Does the Elephant Dance?: Contemporary Indian Foreign Policy

Sep 18, 2011

Former Canadian High Commissioner to India David Malone gives a comprehensive survey of contemporary Indian foreign policy. He begins by focusing on India's geography, history, and capability, and covers relations with the U.S., China, Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

Introduction JOANNE MYERS: Good morning. I am Joanne Myers, director of Public Affairs Programs, and, on behalf of the Carnegie Council, I would like to thank you all for joining us.

It is indeed a wonderful pleasure to welcome back David Malone to our Public Affairs Programs. David will be discussing his book, Does the Elephant Dance?: Contemporary Indian Foreign Policy, which means we are all going to learn a great deal about India this morning.

Always exhilarating, often relentless, and frequently frustrating, still, many would agree that there is no country quite at remarkable as India. For most of its existence, India—although enjoying huge global respect as a successful democracy—has been more concerned with domestic affairs than international events. And though its economic growth has been given much attention, its foreign policy has been less noted. Yet now into the second decade of the 21st century, all that is about to change, as India appears to be on the road to becoming a great power, and, in many ways, a swing state in the global balance of power.

Accordingly, as an economically potent, culturally vibrant, multiethnic, multi-religious democracy outside the geographic West, I believe it is incumbent upon us to learn as much as we can about this soon-to-be-international force.

That being the case, I cannot think of having a better teacher than David to tell us what we need to know. As Canada's high commissioner to India from 2006 and 2008, a nonresident ambassador to Bhutan and Nepal, David, as is characteristic of this talented diplomat, immersed himself in all aspects of India—its history, its politics, and its culture—while he was posted there. In doing so, he gained a breadth of knowledge which in turn provides us with a superb historical analysis for understanding India, and for understanding a country that will profoundly impact on Asia's balance of power, its neighbors, and its place on the world stage.

As I was preparing my remarks to introduce David to those of you who may not have heard him speak before, I thought about how I would describe him. As someone who is curious, thoughtful, analytical, perceptive, and, in this case, exercises his intellect by focusing on challenging tasks. The one word that kept coming back to me, above all others, was scholar. Throughout his career he has, at various times, been historian, teacher, philosopher, and visionary. Whether president of the International Peace Academy, Canadian ambassador to the UN, author, coauthor, or editor of several books on the United Nations, or as a teacher at Columbia, NYU Law School, and now the University of Toronto, David is always lucid, always focused. Currently, David is president of the International Development Research Center in Canada.

For anyone who is interested in India or South Asia and wants to make sense of the many transitions under way as India begins to engage with the world, I would suggest that a reading of Can the Elephant Dance? would be extremely worthwhile, as this is one book that is so comprehensive that it is unlikely to be surpassed by any other any time soon.

Please join me in welcoming a very special friend, David Malone. Thank you for joining us.

Remarks DAVID MALONE: Thank you very much, and it is kind of you all to get up early in the morning to subject yourselves to some thoughts on Indian foreign policy.

I had not intended, when I went to India, to write about it. I had hoped actually to teach at India's great graduate university, JNU [Jawaharlal Nehru University] in Delhi, but that turned out to be difficult. So the book in a way was a consolation prize for that not being possible.

I noticed, because I was looking before I went to India, and when I was first there, for a survey of Indian foreign policy, and actually didn't find one— I found a number of books on certain aspects of Indian foreign policy and a number of essays that were very worthwhile, but nothing recent that tried to integrate the various bits and pieces. So I thought that might be worthwhile.

While I was in India, I didn't get very far, but on leaving India—I missed it very much—I accelerated the project. The institution I work in in Canada, the International Development Research Center, is very heavily invested in India. You might think it's a think tank. It is not. It is actually an institution that funds research in the developing world. In India we are currently funding about 150 projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars. With the Gates and Hewlett Foundations in this country, and the British and Dutch governments, we are funding what we believe to be the most promising Indian think tanks at the moment. So India is a country that continues to draw me in.

Just one more word about the book itself. Indians joke that when Henry Kissinger writes about India, he quotes Henry Kissinger. It is, I am afraid, an occupational hazard with Kissinger. But the trouble is, when Indians write about foreign policy, they also quote Henry Kissinger, and forget to quote their own authors and politicians. My determination was that the vast majority of my sources, the people I would talk to, the people who would, in effect, shape the book, would be Indians; and about 85 percent of the book is sourced from Indian quarters.

What shapes the foreign policy of any country? There are a number of ways once could slice and dice it. But I think history, geography, and capability are the three headings in which I will organize my brief remarks this morning.

History. We have a sense in the West of Indian history because we have a sense of great civilizations, great religions in antiquity arising out of India, flowing east towards the rest of Asia; not just Buddhism but also Hinduism, which got a very serious toehold in places as far afield as Indonesia.

India was also very hospitable to other religions, unlike so many countries. So Islam is a major presence in India. And Christianity—there are more Christians in India than there are in Canada. So the sense of civilizational flow out of India, but also into India from other parts of the world, is very important to understanding the diversity of the country over time.

What we think of as India today, a sort of unified country, occurred a number of times over history under short-lived empires. But by and large what we think of as India today was a set of smaller kingdoms, sometimes republics, sometimes other political entities. When the British came to India, first establishing a toehold in south India, India was in one of its phases of disintegration. The great Mughal Empire was falling apart. Its control was really only in the north of the country around Delhi, and it was actually quite easy for the British to establish control, ostensibly, in the form of the East India Company, over India.

There is a sense in the West, a profoundly mistaken sense in the West, that the British Empire was an unalloyed good for India. There were a number of positive features of it, and there is a positive inheritance of the British Empire, notably the Westminster parliamentary system, that the Indians cleave to. The rudiments of an independent judiciary started under the Brits, the railroads, a few other things.

But actually, in economic terms, the Brits were an unalloyed disaster for India. The British Empire in India was a project of economic exploitation. It was hugely successful for the Brits; it was catastrophic for the Indians.

Over the last 20 or 30 years, economic historians, or historians with an interest in economics, and a number of economists with an interest in history, have been trying to map out what the world looked like economically in centuries gone by. A number of interesting publications have come out of the OECD [Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development] and other places.

They calculate that, as a general proposition, China, over the millennia, contributed about 25 percent of global output at any given time, with variations, and India, anywhere between 18 and 20 percent, with variations.

When the British came to India, India was contributing perhaps 17 percent to global output. When the British left, India was contributing 2 percent of global output. That's all one needs to know about the British Empire in India. It fueled the Industrial Revolution in Britain, but there was no industrial revolution in India itself. The British saw to that.

The same might be said also of British influence in China, which was linked to British interests in India. When it became difficult for India to finance its trade with China, the great Indian novelist Amitav Ghosh describes how the British encouraged the poppy trade, the heroin trade, in effect between India and China, in order to finance their own purchases of tea from China.

So the Indians have very little reason to look back fondly on the British Empire, and their generosity towards it is surprising in some ways.

India's first prime minister, Nehru, was already thinking about Indian foreign policy in the 1920s and 1930s when he had lots of time on his hands sampling the hospitality of His Majesty's jails. Like de Gaulle and Churchill, he was a prodigious writer. He wrote enormously during the 1920s and 1930s. Then when he was a prime minister as of 1947, he continued to write prodigiously but in the forum of letters and memoranda and so on. It is an extraordinary experience to read him.

How did he see India's foreign policy shaping up? He saw it as primarily anti-colonial, although he was personally a great Anglophile. He saw it, secondarily, as primarily Asian and, indeed, convened in New Delhi, even before independence, a conference of Asian powers as the British were packing their bags.

Finally, on history, I would say that since independence, there have been three periods of Indian foreign policy. Again, it could be sliced and diced any numbers of ways. This is my way of doing it.

Nehru's major preoccupation was to keep India at arm's length from the Cold War. His way of doing so came to be crystallized in the notion of non-alignment. Curiously, he was never a fan of the Non-aligned Movement. He thought that was a nonsense. But the philosophy of nonalignment, the instrument, so to speak, guiding Indian foreign policy, was to remain free of the entanglements of the Cold War, which led to lasting divisions with Washington, because Washington couldn't understand the greatest democracy of Asia not lining up with the West in the Cold War.

Under Nehru, by and large, there was a sense of idealism in Indian foreign policy, more than perhaps hard realism. And it came to a hard end with the border war that occurred with China in 1962 that China comprehensively won, India comprehensively lost. This induced a sense in India that perhaps India had to be more alert to its own interests in the future.

Nehru died soon thereafter. His daughter, Indira Gandhi, after a hiatus of two years under another Indian prime minister, took over.

She might be described as a hard realist. She took India's interests very seriously. She aligned India much more on the Soviet Union than the mythology of Indian foreign policy at the time allowed. This was a necessity in many ways because, India having rejected Washington, in a sense, in the early 1950s, Washington had aligned quite happily on Pakistan. China also had aligned quite happily on Pakistan. So India needed a major international power on its side. And the remaining major international power was Moscow.

Moscow had little to offer India, but could protect India, for example, in the UN Security Council. When India intervened in the Bangladesh war of independence, which in effect partitioned Pakistan, it would have been condemned in the UN Security Council, were it not for a Russian veto or a Soviet veto at the time.

After 1990, India having gone broke in 1990 for a variety of reasons, a painful decision after years of socialism was made to more fully liberalize the economy than had been done by Rajiv Gandhi. That introduced a new period of intensely pragmatic foreign policy centered on India's economic self-interest.

Security factors matter, of course, and there were significant security worries all over Asia. But the primary driver, I would argue, of Indian foreign policy is Indian prosperity. Whatever is good for Indian prosperity will be pursued.

Geography. When you are a Canadian, as I am, you realize that geography has been very kind to our country. To the south we have the United States, which has been pretty tolerant of its occasionally irritating northern neighbor. To the north we have "General Winter," completely impassable, and on either side huge oceans which are pretty impassable.

India is in a very different situation. It is in a very fractious neighborhood, although it is by far the largest and most powerful country of its subregion, South Asia. Many of its neighbors present difficulties of various sorts.

One tends to think in the West immediately of Pakistan. Pakistan has been a challenge for India, just as Pakistanis feel India is a major challenge for them. They have engaged in a number of wars and more recently a number of skirmishes. But actually, today, with India reaching out to the global sphere, sitting at the global table of influence, the G-20, which Pakistan does not, there is a sense in India of wanting to outgrow its region, wanting to reach beyond its immediate region.

When I was in Pakistan for the final interviews for the book and was chatting with a number of very impressive Pakistanis, several of them said, "What we can't stand about India today is the sense of them pulling away from us."

We tend to forget that Pakistan, in the first 30 years after partition, did much better economically than India. Pakistan was on its way to being the big success story of South Asia, while India was mired in the effects of socialism and not doing very well. But after 1970, the roles reversed in terms of economic growth. And so today, in real terms, Pakistani growth is flat, and India has been growing quite a bit.

We can come back to Pakistan in the question and answer period if you like.

But, actually, Indians are much more concerned with another neighbor. If you look at a map of India, what you notice is the entire north of India is overhung by Tibet. As long as Tibet was Tibet, nobody in India worried particularly. But in 1950 China militarily took over Tibet, and the neighbor became not Tibet, but China.

In China a new government led by Mao Zedong, a government that Nehru cultivated very actively, saw himself as a champion of, spent time introducing Zhou Enlai around at the Bandung conference thinking he was doing China a great favor. The Chinese did not perceive Nehru this way. In fact Zhou Enlai said to a group of Western journalists a few years later of Nehru, "I have never met a more arrogant man." So the downward slide in Indian-Chinese relations started quite early, and long before Nehru realized it had started, and culminated in the border war I mentioned.

Indians today think of China a lot. There is much they admire about China, China's success. But they worry about it because China is three times bigger than India, it is three times richer in terms of total GDP, and it is three times richer in terms of GDP per capita. That is a big gap. And considering that China still is growing, if the statistics are to be believed, faster than India, the gap is growing rather than shrinking.

So it is a concern, particularly at a time when China is investing heavily in military hardware. India, by the way, is investing heavily in military hardware, also, quite a lot of it American. So China is really the big worry, because coming back to Nehru's vision of India as primarily an Asian power, the two powers in Asia in the 21st century are likely to be China and India vying with each other, I think without going to war against each other, for influence and economic success.

What India and China have is momentum, and what Japan, a very rich and successful country, lacks is momentum today, as its growth has been flat for so long.

Capability. I mentioned that the British left India in a very impoverished state. One of the final marking events of British rule in India was the West Bengal famine, or the Bengal famine of 1943. Three million died.

The best advertisement for democracy, if you think of it, is that prior to Indian independence, particularly under the British, there were significant famines in India in different parts of the country quite regularly, claiming many, many lives. Since independence, there has never been a famine in India again. Democratic government, the need to be elected every four or five years, guarantees that you're tending to the voters. The British didn't have to worry about the voters.

The British did not will the Bengal famine, of course. By 1943, Britain was broke. It was unable to govern India or much of the rest of the empire particularly well. But I make the point simply so that you understand just how poor India was at the time of partition.

Nehru invested heavily in science when India became independent, which had all sorts of long-lasting effects; for example, India's space program today, which launches more satellites internationally than any other except the European Space Agency; the science work also focused on weaponry—India has been quite successful, including in the nuclear field, on that—but, as well, on agriculture and many other areas, including medicine.

What we see since 1990, when India's economic growth really started accelerating, is an India that has, as I mentioned, momentum, has growing capability, and indulges in diplomacy we barely notice in the West. Of course, it is a member of the Security Council at the moment, so here in New York, India is more in mind than usual. But actually a lot of Indian diplomacy focuses on groups like IBSA—India, Brazil, South Africa—which is a private-sector-driven group of the leading democracies of their continents; the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which is about Central Asia and organized by Russia and China primarily. India is an observer.

So their diplomacy is not typical of Western diplomacy. NATO, largely irrelevant to them; UN, useful at times but secondary overall. Why? Because India's diplomacy is relentlessly bilateral, establishing good relations with individual countries that can serve India's interests, primarily economic but secondarily security.

It has reached the G-20, and it is influential in the G-20 because the prime minister of India, Dr. Singh, is a leading international economist of his generation. So when he speaks in the G-20, people listen.

But I want to conclude on capability by one handicap Indian foreign policy suffers from, which is the intensity of domestic politics in India. The United States also has very intense domestic politics that occasionally crowd out the international sphere, and a sense of U.S. interests, beyond its borders. In India, domestic politics are much more intense than in this country, so the bandwidth available in the political world, particularly in New Delhi, for foreign affairs is very, very limited compared to most countries. That is in a sense an outgrowth of the vibrancy of Indian democracy.

I will conclude with four characteristics of Indian foreign policy. I mentioned that Nehru was determined to keep the Cold War at bay, and he was somewhat successful in that. His quest for autonomy at the international level remains at the heart of Indian foreign policy thinking. The Indian nightmare is to fall under the domination of one of the other powers in the world today. So a lot of its behavior internationally that puzzles its friends has to do with the quest for autonomy.

Secondly, what geostrategists like to call India's strategic restraint. India is a country with very significant military powers. It doesn't use them much abroad. It uses them quite a bit domestically because there are a variety of insurgencies within India.

But if you think of its history with Pakistan since the Bangladesh war of independence, which involved an Indian intervention into Pakistan as it then was, India has shown great restraint. There have been several provocations involving Pakistanis—the Kargil skirmish in 1999, the Mumbai bombings and attacks of 2008. India has largely allowed these to be intermediated with Pakistan generally by the United States rather than seeking to respond militarily, which is always a temptation in these circumstances.

Third, the economic priority in its foreign policy I already mentioned.

Finally, a mystery to those of us in the West: the lack of a significant soft-power thrust in Indian foreign policy. You would think that Indian democracy, the very impressive struggle for human rights in India, the vibrancy of Indian civil society, the vibrancy of its politics, would all be themes of Indian foreign policy that it would, in a sense, root some of its foreign policy in.

But, because its foreign policy is above all bilateral, India doesn't make much of its democracy, its own society. Its soft power, in effect, is retailed mostly through a very successful advertising campaign many of you will remember, the "Incredible India" advertising campaign, which is mainly about early Indian civilizations—stupendous monuments, tourism, and nice beaches. Nothing about the nature of Indian society, which I would argue is its strongest suit and a very strong suit indeed.

If you think of the odds against the survival of Indian unity in 1947, when the British left the country divided with many principalities not yet integrated into India, if you think of the likelihood of Indian democracy surviving in all of its vibrancy in India, in a continent where democracy beyond the trappings of elections hasn't fared very well in most countries, those were very, very long odds. And I would like to see my Indian friends make more of their success in terms of what they are as a polity and as a society.

I will stop there.

Questions and Answers QUESTION: Susan Gitelson.

Mr. Ambassador, David, it is so good to have you back with us because you're so enlightening and so clear.

There is one word, though, that you didn't mention, and that's Kashmir, within the context of Indian-Pakistani relations.

But one of the hopes of conflict resolution is that a conflict could almost disappear because it is no longer that significant. There have been incidents with Kashmir, because it's such a valuable territory. But on the other hand, there have been many attempts of Indian and Pakistani diplomats trying to come together and paper over these things. So would you expand on that?

When you were talking about Indian-Chinese competition, after all, both countries have more than a billion people, so there are great prospects. Now, we know there are many very capable Indians, let's say in technology. Many of them have come here to Silicon Valley. They've done so well. So the brain power in India is enormous.

On the other hand, just recently there has been such a movement to be more inclusive, to control corruption and this counting eyes, to have everybody count, everybody counted and everyone count. So what effect is this going to have on international diplomacy?

Thank you very much, Susan. It's lovely to see you again. In fact it's lovely to see many friends in the room.

First on Kashmir, it has been an open sore in the relationship between India and Pakistan. And it has also colored India's views of the UN, because when Nehru took the issue to the UN in 1947 and 1948, he expected India, which had been subject to aggression in Kashmir, to be supported by the UN. But the Security Council, as it so often does, came up with a Solomonic decision, and Indians have been profoundly unhappy with that ever since.

The reality is that in Kashmir a number of things have changed. First of all, I would say in recent years, because of the radicalization obvious in Pakistani society, Kashmiris, who by and large are pretty easygoing in the Kashmir Valley, I would say, have become less attracted to the Pakistani model. Kashmiris in the Kashmir Valley would like Kashmir to be independent. Very few of them would like to be Pakistani at this point. That is a very fundamental shift relative to 40 or 50 years ago when probably many in the Kashmir Valley would have preferred to be Pakistani.

My argument in the book, which may seem a rather tangential one, is that while the dispute between Pakistan and India over Kashmir goes on on track two, as you mentioned being discussed, what India could do itself without any reference to Pakistan is lighten its military occupation of the Kashmir Valley, which is completely unnecessary at its current levels of intensity, redeploy the army simply around the border with Pakistan, and let the Kashmiris live a life without daily repression of the Indian security apparatus.

Why? Because the Indian government insists that these Kashmiris must be Indian citizens. Why not treat them like Indian citizens? is my argument. So this is something I think that will eventually occur in India.

But one leitmotif in political dialogue in India, and one worry of the body politick in India, is always that somehow the government is going to sell out India and India's interests vis-à-vis Pakistan, and particularly on Kashmir. So successive prime ministers have often come to the brink of interesting initiatives on Kashmir. Perves Musharraf in Pakistan came to the brink of a very interesting possible agreement with India, but found himself too weak, by then, to sell it to the Pakistani Parliament and, in particular, to sell it to the Pakistani army.

India being a democracy, the prime minister of India has to be able to sell to the Indian Parliament, and no party in India has a majority of the Indian Parliament anymore, any agreement on Pakistan, or anything else of significance. So it has been difficult for the leaders of the two countries to muster support for an agreement, and that is why I argue for a unilateral Indian move to relieve the distress of Kashmiris in the Kashmir Valley.

China and India, happily, have totally complementary economies, if you think of it. India is particularly good at design, engineering, and services. China is really into manufacturing, as we know, and exporting. Actually, if the two countries were to make use of the complementarities, they could probably build their already impressive trade—because China is India's principal trading partner today—into something even more substantive.

This high level of trade between China and India—they both complain about each other's shoddy goods, but they buy an awful lot of them—actually is a huge stabilizer in the relationship. If you have a very strong economic relationship with a neighbor you have other problems with, the other problems you may arrange to manage somewhat more peacefully than if you have no economic interests in the other partner.

So I would say there are many reasons to believe that China and India will manage their competition well. I would be very surprised if full-scale hostilities broke out between them again, because it is simply a no-win situation for either of them to get into a major conflict with the other.

Rita Hauser.

Nice to see you again, David, as everybody.

I have two questions apropos your final remarks about civil society. One, India will soon surpass China in population, growing even more rapidly, and it has a vast number—I don't know how many hundreds of millions—in abject poverty, which has not changed in any manner over the independence years compared to China. That, I think, is a very significant difference. I would like you to comment on that.

Then the dominant party, the Congress Party, practices a form of dynastic politics. Is that ever going to evolve into something more normal than yet another Gandhi?

DAVID MALONE: Two interesting questions, Rita, and thank you very much. Rita was the chair of the board of the International Peace Academy when several of us here were working for it, and she was a fabulous chair, and Ann Phillips was an absolutely wonderful board member also for us.

Now, on Rita's question about China and India, you are quite right that China has been very successful at reducing ultra-poverty in China. It is now down to, at most, 200 million, probably less actually. It is very hard to compare statistics across Asia. But there is no doubt that China has been quite successful, and there is no doubt that India has been very unsuccessful at fighting ultra-poverty.

In fact, India's prime minister, Dr. Singh, was asked a few years ago about India as a great power. He looked at the journalist rather sadly and he said, "How can a country with hundreds of millions of poor even think about itself as a great power?" There is, as often with Dr. Singh, great truth in those words.

I think the hope is in India somehow that private sector success in India will lift all boats. There is some evidence that long-held policies of population planning are beginning to work in India. Families are much smaller in the poorest regions of India than they were 20 or 30 years ago. But government programs in India fail the poor extensively and repeatedly.

India is trying a technological approach now. It is trying to circumvent corruption by sending the proceeds of social programs directly to the poor through cell phones, through bank accounts, through a national identity card system. Will that work better? I would like to think so, except it has always seemed to me that those who were determined to be corrupt are always a step ahead of those with the solutions.

Corruption is a terrible blight in India. Although we all focus on the politicians in India being corrupt—and many of them are, sadly—I am afraid it takes two to transact a corrupt undertaking, and the Indian private sector actually fuels corruption in India also.

So major problem there, major problem over the last year—the principal political issue of debate in India today, and an issue that has weakened the Indian prime minister tremendously. Nobody believes Dr. Singh himself is anything but a paragon of integrity but, unfortunately, his government has been somewhat less.

This relates, I think, to your second point, the nature of Indian democracy and politics. The attraction of dynastic rule is, I would say, South Asian-wide, probably, not just India. If you think of Bangladesh, if you think of Pakistan, if you think of Sri Lanka, all of them have had political dynasties under democratic rule.

In India, I think, Nehru would have been deeply distressed at the outcome. I don't think he had any intention whatsoever that his family would be perpetuated in power. He was indeed not succeeded by a Gandhi family member. It was only when Prime Minister Shastri unexpectedly died after only two years in office that the Congress Party thought the Nehru/Gandhi name would be useful for electoral purposes.

I would like to be able to say that dynastic politics will eventually yield to some other form of—how can I say?—democratic dynamic in India. But all the signs point in the opposite direction. If you look at Indian state politics, which are at least as important as federal or union politics, as they are called in India, most of them are even more dynastic than central politics. While we tend to focus on the Gandhi family, there are a number of other families that from generation to generation produced members of Parliament, ministers, and so on.

I happen to believe, like the great young Indian historian, Ramachandra Guha, that this is a tragedy for South Asia, that most countries with advanced democracy have tried to free themselves from dynastic rule except in a very limited constitutional form. But I fear this will need to run its course in India for probably a couple more generations, until perhaps there is a failure so spectacular of some dynastic politician, that the population will revolt against the idea.

QUESTION: John Hirsch from the International Peace Institute.

First of all, David, thank you again for a really very cogent and wonderful presentation.

David, I wanted to ask you to speak about two countries, one that you have mentioned briefly and one you have not mentioned at all, one being the United States, and if you could talk something about the current relationship between the United States and India, particularly this nuclear arrangement a couple of years ago, whether you think that was a good idea or not a good idea; and more generally, whether you think the United States has an importance for India given your emphasis on the regional focus.

Then, secondly, Iran, which you have not mentioned, which is a neighbor of India's, and whether Indian foreign policy is concerned about Iran, concerned about Ahmadinejad and so on, or whether it just takes a kind of hands-off approach and leaves it alone.

I thought if you could comment on those two, that would be great.

DAVID MALONE: Great. Well, first on the United States, I mentioned that, early on, India having rebuffed Washington's advances on joining its side in the Cold War, the relationship became an increasingly difficult one, even though India was kept afloat in terms of feeding the population by very generous U.S. food aid that continued throughout the 1950s and 1960.

Indira Gandhi, in particular, had a very confrontational relationship with President Johnson over Vietnam, notably, but there were other subjects of difference also. Kissinger and Nixon had a famously poisonous relationship with Indira Gandhi, leading to some of the ugliest phrases that either man was associated with, and again, tangling with Indira Gandhi was no gift for any interlocutor.

I think the United States actually initiated the warming of the relationship with India. I think it was the U.S. private sector that was behind it. I think Washington was in its rut of thinking of the Indians as irritating and counterproductive to American designs, when the U.S. private sector woke up to this spurt of growth in India and, as Rita pointed out, a spurt of growth with a huge population, a huge market, a potential huge market for the United States. India has become the principal client for Boeing, for example, outside the United States in terms of civilian aircraft.

So the private sector in the United States, I think, was looking for an improvement in the sort of government-to-government relationship as well. With the Kargil conflict in 1999, which struck so many of us as extremely dangerous, as Pakistan and India had both tested nuclear weapons only a year earlier, the mediation by the United States, which was successful, that Strobe Talbott led, was followed by something nobody internationally noticed. Strobe stayed behind in India to start talking about a revolutionized relationship between India and the United States.

The clock ran out on the Clinton Administration, but the second Bush Administration, for which most foreign policy initiatives had failed, by I would say about 2005, the beginning of the second President Bush's second term, was looking for a success story somewhere. It devoted enormous energy and the talents of a number of very, I think, energetic and smart professionals in Washington to negotiating a better relationship with India through the proxy of an agreement on nuclear cooperation.

After India's first nuclear test in 1974, the United States largely organized the nonproliferation system as we know it today and organized India's isolation in nuclear terms. This effort was an effort to try to release India from the nuclear paradigm on which it had been placed after 1974, in the belief that this would yield a revolutionized overall relationship with India. It was successful in 2008. All of the other nuclear technology powers agreed to bless the agreement.

It has not yielded actually everything Washington was hoping for. Why? India's quest for autonomy is what it always was. So, for India, when it is useful for India to do business with the United States, it will.

But, for example, on weaponry, India supplies itself from a very wide range of sources, from Russia to Israel, to Europe, to the United States. And it will never trust the United States sufficiently, in my view, to become solely reliant on the U.S.A. for anything. That runs against every fiber of its foreign policy and strategic thinking.

But was the agreement between India and the United States a win for both sides? Yes, I think very much so. Indians, when polled, show themselves to be the most pro-American population anywhere in the world outside the United States. Only Americans are more pro-American than Indians. But it doesn't mean that the Indian elite, particularly the Indian political elite, is free yet of its worries about U.S. domination.

So I think there is still a road to go in the relationship. But I do think the nuclear deal was a good thing for both India and the United States.

Iran. What is interesting about Iran is there is no disagreement at all between the analysis in New Delhi, and the analysis in Washington, of what's going on in Iran on the nuclear front, and on other fronts. Complete agreement on what's going on in Iran, but complete disagreement on the strategy. Indians do not, by and large, believe that coercive measures against countries that are significant countries work. They don't see how they can work.

Secondly, India has historic ties with Iran, going back to the Mughals and the Safavid Empire in Persia and well before that, that argue against wholesale deterioration in relationships with Iran.

Finally, a lot of India's oil comes from Iran, and that is not a small preoccupation in a country that imports at least 70 percent of its oil and gas.

So, where Washington and India disagree is on strategy, the strategy of isolation and sanctions against Iran. First, Indians actually don't believe it will work. Secondly, it is not in their interests. On the one hand, India votes with the United States at the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency], because it agrees that Iran is toying with a nuclear weapons program. No problem with that. On the other hand, it disagrees with Washington on other aspects of its policy. And that is going to be what the relationship between India and the United States will be like.

I would add, though, that one thing has changed in Asia because, again, Asia is actually where much of the action is now. With China's stupendous rise and in particular its naval rearmament program—in South East Asia and other parts of Asia which had become rather detached from the United States, a sense that the United States was no longer really relevant to the region—there actually is a lot of worry about China's rise.

The end result of this is quiet comfort that the United States is still a major naval presence and power in Asian waters, and also that the Indian navy is beefing up. And the thought, not that the United States and India will work together on everything in every circumstance, but that there will be these two other presences in the region. This won't necessarily contain China's rise, but it can qualify the notion that the 21st century will be China's century rather than perhaps Asia's century, more likely.

QUESTION: My name is Krishen Mehta. I am with Price Waterhouse Coopers.

David, you do more justice to India's foreign policy than any Indian diplomat I've heard, so I salute you.

My question really relates to an area you touched briefly, and that is the Afghanistan-Pakistan area. I think one of the things that is not so publicly known is that India is one of the largest donors of aid to Afghanistan. In fact, in spite of its impoverishment, India is spending over a billion dollars to build an Afghan parliament.

Now, with the instability in Afghanistan and the expected withdrawal of the American troops, I am sure there is a lot of concern in India's foreign policy circles as to the outcome of that. In fact, this morning there was a major rocket attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul, which Indian foreign policy people are probably deliberating on because it affects India in a big way.

What do you think are some consequences to India with American withdrawal, with continued instability in Afghanistan and the impact it has on Pakistan?

DAVID MALONE: I am glad you raised this. Because, in fact, I would argue that one of the mistakes of Western policy in Afghanistan has been to think that NATO could achieve significant outcomes on its own in a place as distant from Europe, from the transatlantic region, as Afghanistan, without taking into account the neighbors, and not just Pakistan, which has been taken into account, but other neighbors like China, like Iran, like India, which all have a stake in Afghanistan.

I think if we had to do Afghanistan all over again in the West, we might involve regional powers more, which actually Lakhdar Brahimi had sought to do at the Bonn conference, at the very outset of international sort of peacemaking involvement in Afghanistan. But then NATO sort of blew that away. "We are NATO, don't you know?"

So India's route to trying to maintain a significant role in Afghanistan, which has again profound historic links to India, was this reconstruction program you mentioned, which is a very significant one. Well over a billion dollars have been spent, and many of the projects have been quite successful—road building, hospital building, things like that.

India's embassy has been twice attacked in Kabul, very seriously both times, very high casualties. India would like not to lose its historic role in Afghanistan. There has been quite a lot of discussion between the Indian government and, for example, the Russian government about, well, what do we do about our interests in Afghanistan, as you say, as NATO withdraws?

There is sometimes thought of trying to revive the Northern Alliance with, perhaps, Iran. It strikes me that returning to the past isn't terribly helpful for Afghanistan.

India was the most reluctant international party to the idea of talks with the Taliban—it was probably the last country to endorse that—but has endorsed that now. I think the Indian government, the Indian Parliament, has to accept that Pakistan is going to play a larger role in Afghanistan than India can and seek an accommodation where India can play a significant and helpful role alongside Pakistan, which hopefully will also play a more significant and helpful role.

I think this idea that India can somehow prevail in Afghanistan against Pakistan is a fantasy which needs to be exploded in India.

QUESTION: Ann Phillips. I am still on the board of the International Peace Institute.


QUESTIONER: David, I always learn from you, always, and this was no exception today. Thank you for this wonderful presentation.

This is a very short statement. I can't resist telling you of an experience I had. I was on the board of not the IPI [International Peace Institute], it was another foreign policy organization. We thought it would be interesting to have two presentations: one week have the Indian ambassador to talk to us, and then the following week the Pakistani ambassador.

India had acquired its nuclear capability. I am not sure that Pakistan had reached it yet. I don't remember. Both ambassadors I knew, and I know that you knew both of them too.

India was the first week. The ambassador rose, very graciously introduced himself, spoke about—well, I don't remember with great detail, and you'll understand why when I tell you this story, but he was very restrained. There were a lot of questions about Pakistan, and he was very objective, very diplomatic, and very interesting.

The following week the ambassador from Pakistan was introduced. He got up and he said, "You know, America and Pakistan have a great deal in common. In your history and the way we feel, the only good Indian is a dead Indian."

Well, you can understand why I don't remember anything he said after that, nor do I remember what the previous ambassador, the Indian ambassador said.

I just couldn't resist telling you this little anecdote. I don't know whether one can draw conclusions from it. You speak about Indian restraint. I don't know, but anyhow, I wanted to convey this to you.

DAVID MALONE: Thank you.

Well, just a word on that. Actually, I felt tremendous sadness when I visited Pakistan for my final interviews. It's a country I love, and I have many Pakistani friends.

It has been going through a very bad time now for about 10-12 years. It has a sense of being tremendously embattled, not just in terms of India, but much has been moving against it, both in terms of its economic performance, in terms of its political management. And even its traditional alliances with China and the United States have become more frayed. We are aware in the West of some of the chasms between the United States and Pakistan on several issues.

Actually, and equally interestingly, China has been expressing public concern, which is unusual for China, about Muslim extremism in Pakistan, and it finding its way into western China. When China says things officially, it is quite deliberate.

So the Pakistanis I think today feel very much under siege. I wish them well with their new democracy. I hope it survives. The Pakistani army has no solutions to Pakistan's problems, and the only solutions to Pakistan's problems will come from the type of vibrant democracy that India has been able to construct.

So thank you very much.

JOANNE MYERS: Thank you, David, for our own special tutorial.

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