclear technology, nuclear weapons technology, not to proliferate. But then how do they become part of the system?
I’m not sure we’re there yet. And my question to you is: Are we on the way? And if so, what are going to be the kind of tools that India and the United States use to make this kind of closer association happen?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I think we are on the way, and I would point to a few concrete examples. First was what I already mentioned, the fact that Prime Minister Singh has endorsed Prime Minister – President Obama’s vision of a nuclear weapons-free world that he articulated in Prague. But I’d say in even more concrete ways, we’ve been working together. I would say we’ve been working together in the IAEA on the very important question of Iran’s nuclear program, where India has voted several times with the United States on this very, very important question.
And we’ve been working bilaterally as well. One of the very hot-button issues for the Indians now is this whole question of export controls. And as you know very well, we have made a lot of progress in reducing the numbers of Indian exports that are subject to any kind of export controls now.
One of the things they’d like to see more progresses on is reducing the entities list – that is, entities like the Indian Space Research Organization and the Defense Research and Development Organization – if they could come off the entities so there could be more trade in those areas. And I think there is scope for that and so we’ve had some very good discussions during the Strategic Dialogue where we shared ideas on how we can make some progress on that, because that would really open up huge new areas of cooperation in space, in defense, where, again, we think that there are a number of important commercial opportunities for our two countries to work together.
AMBASSADOR SCHAFFER: Well, I think that’s a really important one and it exhibits at least one of the characteristics of the original nuclear deal, which is you have a big idea, or at least a medium-sized idea, on the idea of tackling the entities list.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Yes.
AMBASSADOR SCHAFFER: But getting from big idea to implementation is a long, slow slog, because in both governments policies are going to have to be modified. And we both have very well-developed governments that make that very hard to do. And in the process, and I think this is particularly a problem in India, the big expectations are taking a while and people start thinking maybe this isn’t working after all. And so we have a challenge of making the difficult implementation process track with expectations that have outrun it.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: We do have a challenge; you’re right. But I think we also, in the process of agreeing on that nuclear deal, developed habits of cooperation and we agreed on some very important mechanisms like end-use assurances that I think can provide a very useful template to move ahead on some of these other difficult fronts. So in many ways, we’ve sort of already sort of cracked the molds and I think can move ahead on some of these things. And I do expect that we’ll be able to do that before the President’s visit.
MR. CROWLEY: You’ve talked about establishing a template for cooperation. Counterterrorism is another one of those categories where there are deepening conversations, cooperation, on a shared threat that the United States focuses on, India focuses on, other countries in the region.
I want to bring in our listening audience a bit. We have a question from Sean A. in India, who has written us: “Given the importance that the U.S. places on counterterrorism cooperation with India, the David Headley case, which seemed like a tremendous opportunity to prove to India through actions, not just words, that the U.S. is committed to the U.S.-India partnership, why then has Indian access to David Headley been delayed for so long? Why would the U.S. let this issue hurt U.S.-Indian relations when it so clearly could have been a victory?”
I think maybe Sean is asking a question that’s a bit premature, but in fact, we do have broadening and deepening cooperation with India on counterterrorism, the Headley case actually being an example of that cooperation.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: That’s right. I think as you say, P.J., counterterrorism cooperation between the United States and India has really been one of the new strengths of our relationship and has increased quite dramatically since the terrible Mumbai attacks in November of 2008. Since then, we’ve seen quite close intelligence and also law enforcement cooperation. We have a new counterterrorism cooperation initiative. We’re looking at new cooperation in the areas of cybersecurity, which I think would benefit both of our countries.
And even in the Headley case, I know the people in the press have been – particularly in India have been a bit frustrated by the delay. But as National Security Advisor Jones confirmed over the weekend, an Indian team has gotten access to Headley now. And I think the Indian Government would say that they’ve been very pleased with the cooperation that they’ve had with us. Obviously, we had to work through Mr. Headley’s lawyers and so there was a great deal of work that had to be done to ensure that there could be a productive discussion, and that’s now taken place.
But more broadly, I would say that the Headley case really is symptomatic of a larger issue in Indo-U.S. relations and indeed India-Pakistan relations, which is the growing scope of groups like Lashkar-e Tayyiba and their ambition to conduct attacks not just against India but in places like the United States, possibly against our troops in Afghanistan. And it underlines the importance of us all working together to address that threat, and also for Pakistan to take action against LET. We think that this is something that really is in Pakistan’s own interest to do because of the – what the Secretary has termed kind of the syndicate that is operating now in Pakistan.
So we’ve seen welcome progress by Pakistan in Swat, in South Waziristan. We hope that there can now be progress on this very important issue, which would have very consequential implications for India-Pakistan relations, as Tezi has written about.
AMBASSADOR SCHAFFER: I wanted to talk about another issue that is not all sweetness and light between India and the United States, and that is Afghanistan.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Yes.
AMBASSADOR SCHAFFER: In Afghanistan, I think it’s fair to say that the kind of end state that the United States is hoping for is one that India would find very comfortable. But there is a terrific tension between – of what Indian – Indian objectives and Pakistani objectives. And the United States, it seems to me, has been kind of caught in between them, largely out of a recognition that Pakistan has the capability of making the kind of end state we want out of reach. And this has made India very uncomfortable. I was struck by the prominence of the Afghanistan issue both in the public statements after the Strategic Dialogue and in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Washington last November.
Where have we left things, and is that tension going to be with us?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I agree with you that there has been – I wouldn't call it tension, but there have been question marks on the part of the Indians about our policy in Afghanistan. Specifically, I think they, like many other countries, were worried about whether the United States was really going to stay in Afghanistan. And I think President Karzai’s recent visit and the statements that President Obama and Secretary Clinton made about our long-term commitment to Afghanistan were very reassuring to the Indians and to many other allies in the region.
The other kind of area of, I’d say of possible dissonance was in – was the question of reconciliation, where I think the Indians were very concerned that we were somehow going to allow Pakistan to drive this process. And I think they have been reassured by our public statements that President Karzai and the Government of Afghanistan really have to control this. And they have also been reassured that we’ve set some parameters for those that should participate in this kind of dialogue; namely, that people should renounce violence, they should renounce ties to al-Qaida, and they should be willing to endorse the current Afghan constitution.
So I think all of those things have helped to reassure the Indians about our intentions in Afghanistan and as have our public embrace of the steps that India itself has taken. India has done really an extraordinary job of providing more than $1.3 billion worth of reconstruction and other kinds of assistance which we have welcomed. And indeed, one of the signs of the convergence in what we’re doing now between us in India and the United States in Afghanistan is that we’re actually considering joint projects to show that we really do want to work together more in Afghanistan. So I was really struck during this dialogue at the broad convergence of our views on Afghanistan.
AMBASSADOR SCHAFFER: Well, I am glad to hear that. The tension that I see, though, is not so much between India and the United States on Afghanistan, although I think there probably still is some of that, but between Indian goals and Pakistani goals, which are really incompatible.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Right.
AMBASSADOR SCHAFFER: India wants to see a peaceful and decently governed Afghanistan in which Pakistan is not the dominant foreign power. Pakistan wants to see Indian influence minimized, if not eliminated. Those don’t fit very easily together, and that’s where I think the U.S. is kind of caught in the middle.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, I’d say you’re right; there is that continuing element. But that to me underlines the importance of us trying to help both of our friends to improve relations between them, because a lot of this could be sorted out by dialogue between these two friends of ours. And as you know, that’s been a longstanding interest of ours, but we’ve also said that the pace and scope and character of that dialogue is really up to the Indians and Pakistanis themselves to decide.
But there are going to be some very important meetings coming up. The foreign minister, the external affairs minister Krishna will be going to Islamabad in mid July. The home minister, Mr. Chidambaram, will be going there in late June. So I think these are going to be very important opportunities to strengthen the dialogue and hopefully to move relations ahead, particularly if Pakistan can take some action on some of the important red lines that the Indians have established, like progress to stop cross-border infiltration and progress on the suspects that are in custody for the Mumbai attacks.
MR. CROWLEY: We want to bring the audience in again. Ashim K.C. has written us and has a question for both Bob and Ambassador Schaffer: “What can the three areas of cooperation between India and the USA where there are no irritants and what can be worked on to the immediate advantage of both countries? And what is the U.S. perception of three issues on which the Indian position needs to change and what is the U.S. understanding of what made India take those positions?”
So I’m not sure what the magic number three is, but – and we’ve talked about some of those already. But are there areas where you think that both sides need to change their approach in some fashion?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, let me take a first shot at that and then perhaps Tezi can add her ideas.
In terms of the areas of cooperation, perhaps some of the ones we haven’t yet talked about, one of them would be education, where I think there is huge scope for much greater cooperation as a result of this bill that is now pending in the Indian parliament that would allow foreign universities to offer degrees and establish campuses in India. And during the dialogue, the Indian human resources development minister, the education minister, said that India remains very much committed to the passage of this legislation this year, which we welcome. And that will really, I think, provide huge opportunities for American universities to come into India for the first time. They already are very pleased that there are 100,000 Indian students in the United States, the largest single group of foreign students. But they’d like to now see not only more American students going to India, but also much more research and development that such cooperation would open up. So I think we’re very excited about that.
A second area of cooperation I think would be in the area of agriculture, where, again, we see that there’s opportunities not only to work on some of the big global feed the future efforts, but also to work bilaterally. And frankly, this has been an area in the past where we’ve kind of talked past each other and really haven’t made as much progress as we’d like. But we do see that there are big opportunities to work not only in terms of our science and technology and our researchers on new seeds and sort of the next green revolution, but also to help to commercialize agriculture and develop the agricultural sector, which has always been a lagging sector in India and is really – again, I think if we can work together to benefit the farmers and the people of India, 700 million of whom still live in rural areas, that would be a huge step forward for our relations and, of course, for the people of India.
And then I’d say the third would still be on this nuclear issue, because it is such an important part of some of the future commercial opportunities for American companies. If we can get this liability bill, again, that is pending in the Indian parliament, passed this year – and again, the Indian Government committed to trying to do that – it will open up billions of dollars worth of new commercial opportunities for American exporters in civil nuclear technology, and again, would help to meet India’s fast-growing energy demands. So another very much of a win-win situation for both of our countries.
I don’t know if Tezi --
AMBASSADOR SCHAFFER: Yeah, I would add a couple of things. The first thing I would add is UN peacekeeping. This is an area where we do work closely together. It is the one area of the UN agenda where the United States and India have a similar vision, where India is a major contributor and the United States is, at least indirectly, a beneficiary of that. So I think that’s a really important area.
The other is more bilateral, but that’s Indian Ocean security. Within our growing defense relationship, the most intense connections have been built between the Indian and the U.S. navies. I find that interesting because 20 years ago, when I was in the U.S. Government and the military-to-military dialogue was just starting, it was the navies, the guys in the white suits, that were most suspicious of one another. This is an area where our interests almost completely converge. We are – both countries are very dependent on the orderly functioning of global energy markets. A lot of the oil from those energy markets sails through the Indian Ocean, so that the security of that region is absolutely paramount for both.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I couldn’t agree more with you. And I was India in 2003 when a lot of our cooperation was just starting, and the leading edge of our cooperation on all of the bilateral areas was the defense cooperation in those early days – defense and, to a certain extent, counterterrorism. And so that was a very important part of kind of establishing those habits of cooperation that I talked about earlier. These days, we are cooperating now in the Indian Ocean and, for example, on Somali piracy, where the Indians have been a very important part of this task force that is operating to stop the piracy that is taking place there. So we very much welcome that kind of cooperation.
And one of our – I think one of our goals now is to sort of see how we can expand that further. Already, we do more exercises with India than with any other country. But how do we then translate that into even greater potential for cooperation? And I think one of the areas that we’re looking at is sort of the whole global commons question of how we can work more to protect the global commons, not just the oceans but perhaps even space and things like that. So those are some of the exciting new things that we’re thinking about.
AMBASSADOR SCHAFFER: Let me ask you about something else, another area where I think our interests converge. I was very struck by the fact that the joint statement, as well as Under Secretary Burns’s speeches about the Strategic Dialogue, started out with Asia. Historically, we’ve always talked to India about South Asia.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Right.
AMBASSADOR SCHAFFER: Asia is a bigger tapestry. And it includes not only the immediate neighborhood, which has been the traditional context for our relationship, but also Southeast Asia, China, Japan.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Right.
AMBASSADOR SCHAFFER: I think this is a very important shift in perspective on the U.S. part. That brings up the question of how India-U.S. relations connect with both of our relations with China. And it seems to me that we have an interesting new model developing where nobody is interested in picking a fight with China, nobody is interested in playing some kind of a card against China, but where India and the United States have a strong interest in seeing that as Asia develops – the whole, large region – it develops with a kind of equilibrium among the major players. And those major players would certainly include India, Japan, China, the United States. And it seems to me that this way of framing the issues puts us on a path towards eventually developing at least some policies that work in parallel between India and the United States on the Asian scene.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: You’re right. And I think we’ve begun to really have a quite serious conversation about how the United States and India can work more together in Asia. As you say, India quite consciously elaborated a look-east policy some years ago, where they began to really expand their trade and other ties into, particularly, the – Southeast Asia but also the South China Sea. And they were working on things like antipiracy. And even in some of those parts of the world, they’ve begun to project their military influence into those parts of the world. And I think all of the countries of Southeast Asia really welcome that increased influence by India and that increased engagement by India. And we have many common friends – the Japanese and the Australians and others – so we’re looking at ways that we can expand our dialogue with all of those countries to really ramp up our common thinking and strategic vision about this and how we can cooperate more in Asia.
And one very concrete example of that was our Assistant Secretary for East Asia Kurt Campbell just had very productive consultations in Delhi, where he spent almost two days there talking with his counterparts about ways that we might be able to do more. And we see that, again, as sort of a template for how we might be able to do more in places like Africa as well, as India begins to project its influence into that important continent.
AMBASSADOR SCHAFFER: Bob, after all this sweetness and light, I’ve got to bring up – (laughter) – one of the issues that has been a bit of a hot button –
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Please.
AMBASSADOR SCHAFFER: -- in both India and the United States, and that’s Iran. I appreciate that when it comes to Iran’s nuclear program, both India and the United States share a view that they don’t want to see another nuclear weapons state in India’s neighborhood. But we have very different ideas about how to go about that. And India clearly does not share the sense that the United States has that Iran is somehow systematically a danger to our interests in the region.
Are we coming closer to a candid discussion on these things? And if so, are we coming any closer to a sense of how we manage this difference in perspective? I’m not sure that this is an area where either country is going to convert the other to its point of view.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Again, I think we have come to quite a good understanding of where each other stands on this very, very important issue for both of us. This was a subject of conversation during the Strategic Dialogue but has also been a continuing part of our conversation in every meeting that we have with our Indian friends. From our perspective, the most important thing has been India’s strong support in, first, observing all of the UN Security Council obligations, but also the very important votes that it has taken in the IAEA taking a strong stand against Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
India has explained to us that it has important links with Iran, first of all because its transit into Afghanistan is closed by Pakistan so it must use Iran to get many of its goods, and indeed people, into Afghanistan through Iran. So that’s a very important part of their relations. The Indians also have a small but influential Shia community inside India, which is – can be an important swing vote in Indian elections. So they do have these civilizational ties that they talk about.
So I think we understand the interest that India has in Iran, but we also go to great lengths to explain our concerns and to make sure that, again, we’re not crossing any of each other’s red lines. And so far, I think we’ve managed that conversation pretty well. But again, this is going to be a continuing very important priority for the United States.
MR. CROWLEY: You were talking about hot buttons. Ahmed S. in California has written us about another hot button issue even closer to India, and that’s Kashmir. And he’s asking whether we have any expectation that this will be resolved and where the United States stands on this issue under the UN resolution. And so what is our current policy with respect to Kashmir? Is there a change from the longstanding U.S. policy?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: No, there’s no change right now. I think at this point the top priority for India and Pakistan is, first, to kind of get their own bilateral dialogue going in a more systematic way. As I said, there is very important meetings that will be taking place in Islamabad over the next two months. And the Indians have in Prime Minister Singh somebody who I think is personally and deeply committed to achieving peace with Pakistan. But he needs to see progress on these two important issues that I spoke of; that is, progress to stop some of the cross-border infiltration that’s taking place into India, but also progress on the trial of the Mumbai suspects. And if we can see that, I think that there will be a flourishing of the dialogue that could take place. But those are very important things that need to take place.
Tezi’s husband, Howard Shaffer, has written a really terrific book about Kashmir and I’d be interested in her views as well on this important issue.
AMBASSADOR SCHAFFER: Well, he’s the main Kashmir expert in the country, but it seems to me that perhaps the less polite version of what you’ve said – (laughter) – is that the United States wants to see India and Pakistan resolve their differences. As far as the substance of what they might agree on with respect to Kashmir, the main interest of the United States is that they be able to agree on something that makes the risk of a war that could go nuclear disappear.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Right.
AMBASSADOR SHAFFER: That risk, right at the moment, is not a high one. But any positive number is enough to be a potential issue.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: And I think it’s important to note that in – from 2004 to 2007, in fact, the two countries did make quite a lot of progress on Kashmir, where they had this bilateral back channel that took place in which they had a chance for the first time to sit down very quietly and explore the outlines of an agreement. And they didn’t quite reach the end of it, but I think they made a great deal of progress. And that, again, could be picked up, I think, relatively quickly if they can sort out some of these other issues that I talked about.
AMBASSADOR SCHAFFER: (Inaudible) the lesson of the last U.S. crisis management effort that was specifically devoted to Kashmir, which was at the time of the Kargil incident in 1999 – is that effectively, the nuclear weapons in India and Pakistan have frozen that border. Neither the United States nor anyone else internationally is prepared to take any risk by messing with that border. And that is a hard reality for Pakistan and one that they have not officially acknowledged, but I think it’s there.
MR. CROWLEY: I suppose a question would be whether you think there is hope in – with stable political situations developing in both countries, can you get above that zero-sum mentality where each country feels that a gain from one is necessarily a loss for the other?
AMBASSADOR SCHAFFER: Only with strong governments in both countries. The 2007 discussions that Bob mentioned were indeed potentially historic. They narrowed the gap on Kashmir. They didn’t – eliminated it, but they went from there to there, which is very significant. But at that time, neither government was strong enough to take it public. In a democratic setup or even in a half democratic setup, unless you can take your agreements to the public and get sufficient assent to them, they really don’t count.
I wanted to ask you –
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I would agree with that and just say that this is going to have to be a kind of incremental process to build up to that stage where they can tackle this very hot button issue for both of those countries, but – and let me just make one other point on that, which is that I think that there are enormous benefits to be accrued by both countries if they can get back to the peace table. And one of them is in the area of trade, where bilateral trade is on the order of about $3 billion right now for – and for economies of the size of India and Pakistan, that really is quite paltry and insignificant.
And given that both of these countries have very young populations, they have a huge challenge of providing jobs for their young populations. Trade is one of the obvious ways that they can provide major new opportunities for their young people. And so I think this is one of the major areas that are – that is still unmet, but offers great promise for the two countries.
AMBASSADOR SCHAFFER: I wanted to come back to the question of the character of U.S.-India relations. And I wanted to bounce off you a thought that I’ve had.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Please.
AMBASSADOR SCHAFFER: I think that one of the challenges we face is that we’re carrying very different historical baggage. In the case of India, their foreign policy DNA is set up to honor the concept of strategic autonomy, which means, crudely translated, that no Indian politician can allow it to look as if another country is unduly influencing India’s foreign policy. So this creates a tremendous presumption in favor of not getting too close to U.S. policies in different parts of the world.
On the U.S. side, the partners we’ve had historically have been much weaker than us, and the partnerships have started from a recognition of a common global threat. We don’t have that with India, both because of the temper of the times and because of the kinds of countries we are. We’ve been building more from the bottom up with a general strategic context in Asia that is only now starting to be elaborated. Does this – this is why I felt that the model for partnership needed to be reinvented. What are our chances of getting past these obstacles? Obviously, I don’t expect it to be done in one week.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: That’s right. I think, as you say, this will be, again, an incremental process, but I think we’ve made a lot of progress already. And the reason I’m optimistic is, first of all, we have these common values and these converging interests. And I would point, particularly, to the 3 million Indian Americans who are already here in the United States, who do so much to serve as a bridge between our two countries, and were a very important part of the lobbying that went into the passage of the nuclear deal here and are playing, already, a very important role on a continuous basis now on the Hill, and more widely, just explaining the benefits of partnership to both of our countries.
The other thing I would say is that we have really, over the last 10 years, really begun to develop these areas of cooperation between us that has given us more confidence in each other and what our objectives are. And one of the very interesting areas has been in the region where, for many years, India really didn’t want to see the United States or any other country playing too much of an important role in the region. And I was really struck, when I was ambassador in Sri Lanka, how very closely I was able to work with my Indian counterpart, and he really welcomed the chance to do that. And I think that was a sign, again, of their – first of all, their confidence in what we’re doing together, their understanding that we still see India as a preeminent power in South Asia, but we want to help. And we have, again, these common interests.
And we see that now in areas like Afghanistan where we’re – again, we’re working together. We’re thinking about areas of common cooperation. So I think as we look ahead to the 21st century 20, 30, 40 years from now, we have a certain confidence that because of India’s democracy, because of these converging values and interests, India is going to be a force for good in the world. And it is in our interest now to put in place a strategic partnership to really capitalize on those opportunities. And that’s a quite profound statement to be able to make.
MR. CROWLEY: And before we leave, we have one more question from our viewing audience. Richard M. in Bahrain has written that Indian people have always looked to the U.S. as a big brother, as the greatest democracy in the room and – or “in the world and India is the biggest democracy in the world and we share a common DNA,” says Richard. “However, we get the feeling that the U.S. is quite happy to let Pakistani terrorists do whatever they want in India and elsewhere as long as the terror is not exported to the United States.”
Richard hopes this is not true, but asks, “How does the U.S. intend to reassure the region and the people of India that this is not true?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, thank you very much for that question, and it’s a very important one. And I would just answer it by going back to what is said in the beginning, which is that our – since 9/11, and particularly since the terrible attacks in 2008 in Mumbai, we have significantly ramped up our intelligence and our law enforcement cooperation precisely to prevent the kind of attacks that the viewer was talking about. And I think we – most of what we do, of course, is confidential. We don’t talk about it too much, but I think it has had quite an impact.
I don’t think we’re ever going to be completely able to stop these terrorist attacks, but if there’s any, sort of, single story that’s been really important over the last two years, it’s been this growing cooperation. And the United States consistently emphasizes, as I have today, that it is very important, in particular for Pakistan, to take action against these groups that are targeting not only India, but increasingly, the United States. So I think there is a convergence in this area as well, and we hope to do even more in this area, because I think there’s a lot to be done.
AMBASSADOR SCHAFFER: And there’s one other very important thought. Pakistan is facing an internal insurgency –
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Yes.
AMBASSADOR SCHAFFER: -- with record levels of political violence. The last three years have each set a record. People focus mostly on the Northwest Frontier areas, the tribal areas, but some of the perpetrators of this violence are coming from other parts of the country and are coming from organizations that have had a historical tie with the Pakistani intelligence services. How Pakistan handles its internal insurgency is absolutely critical. The Pakistan Government has, I think, come to realize that certainly parts of this movement are a mortal danger to itself.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Yes.
AMBASSADOR SCHAFFER: This is going to be a moving target, but I think, as a final thought, the United States, India, and Pakistan share an interest in seeing Pakistan as a state emerge more strongly from this terrible time that it is going through. This will not mean that India and Pakistan agree on a whole lot of stuff. But underneath it all, there is this very important interest in common that we shouldn’t forget about.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I’d say that’s really – and I’m sorry.
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Let me just add one more. And I agree entirely with that. And I think Prime Minister Singh and his administration have welcomed the increased economic assistance that the United States has provided to Pakistan through the Kerry-Lugar-Berman legislation.
AMBASSADOR SCHAFFER: Though they’re not quite as thrilled about the military –
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: About the military side. But even there, I think they understand that we are trying to build up Pakistan’s counterinsurgency capabilities and we are seeking end use assurances to insure that those – the weapons that are provided will not be used against India.
But again, I come back to the – that they believe we have a shared interest in helping to stabilize Pakistan, and they’re certainly well aware that a spiral down would not be in India’s interests. So, I thank you for that comment.
MR. CROWLEY: And we thank you for joining us for Conversations with America. We hope to hold these kinds of conversations on a wide range of issues, from Haiti to Afghanistan to India as we go forward, and inform both our citizens and citizens around the world of the United States’s efforts to address such challenges.
So thank you for submitting your questions. Thank you for joining us. And this video and transcript will be available on State.gov shortly. But to continue today’s conversation with the State Department, please visit our official State Department blog, DipNote, and continue to comment on current issues and policy developments. We look forward to engaging you again very, very soon. Thank you for joining us, and good morning from Washington, D.C.
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