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India’s Foreign Policy: an informative presentation by Consul General Ajit Kumar

By Mahadev Desai
December 2012
India’s Foreign Policy: an informative presentation by Consul General Ajit Kumar

 

Ambassador Marion V. Creekmore, Jr., and Consul General Ajit Kumar share a moment on the occasion of the Consul General's foreign policy presentation at Emory University on November 8, 2012.
(Photos: Bytegraph)

 

“Nothing short of international understanding is my goal.” — Claus M. Halle (1927-2004)

The Halle Institute for Global Learning at Emory University hosted the Consul General of India in Atlanta, Hon. Ajit Kumar, at the Michael C. Carlos Museum on Thursday, November 8, 2012, for a discussion of India's relationship with Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the United States.

Following lunch, Distinguished Visiting Professor of History and Political Science, Marion V. Creekmore, Jr., welcomed all. Ambassador Creekmore, whose own service in the U.S. State Department included work for Afghanistan, India, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives, noted that he was “delighted to have the Consul General in Atlanta—We've wanted that for a very long time!” He introduced Kumar as a man of great experience, engaging, and authoritative, and listed his work in multilateral diplomacy including on the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, as well as his distinguished diplomatic service in Frankfurt, Germany and Durban, South Africa. Kumar joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1979 and in his long diplomatic career has held many high-ranking posts in the Indian Government.

Hon. Ajit Kumar, in his far ranging, informative, and compelling speech, explained India’s foreign policy in 21st Century with special emphasis on its relations with the U.S. and neighbors Pakistan and Afghanistan. He said that India’s commitment to internationalism, independence of judgment in conduct of external relations, support of democratization of world order, and contributions to maintaining international peace and security are enduring legacies of India’s national movement. India’s foreign policy will remain rooted in these core values but will continuously adapt to changing external circumstances and its shifting domestic needs. The foremost priority in India’s foreign policy will be to create capable external environment, pursuit of collective prosperity and individual welfare of all Indian people, stable global order and peaceful neighborhood, equitable international trading system, stable financial system, reliable and affordable and secure energy supplies, and food security. We also need bilateral as well as international partners for technology and innovation to meet extraordinary scale of developmental challenges. In turn India will progress in its modest way, will affirm values of democracy and pluralism contributing to peace and stability and provide one of the pillars of global economy. Our foreign policy is therefore an instrument of our development but also a vehicle to fulfill our role and responsibilities.

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Consul General Ajit Kumar discourses on India's foreign policy in the reception hall of the Michael Carlos C. Museum.

Relationship with the U.S.: As we look at our priorities decades ahead, there is a convergence of interests with U.S., but we also believe in the importance of a strong partnership between our two great democracies in achieving our shared goals. As Dr. Manmohan Singh said, “Founded on many pillars, it is based on pragmatism and principles and strengthened by shared values and common interests.” President Obama had characterized India-U.S. bilateral relationship as a defining partnership of 21st century. President Obama’s landmark visit to India in 2010—a first by a U.S. President in his first term—paved the way for many accomplishments in our relationship. As Indian Ambassador Nirupama Rao commented in a recent blog, “The strength of our relationship is also reflected in the presence of large Indian caucuses in both chambers of the U.S. Congress. These are, we understand, largest bilateral caucuses in the U.S. today. … Our strategic partnership today is rich in content, comfort, and candor. … There is increasing convergence in our foreign policy priorities, and we have shared approaches to some of the most complex regional and global challenges of our times.”

Our defense partnership with U.S. including defense trade has been strengthened, just as our cooperation in counterterrorism and other strategic pursuits, including maritime- and cyber-security. The Obama Administration’s commitment to India’s membership in the multilateral export control regimes, as well as President Obama’s support for India’s permanent membership in the U.N. Security Council, has indeed been encouraging to us. We remain committed to bring our civil nuclear cooperation to a tangible fruition. An unprecedented level of bilateral engagement has been sustained by visits this year of various U.S. dignitaries to India. Now with U.S. we have institutional mechanism: every year at the level of our Foreign Ministers we conduct strategic dialogue. The 3rd series in June this year in Washington, D.C., provided a unique opportunity to review trade and economic ties and progress in other areas and also to chart a roadmap for advancing India-U.S. global strategic partnership across all areas. The annual strategic dialogue saw enormous progress on the five principles of expanding cooperation: strategic cooperation; energy and climate change; education and development; economy, trade, and agriculture; science and technology and health and innovation. Our trade in goods and services has increased fourfold since 2005 to reach $100 billion. Capital flows are now two ways. The U.S. still remains one of the largest investors in India’s growth, and at the same time, Indian companies have also invested and integrated with the U.S. economy. From 2005-2009, Indian companies have invested about $25.5 billion in about 43 States of the U.S. in wide ranging fields including IT products and services; manufacturing; distribution and packaging; and educational tie-ups. In 2011, Indian IT companies supported 280,000 direct and indirect jobs in U.S.

But the strongest element in our partnership is the people-to-people dimension. The three million strong Indian-American community has come of age and plays a vital role in helping our relationship become people-centric. Today more than 100,000 Indian students study in U.S. universities, contributing about $3 billion annually in tuition fees. There are about 60,000 Indian-origin doctors in the U.S., and 40% of all hotel rooms in U.S. are owned by Indian-Americans. In recent reports Indian Americans have emerged as with highest per capita income and best educated among various ethnic groups here.

A rich and textured agenda: Kumar quoted Prime Minister Singh’s congratulatory message to President Obama on his re-election: “Over the last four years, consistent with our vision of a global strategic partnership between India and the United States, the ties between our two democracies have seen sustained growth. We have not only advanced cooperation across the full spectrum of our bilateral relationship, but also deepened our engagement in the pursuit of global peace, stability and prosperity…. I have no doubt that there is much more we can do together to further strengthen the India-U.S. partnership and thereby advance peace and stability, expand mutual economic opportunities, harness the potential of science and technology, innovation, and higher education, and empower our people to address global challenges.” Therefore as far as Indo-U.S. relations are concerned, there is, in Ambassador Rao's lovely words, “a rich and textured agenda ahead of us.”

Current state of relations between India and Pakistan: India desires peaceful and cooperative relations with Pakistan. We are committed to resolving all outstanding issues with Pakistan, through dialogue in an atmosphere free of terror and violence. We believe that a stable Pakistan acting as a bulwark against terrorism and extremism is in the interest of Pakistan, our region, and beyond. India-Pakistan relations have to be normalized for the two countries and for our peoples to realize the destiny of peace, progress, and prosperity. Greater economic and commercial cooperation will contribute to economic growth and development in both countries and will also contribute to bridge the trust deficit.

After the horrific Mumbai attacks in Nov. 2008, the frozen Indo-Pak relations were revived when the two Prime Ministers met in Bhutan in April 2010. Later two Foreign Ministers met at the SAARC Summit in July 2010. Then Foreign Minister of Pakistan visited India in July 2011. The last two years have seen some progress. The Commerce Ministers of India and Pakistan met to work on increasing the bilateral trade from $2.6 billion to $6 billion by 2014. The two Prime Ministers (Dr. M. Singh and Gilani) met on the sidelines of the SAARC Summit in Maldives in Nov. 2011. At the meeting, it was stressed that terrorism is a perennial concern among Indians and so it was imperative to bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack to justice and to work on a speedy conclusion of the ongoing trial of the seven accused who were involved in the attack. It was also agreed that people are at the heart of the relationships so people-to-people contacts and cultural exchanges should be promoted. Commerce Secretaries met in Delhi in 2011, and India welcomed the decision by Pakistan to accord a Most Favored Nation status to India—India had already given MFN status to Pakistan in 1996. Both sides agreed to adhere to the roadmap drawn by Commerce Secretaries for full normalization of trade relations and moving towards enhancing the preferential trade arrangements under SAFTA. During the Foreign Secretaries' talk in July 2012 at New Delhi, both sides discussed peace and security, Jammu & Kashmir, and promotion of friendly exchanges. In April 2012, Pakistan's Prime Minister Asif Zardari (Benazir Bhutto's husband) paid a visit to Ajmer Sharif in Rajasthan, and Dr. Singh took this opportunity to invite Zardari to New Delhi. Substantive talks were held to promote bilateral trade and ties, and to resolving major issue of terrorism by which the Indian people would judge the progress of the bilateral relationship. Defense Secretary level talks were held on the Siachen and Sir Creek issue. In September 2012, India’s Foreign Minister went to Pakistan. A Joint Commission meeting was held after a gap of five years, and talks were held on nuclear and conventional CBMs.

The Ministers welcomed the signing of the new Visa Agreement which liberalizes bilateral visa regime and introduces a number of measures aimed at easing travel of business persons, tourists, pilgrims, elderly, and children, thereby facilitating contacts between peoples of the two countries, who should remain at the heart of the relationship between Pakistan and India. The Ministers welcomed the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation in the field of culture between the Pakistan National Council of the Arts and the Indian Council for Cultural Relations. Pakistan also welcomed India’s decision to remove restrictions on bilateral investments.

In October an interesting development took place. After a gap of 5 years, India agreed to welcome Pakistan Cricket Team to India. (Laughter and applause) This is a significant development for promotion of people-to-people relations. Thousands of Indians went to Pakistan to watch the 2006 Test series and they were welcomed with open arms and likewise Pakistani cricket fans also get a warm welcome in India. India-Pakistan cricket rivalry is the most intense rivalry in sports! Consul General Kumar said that he hoped there would be thousands of Pakistanis visiting India in a spirit of cultural diplomacy.

India and Pakistan have made major strides in reducing the trust deficit. Dr. Manmohan Singh’s message to Pakistan was to find pragmatic solutions to all outstanding issues through constructive and result-oriented engagement. Relations can only grow in an atmosphere free of terror and violence.

India and Afghanistan have a strong relationship based on historical and cultural ties. Now India is assisting Afghanistan in reconstruction and rehabilitation. We believe that democracy and development are key instruments in ensuring that Afghanistan becomes a source of regional stability. The principle objective of India’s development partnership covering entire Afghanistan is to build indigenous Afghan capacity and institutions.

Three important recent developments have been the following:
1) At the official visit of Dr. Manmohan Singh to Afghanistan in May 2011, where he met President Karzai, he became the first foreign leader to speak to the Afghan Parliament in recent times. Dr. Singh announced a fresh package of $500 million in assistance over and above $1.5 billion for reconstruction and development of Afghanistan.
2) During President Karzai's last visit to India in October 2011, a historic Strategic Partnership Agreement was signed, a step in the commitment to peace.
3) In June 2012, Afghan Investment Summit was held in New Delhi. A 25-member delegation including several members of the cabinet participated in the Summit whose objective was to attract foreign investment in Afghanistan, including from India in light of new opportunities in various sectors and to ensure a peaceful, pluralistic, democratic, and prosperous Afghanistan.

Kumar noted that in the next week, Karzai would be again in India, so relations continue.

How is India spending $2 billion aid to Afghanistan? In Development projects under three categories:
(i) Infrastructure: building roads, power transmission lines, rural electrical projects, etc.
(ii) Humanitarian assistance: provision of free medicines, food assistance to school children (e.g. a million tons of wheat, much of it as biscuits), a gift of ambulances, etc.
(iii) Education: 675 scholarships to Afghan students to study in colleges in India, vocational training in India as well as Afghanistan, through NGOs like SEWA, and vocational training to women.
(iv) Community-based Small Development Projects in rural areas: health clinics, schools, children’s hospital, etc.

In the process of transition and transformation, the international community must help. Any perception of lack of will encourages backsliding into terrorism.

—Report by Mahadev Desai

Hon. Ajit Kumar's speech was followed by an interesting Q&A session.

Visas were a concern and reforms welcomed.

China was considered: it is expected to overtake the USA as major trading partner; borders are peaceful; there is collaboration on many issues, including population and climate change; in IT, China produces much hardware, while India provides software.

For medicine, Dr. Neil Shulman recommended that India export to the world its system of having assistants work with a doctor for ten years and then go out to provide medical care in rural areas; Kumar noted India's 14 collaborative programs with the CDC, an international center of new and emerging disease, the doctors and skilled workers sent to Afghanistan, and the huge health challenges in India.

A plebiscite in Kashmir was considered: 2 million Indian tourists visit there each year, and the area is peaceful; in 1948 when Pakistan entered Kashmir, the Indian army peacefully went to the UN, and an agreement stated that when the Pakistani army left, there would be a plebiscite; there are now, for the first time in 20 years, bus services, one even advertised as going from Mirpur to Birmingham, England! Times of war and border changes are over, Kumar said, and we need to go on to economic progress.

Will the U.S. lift the travel ban on Jammu/Kashmir?—England, Germany, and Japan did. Kumar noted that Obama has said that the Jammu/Kashmir issue is between India and Pakistan, and Obama will let them resolve it peacefully, which position India appreciates. He hopes the U.S. will also lift the ban.

Will the Indian cricket team visit Pakistan? Kumar replied that once the Pakistani team comes and the law and order situation improves in Pakistan, then we can definitely go—but last time terrorists attacked them. The Pakistani ladies golf team did visit India, and there is more interaction that is not reported much in the West.

The trade outlook is good. Organizations are in 8 U.S. states. Kumar has called on the CEOs of the major companies based in Atlanta and is looking forward to the deepening of the Savannah port helping trade.

Is India doing anything about the projection of cultural image? Kumar noted that we can not control the media, but there is a maturity of understanding in the media today; the time has come after 65 years of independence with the media much better now, most realizing that they should not promote the 1%, and doing a good job.

—Q&A Report by Suzanne Sen

Website Bonus Feature:
Please note that the print and digital issues of this month's Khabar magazine contain a brief report of this event, whereas the website contains a more detailed report.

Links:
Ambassador Rao's blog
http://www.indianembassy.org/prdetail2061/ambassadorandrsquo;s-blog-:-on-president-obamaandrsquo;s-re-election

Video:
Consul General Kumar's speech
http://halleinstitute.emory.edu/news_media/videos/12_11_kumar_india_foreign_policy.html

 


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