Friday, June 26, 2009

Remarks by Ambassador T.P.Sreenivasan
Luncheon Meeting of the US-India Security Forum.
June 25, 2009.

The canvas given to me is very wide: US-India Security Relations in
the context of the nuclear deal, the elections and the appointment of
the first NRI Minister. There is no way I can cover all these in a
short time. Thank you for coming. I know you are here to renew old
friendships rather than to be educated by me on these issues. I shall
speak in that spirit.

When you say security relations, I do not think that you mean only
military cooperation. Security is comprehensive covering safeguarding
national integrity, energy, environment, combating terrorism and
fighting the pandemics. These issues cannot be resolved by any one
country by itself. Cooperation rather than confrontation is the order
of the day. US-India cooperation is imperative in resolving these
issues and we are fully engaged. The cooperation between us will go
forward, regardless of changes in Governments in either country.

The US voted for change, big change, and India voted for no change.
But there has been change in India too in the sense that the Manmohan
Singh Government has been elected with added strength, not held
hostage any longer to the whims and fancies of coalition partners.
Among the many reasons for the victory of the Congress Party, Ashis
Nandy lists out the essential decency of Dr. Manmohan Singh, the
desire of the people to bring down the temperature in politics and to
teach humility to the arrogant leaders of certain parties, who
imagined themselves as Prime Ministers and the support to national
rather than regional causes, such as secularism and pluralism.

I would add two more factors: acceptance of the nuclear deal and a
strategic alliance with the US and a sense that the nation needs a
strong and stable Government to battle terrorism of the Mumbai
variety. If Dr. Manmohan Singh stood up for something in the last five
years, it was for his foreign policy and the credibility of his
Government in dealing with foreign Governments. He would not have been
brought back if there was no acceptance of his foreign policy.
Similarly, his firm diplomatic stand against Pakistan after 26/11 was
broadly approved by the people. The nation felt that a firm, stable
and wise leadership was necessary to deal with such contingencies. The
restrained liberalization policies of the Government and popular
measures like employment schemes and loan waiver for farmers also
played their role.

It must be remembered, however, that the second Manmohan Singh
Government would not go either for a closer embrace with the US or for
unbridled liberalization of the economy. The Government will be more
confident, but will remain in the present path. Suspicion of the
United States and socialism is a part of the psyche of the Congress
leaders also.

India-US relations will be pursued vigorously by both Governments as
its logic is unquestioned, but ironically, at a time when India is in
a position to give priority to them, the US has other priorities and
preoccupations, which have made it less receptive to Indian
sensitivities. The international economic situation has brought
US-China relations to the forefront and there is talk of a “G-2” to
resolve global problems. If the US and China divide the world between
themselves and relegate India to a secondary position in Asia,
India-US relations cannot have the vigour of the Bush era. Similarly,
the nuclear deal will be implemented, but at a slower pace if the US
agenda on non-proliferation stresses the NPT regime as the preferred
route to nuclear disarmament, making India a target rather than a
partner again in non-proliferation. Unless there is agreement on the
sequencing of follow-up measures, the implementation of the nuclear
deal is likely to run into rough weather. Both sides have to steer
clear of hazards and move with determination. As for defence
arrangements, things are likely to move on, as envisaged during the
Bush Administration.

The new Afpak policy of the Obama Administration may also cause
certain discomfort in India if the focus is on what India can do to
make Pakistan feel comfortable enough to fight the Taliban,
Suggestions for concessions on Kashmir to achieve this end have not
been received well in India. The important thing is for the two
countries to engage in a serious discussion to prevent irritants from
emerging in the relationship. We cannot expect President Obama to take
bold initiatives in the first term, but he has pledged continuity in
the recent statements from his Government, notably the speech by
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the US-India Business Council.

You also wanted to hear about the significance of the appointment of a
NRI Minister in the Ministry of External Affairs. Shashi Tharoor lived
abroad most of his life but he remained an Indian citizen throughout.
His appointment is in recognition of his distinction as well as his
impressive victory at the elections. He crossed the hurdles of
dynasty, party hierarchy and election funding on his own and mounted a
successful campaign. His success shows that you do not have to serve
the country in a particular capacity to win recognition. Indian
passport holders have the choice of returning to the country and
entering public life. To that extent, his election and elevation give
reasons for NRIs to feel reassured. As he is a talented and
experienced person, he will do well in any assignment.

Thank you, Rajesh and others for hosting the lunch.

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