Webcast Recap

The India-U.S. relationship is one with "boundless possibilities for mutual benefit," according to Her Excellency Nirupama Rao. In a Director's Forum speech at the Wilson Center on March 15, India's foreign secretary described the "unique partnership" between "two of the world's greatest democracies," and highlighted areas of present and future cooperation.

In the decades immediately following India's independence, Rao said, relations between the two countries "failed to realize their potential." Yet bilateral ties have taken off in the last decade and a half. The India-U.S. civil-nuclear deal completed in 2008 (an accord calling for the transfer of civilian nuclear technology to India) marked a "major, definitive milestone" in the India-U.S. relationship, and in July 2009 the two nations launched a new strategic dialogue. The economic dimensions of the bilateral relationship are also strong. Rao noted that the United States is one of the leading sources of foreign direct investment into India, while Indian investment flows into America totaled $13 billion in 2007 (and continue to increase).

More cooperation is envisioned for the future. Rao referenced a joint statement issued during Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Washington last November, which emphasizes the desire to spearhead joint strategies to promote innovation, jobs, trade, and investment. She pointed to avenues for agricultural cooperation, including initiatives to strengthen food processing and to promote research on increased food productivity. She also addressed climate change cooperation. In order to fulfill human development goals, India will need economic growth of at least 9 percent—which will require quadrupling the country's power generation capacity. Coal will remain a key part of India's energy mix, she said, and the United States and India are already looking at ways to work together on clean coal initiatives.

Rao also addressed India's challenges in its "immediate neighborhood." On the issue of relations with Pakistan, Rao said that India has exercised considerable restraint since the November 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai, which India believes were planned on Pakistani soil. India's recent decision to initiate talks with Pakistan (foreign-secretary-level talks were held in New Delhi last month) demonstrates that "we have not abandoned dialogue." Yet for dialogue to progress, she insisted, Pakistan needs to take "meaningful steps" against terrorism, and "cease the encouragement" of terrorism that targets India. "Our heartland, our cities, and our people are exposed to the threat of terrorism in a constant and almost unremitting way," she stated. Given that Pakistan claims "it is in no position" to guarantee to India that authorities in Islamabad can control terrorism, Rao said, Indians "can hardly be expected" to support the resumption of a full-scale dialogue with Pakistan.

As for the "deteriorating situation" in Afghanistan, Rao argued forcefully for taking a firm position against militancy. Efforts should be made "to reintegrate" (that is, bring Taliban fighters off the battlefield and back into Afghan society and the political process) only those who "abjure" violence, abandon armed struggle, and embrace democracy. Otherwise, she warned, the Taliban "could resurrect" itself, as it has done previously when thought to be defeated. Similarly, she referred to the "barbaric" attack on Indian nationals in Kabul late last month. If such attacks go "unchecked," she cautioned, the forces that dominated Afghanistan in the 1990s will be "emboldened." Ultimately, she stated, there is "no quick solution" in Afghanistan, and the international community must "stay the present course" for as long as is necessary.

Rao concluded by reiterating the imperative of continued India-U.S. partnership. "In an increasingly complex world," neither country can address its goals on its own. Collaboration and cooperation, she declared, "will certainly be crucial for shaping the character of the 21st century."

By Michael Kugelman
Robert M. Hathaway, Director, Asia Program