Thursday, June 13, 2024
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An expert commentary on PM's recent visit to the US

K N Pandita

By a happy coincidence, I grabbed the opportunity of listening attentively to an interview Dr Sazawal has given to the New Indian news channel recently. Given this in light of the Prime Minister and 39,s recent visit to the US as a state guest, I ruminated over its significance.

Dr Vijay Sazawal, a nuclear scientist of Kashmir Valley origin but long settled in the US,enjoys prestigious status as a scientist. Additionally, he has been maintaining an interest in Indo-US relations, particularly in the areas of technology. He is gifted with a facile pen and his articles published in various US journals are held in high esteem by the specialist.

I have known him since my days at the John Knox Foyer in Geneva where he would be seen sometimes in connection with his professional engagements. We have maintained our friendly relations over the last three decades. I have benefited from his deep knowledge of American society and its political nitty-gritty. He is a superb analyst of political events and personalities and I have great respect for his dispassionate views on some critical themes.

He was interviewed by Ms Arti Tiku, who has a place in the community of ace journalists in this country an eminent and is running her news channel New Indian. Since both the speaker and the interviewer are known to me, they kindly permitted me to make a transcript of the interview and publish it for the information of a larger segment of readers with an interest in the entire gamut of the Indo-American relationship.

Both of them and this writer as well, are internally displaced persons from Kashmir Valley.

Therefore, we are inclined to listen or read what outstanding commentators, formal and non-formal, say or think about the Kashmir issue. But alongside, we are equally interested in keeping abreast with political developments shaping in and around our country and the region, particularly at a time when we are passing through a crucial phase of history in which democracy is sharply challenged by authoritarianism. Some nations and people, influenced by a generation of social scientists with a definite ideology of curbing individual freedoms, are actively trying to change the established world order to their liking. A more disappointing phenomenon is that people from such politico-social groups as used to wear the laurel of giving India a secular democratic dispensation when India won freedom from colonial rule in 1947 are now engaged in castigating Indian democracy as " dysfunctional and dead.”

Recently, Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi was on a four-day formal visit to the US.

He was given a grand reception in the US. Dr Sazawal and 39,s interview is essentially based on his views on the Modi visit, but being as keen about American foreign policy as on Kashmir,he has tried to cover the entire gamut of American foreign policy theoretically as well as practically in his interview to the channel.

To the first question of how the Indian American Diaspora looks at the visit of Modi, he was frank that the Diaspora is very happy with the visit because it feels Modi has contributed to the prestige of the Diaspora. The people of Indian origin, men and women,who settled in the US, feel that they have attained a status in and recognition within American society. Indians are already at prestigious resource centres and creamy layers like Silicon Valley, Microsoft etc., and those who aspire to a higher status feel that Midi’s visit brings new social space, meaning stature, to the NRIs. India has got new recognition with the Diaspora indeed.

In reply to the question of reasons for the US recognition of India and 39,s significance as well as the Democratic party in particular, giving space to India, Dr Sazawal went on to succinctly trace the evolution of the Indo-US relationship vis-a-vis Democrats as well as the Republicans. Being fully conversant with how the Clinton administration dealt with India, he referred to the era when Jaswant Singh, then Indian foreign minister opened a dialogue with the American Deputy Secretary of State, Strobe Talbot, and made clear to the Democrats that the level of cooperation had to go beyond simply “The Mango diplomacy” to a more substantive partnership involving a proper understanding of India and 39,s position and fundamentals of her foreign policy. Dr Sazawal believed that the long-time conversations of those days could be considered the time when re-thinking of the US and 39.

Indian policy and strategy had begun to take shape. He did not touch upon the Kargil war and Clinton’s untold disparagement of Pakistani ISI’s clandestine operations.
He explained the estrangement that took shape in bilateral relations after India successfully carried out the Pokhran nuclear test under the premiership of Vajpayee.

Many pressures from the Clinton administration on this count have not been reported by the Indian and even American media. Talks between Indian foreign minister Jaswant Singh and us deputy Secretary of State extended over 14 meetings from June 1998 through September 2000, but Mr Talbot made it clear that a closer and more strategic partnership with India could not happen because India had refused to sign the NPT.

Following Clinton, George Bush took over the US presidency and his advisors, primarily Ambassador Robert Blackwill and then national security advisor Dr Condoleezza Rice (subsequently the secretary of state) in the Bush regime wanted that relations between the US and India needed to be re-visited and positivity inducted into the entire gamut of the relationship. President Bush was informed that a strategic partnership between India and the US was not possible without the U.S. providing special exemption to India to circumvent restrictions on India imposed because she refused to sign the NPT.

Consequently, India and the U.S. signed the nuclear deal which provided the gate to a broadening relationship with India.

Dr Sazawal asserted that the Democrats did not understand, and even today as well do not fully understand, the civilizational significance of India and the whole background of India not signing the NPT. He admitted that Clinton did all he could to make life in China comfortable. The US under Democrats defined China in terms of a strategic partner though today they see China as a competitor and an adversary.

Asked why Biden, a Democrat, had changed the policy of his predecessors and given an exciting reception to the Indian Prime Minister Modi, Dr Sazawal opined that the Democrat party is enmeshed in contradictions. Their leaders make contradictory statements. For example, recently when Blinken was on a visit to Beijing, he said Taiwan was not an independent state. This is a contradiction. Politicians in the US, the Democrats in particular, have only scant knowledge of Eastern civilizations. Democratic party- influenced institutions in the US have indeed been more anti-India.

In its dealings with China, the Biden administration has been blowing hot and cold together. There is an inability that marks the difference in treating different civilizations judicially. Replying to the question as to what is the real status of US-China relations and US-India relations; and how would one define the nature and scope of these relations in the context of the current geo-political scenario, Dr Sazawal said that the nature of Sino-American relations today is not substantially different from what we had observed twenty years ago. China is intricately involved in the American trade and business areas and any decoupling will take its time...

However, Dr Sazawal was highly critical of American media saying it is extremely polarised. He even went to the length of saying that the Indian press was more transparent and more balanced in their reporting than the American press. He emphasized that owing to the limited outreach of the American press the American people remain distanced from the reality and facts, especially regarding eastern civilizations.

To a question on the reaction in America to the critical remarks of former President Obama, Dr Sazawal reacted diplomatically. Without either approving or disapproving the comment Obama, he sidetracked a direct answer and focused on the lack of knowledge of American leadership, especially of the Democrats, about the civilization and psyche of the easterners. Even the Republicans, too, lack adequate and on-the-ground information about what is happening around the world.

Finally, commenting on the extraordinary reception given to PM Modi at the White House and the excitement about it, Dr Sazawal gave very significant examples of General Ayub
Khan and his daughter who was the state guests in 1961 and was shown far greater courtesy by the Americans during his formal visit. Similarly, the Venezuelan opposition (pro-American) leader was given a standing ovation by the US Congress at one time (recently) but today stands discarded by Americans for changing geo-political reasons.

Dr Sazawal has a very seasoned view and said that when the US finds its interests being endorsed by some top foreign leader, the White House will roll out the red carpet. There is nothing substantive in the extraordinary reception given to Modi and it should be taken without excitement and exaggeration.

In conclusion, Dr Sazawal’s interview gives us deep insight into the foreign policy formation in the US. He knows the ins and outs of the American mindset and the nuances of bi-party politics.

(The writer is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University.Feedback- [email protected])

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