By Lally Weymouth
Sunday, November 22, 2009
NEW DELHI -- Wearing white robes and a blue turban, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appeared relaxed last week as he discussed his upcoming state visit to Washington. Singh, 77, will meet with President Obama this week at a time when many Indians fear that Obama will focus less on India than did previous American administrations, particularly as the U.S.-Chinese relationship grows in importance. Singh sat down in his New Delhi residence with Newsweek-Washington Post's Lally Weymouth to discuss terrorism, trade and why it is critical that the United States not abandon Afghanistan. Excerpts:
You are President Obama's first official state visitor. What would you like to accomplish in Washington?
We are strategic partners. We have good relations. But there is a new administration in America. So it is appropriate that I should renew our partnership.
Will you and the president announce any new initiatives? How might India and the United States cooperate in the future?
We have a landmark agreement with the United States on nuclear cooperation. We would like to operationalize it and ensure that the objectives for the nuclear deal are realized in full. My hope is that we can persuade the U.S. administration to be more liberal when it comes to transferring technologies to us. The restrictions make no sense. India has an impeccable record of not participating in any proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. So that's my number one concern.
I also think that India and the United States could be partners in refocusing our attention on an equitable, balanced global order.
What does that mean?
We would like to strengthen energy cooperation with the United States -- [in] clean coal technology and in renewable energy resources. Similarly, there is concern for food security. We would like to have a second Green Revolution in our country -- therefore, cooperation in the field of agriculture, in science and technology, in health, and in dealing with pandemics.
How do you see Afghanistan?
I hope the United States and the global community will stay involved in Afghanistan. A victory for the Taliban in Afghanistan would have catastrophic consequences for the world, particularly for South Asia, for Central Asia and for the Middle East. Religious fundamentalism in the 1980s was used to defeat the Soviet Union. If this same group of people that defeated the Soviet Union now defeats the other major power, this would embolden them in a manner which could have catastrophic consequences for the world.
We [in India] of course have more immediate concerns. We are victims of terrorism and the extremist ideologies of the type that the Taliban represent. If this is not checked, this could destabilize our country.
Do you believe there is a close connection between al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban?
There is a close connection. They are chips off the same block.
How do you feel about Afghan President Hamid Karzai?
President Karzai's regime is not perfect. There are problems of improving governance. But you cannot transform Afghanistan overnight. It is going to be a long-term affair. Democracy, as the West understands it, may not be introduced in a short period of time in Afghanistan. But the very fact that millions of Afghan children, including millions of girls, are now in school, when none was in school when the Taliban was in power, shows some human freedom. One has to take a balanced view. Now that President Karzai has been reelected, I think the time has come that the global community should rally behind him.
How do you assess the situation in Pakistan?
We are concerned about the rise of terrorism in Pakistan. We have been the victims of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism for a long time. Now if the Taliban and al-Qaeda type of terror, which in the past was located in the FATA area [Federally Administered Tribal Areas] of Pakistan, gets transferred to the mainland of Pakistan, I think it has very serious consequences for our own security. We would not like terrorism to lead to a situation where the civilian government is only a nominal government.
Don't you think that's the situation now?
I'm not saying that's the situation now. But obviously al-Qaeda and the terrorists have a grip over several parts of Pakistan.
Do you think the Pakistanis are trying as hard as they can?
As far as Afghanistan is concerned, I'm not sure whether the United States and Pakistan have the same objectives. Pakistan would like Afghanistan to be under its control. And they would like the United States to get out soon. The U.S. objectives are to get Pakistan to deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan. But I don't see Pakistan wholeheartedly in support of action against the Taliban in Afghanistan. They are of course taking action against the Taliban, but only when it threatens the supremacy of the army.
So does that leave India and the United States able to cooperate against the Taliban?
We have supported the strong presence of the international community in Afghanistan. We have provided substantial resources for the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan, about $1.2 billion. We would like to do more and believe we can do it more effectively than any other aid donor. We are involved in strengthening schools, health care and electricity.
People in the United States don't understand why we are in Afghanistan.
I hope the U.S. public understands where it all started after 9/11. If al-Qaeda had not had a home in Afghanistan, maybe 9/11 would never have taken place. God forbid if al-Qaeda gets another strong foothold in Afghanistan.
Would you like to see the president send more troops to Afghanistan, as Gen. Stanley McChrystal has suggested?
I have no fixed views about the number of troops. But it is very important that both the U.S. and the global community stay engaged in Afghanistan.
Might there be a civil war in Afghanistan if the United States withdraws?
There is that danger.
Regarding Pakistan, is the most important matter to see the terrorist groups brought under control?
We have been the victims of Pakistan-aided, -abetted and -inspired terrorism for nearly 25 years. We would like the United States to use all its influence with Pakistan to desist from that path. Pakistan has nothing to fear from India. It's a tragedy that Pakistan has come to the point of using terror as an instrument of state policy.
What do you expect to achieve in Washington?
Nuclear cooperation, cooperation in education, closer linkages between the university systems of our two countries, cooperation in health -- working together to devise new vaccines.
What do you expect to achieve during the upcoming Copenhagen summit on climate change and control of carbon emissions?
The developed countries have an obligation to perform with regard to the reduction of emissions. I hope that Copenhagen will reaffirm that. Without the United States giving a lead, I don't see a deal at Copenhagen that can become a reality. We recognize our own responsibilities, but we recognize that dealing with climate change is a responsibility of all humanity. We have put in place a national action plan to deal with climate change.
Do you worry about Iran getting a nuclear weapon?
I met recently with the Iranian foreign minister. We did discuss the nuclear question. The message he left with me was that they feel encouraged by the messages they are receiving from the Obama administration.
Is your aim to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon?
Iran is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It must have all the privileges that go with being a member of the NPT, [including] the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. It also has all the obligations that go with NPT membership. Therefore, I think nuclear weapons are not an option.
But many observers believe that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program.
I had the pleasure of [meeting] the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency a few weeks ago, and he was not so sure that Iran is definitely working towards a nuclear weapon.
You entered into talks with Gen. Pervez Musharraf when he was head of Pakistan. Are there any steps to be taken now with Pakistan?
We are committed to resolve all the outstanding issues with Pakistan through bilateral negotiations. Our only condition is that Pakistan should not allow its territory to be used for acts of terrorism against India. If Pakistan really honors that commitment, we can go back to negotiations to resolve all outstanding issues between us.
If you look at Mumbai, the Pakistanis apparently were not honoring the agreement.
As far as the perpetrators of the Mumbai massacre are concerned, [Pakistan] has taken some steps but not enough.
Do you worry about another Mumbai?
Every day I receive intelligence reports saying that terrorists based in Pakistan are planning other similar acts.
Do you see China as a threat, a trading partner or both?
China has emerged as a major trading partner with us. But we have problems with China with regard to our boundary dispute, and we both are engaged in discussions of the boundary. I believe there is enough space in the world to accommodate the ambitions of both India and China.
Do you believe that the economic crisis has eroded the U.S. leadership role in Asia?
I hope the United States will recover from last year's disaster. With the entrepreneurial skills of the U.S. business class and the U.S. educational system, I have no doubt that the United States will overcome this temporary setback.
What about India? You seem to have escaped the downturn.
First of all, our banking system is better regulated. We don't allow our banking system to invest heavily in those types of assets. . . . Our export growth rate has sharply declined. The flow of capital has also been affected. But more recently, capital has started coming back to our country. Before the crisis, our growth rate was at 8.5 percent to 9 percent per year. This year it will be about 6.5 percent. In two years, we should go back to 9 percent growth rates.
What would you like to achieve in the next few years?
A growth rate of about 9 percent per annum and to ensure that this growth is an inclusive growth -- that the benefits of development reach out to all sectors of our population.
Do you feel you've made a difference to your country as prime minister? What will your legacy be?
I hope I've made some difference. That's for posterity to judge.