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'The truth was more painful: America ignored India'

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March 03, 2006 22:43 IST
Stephen P Cohen, Senior Fellow in Foreign Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution, is an expert on India, Pakistan, and South Asian security and proliferation issues. In a exclusive chat with rediff readers, he discussed the implications of President George W Bush's visit to India.

While lauding the growth in bilateral ties, he explained that it was too early to call it an alliance, 'which implies much tighter policy and military ties than have been agreed upon.'

Ridiculing charges that the US had tried to 'contain' India earlier, he said: 'The truth was more painful: America ignored India, it just didn't care about what New Delhi thought or did, until India began its economic reforms and started to junk its pro-Soviet tilt and non-alignment.'

For those of you who missed the chat, here is the transcript:  

The Bush visit: Complete coverage | Chats | The nuclear deal

martin asked, Im rithesh from indiana state....thanks for visiting india hope u r having great time there
Dr. Stephen Cohen answers, I spent Jan-Feb in india, most impressed with the (mostly positive) changes I saw, both physical and attitudinal--Indians seem more confident and less paranoid than in the past, and now are on the right economic track--albeit fifteen years late.

ketan asked, do you think that US Congress will allow to amend the law a single country?
Dr. Stephen Cohen answers, Yes, we did that for Pakistan, and there have been other instances; the administration will have to make a strong case, one good enough not only to persuade Congess but the Nuclear Supplies Group. I think this can be done.

ramesh asked, Any one there? When America senses the importance of india and the indian skills why dont he make the visa processing stages a bit relaxed as ther is need for mutual sharing americans have to sense this
Dr. Stephen Cohen answers, I can't answer this question objectively, because as an American scholar I was given a very tough time regarding my Indian visa for dozens of years--Indian restrictiveness on academic enquiry is one reason why so few American academics study India, especially modern India, and why there are so few US students i I ndia (under a thousand) whereas 80,000 Indians are studying here. having said that, capricious visa procedures are obviously a problem, and I would hope that the US is more forthright--the recent deal may lead to an improvement in some ways--but in this matter India is by far the biggest abuser.

Dino asked, Bush is really doing a great job huh!
Dr. Stephen Cohen answers, Why and how? In the case of India, yes, in other areas, Katrina and Iraq, I wouldn't expect that history will find him to be so great.

aditi asked, Dr Cohen, how will the Bush visit impact the kashmir peace process?
Dr. Stephen Cohen answers, Very important question. I think the administration will remain concerned about Kashmir ,but will approach it as a problem to be dealt with by two friends--but we will (or at least we should) continue to urge movement in a positive way. In the case of Pakistan this means closing down the bad-guy infrastructure, in the case of India this means more than avoiding specific discussions on Kashmir. But this is a problem that will be with us for years.

chandrahundigam asked, Does Bush(US) interest involving india in alternate fuel technology research and also advance joint defence projects
Dr. Stephen Cohen answers, If the n-deal goes through , there should be many more areas where we can cooperate, as some of the restrictions on tech transfer will disappear (but not all, India is not a NATO ally or Japan); I'm most pleased at the agreement on agricultural research, and Manmohan gets full credit for raising this, it was a major Americasn contribution to Indian development and would have continued had India wanted it to. On these specifics: there should be no problem in alternative fuel research, we both need to spend huge amounts of money and talent on getting out of a fossil based economy, defense technology may still be limited by general American concerns about sharing sensitive technology (these apply to our closest allies).

ketan asked, Dr. Cohen as you have long experience in this area, do you think that new indo- US alliance will help to US to stop Iran from developing nukes. what about Russia and China. What will be their move after this new developments between India & US
Dr. Stephen Cohen answers, First, it's not an "alliance," which implies much tighter policy and military ties than have been agreed upon; second, India seems to be concerned about further proliferation, including to Iran, and has voted accordingly in the IAEA; on the last point, we have to realize that the world is now very much multi-polar, with four or five major power centers; this is very much India's historical view of itself, although Indian economic and military power is still not up to its cultural and "soft" power. When the Saudi King visits both India and China on the same trip, and everyone interacts with everyone else, no one can afford to have a rigid alliance with any other of the major powers, although the US and india may well work together on specific issues and problems.

bharatmomaya asked, Why so far Indians are restricted in their entry to US? Are we so much bad?
Dr. Stephen Cohen answers, This is one of the stupidest questions I've received, as noted above there are 2 million Indians in the US, and 80,000 Indians study here (and many stay on). Read my book, "India:Emerging Power" for a discussion of the change in US attitudes towards India and Indians. I find that many people on these e-chats really should do some basic reading before getting on line and sharing their lack of seriousness. Don't mean to be insulting, but when I was a teacher I was most angry with unprepared students, not reading or thinking about an issue before hand is a waste of everyone's time. 

amar asked, Mr. Cohen, what do you think is the prime American objective in pursuing military cooperation with India - war on terror or China?
Dr. Stephen Cohen answers, I think it is to develop a working understanding of Indian military and strategic interests and capabilities, both for possible cooperation in third countries/ regions, and in the long term, to be able to work better together should China turn out to be a malign or hostile power. In other words, this is reinsurance for both sides, as India's motives are identical, in addition, both sides have something to learn technically, as our approach to land, sea and air warfare varies somewhat. Apparently there are areas where the Indians do very well, and there are other areas where India learns from the US.

Indianhawk asked, Dr Cohen, you said "IF" the N-deal goes through..Does that mean you have doubts over its passage through Congress?
Dr. Stephen Cohen answers, I have not seen the exact figures on what is in and what is not, and what the terms are, Congess will form its own opinion as to the wisdom of the deal, but my guess is that they will at least give it a serious look. I don't have "doubts," but nothing is certain in this world.

AgentSmith asked, India has limited resources of uranium but vast patches of thorium. India has initiated a project to derive uranium from thorium, which is the essence of FBR( india is the only nation in world to do so). Don't you think by agreeing over tech sharing co-operation, US is getting access to latest technology if the experiment succeeds?
Dr. Stephen Cohen answers, Good question, but I'm not a nuclear engineer--I do hear from some American scientists that FBR technology is unproven at best, (others have tried it but not pursued it). India may have good reason to pursue it, and if the system is in the civilian side it can receive technical assistance from the US and others, but in any case it will not start generating electricity for a while, and India will need a number of LWR. India will now participate in several international cooperative efforts on developing new reactor technology, and apparently can bring some special expertise to the table. The problem with FBR is that it generates a lot of plutonium, Bush recently announced a program to start burning this up in reactors, so the US and Indian positions may be converging technically.

jayesh asked, US always tries to contain India by playing a card of Pakistan. Dont you agree?
Dr. Stephen Cohen answers, This is old-think. It never tried to do this in the past, although Indian officials cultivated the theory that the US had allied with China and Pakistan to keep India from rising. The truth was more painful: America ignored India, it just didn't care about what New Delhi thought or did, until India began its economic reforms and started to junk its pro-Soviet tilt and non-alignment. My India book discusses this at great length.

IntellectInside asked, Do you think Condi Rice or Mrs. Clinton is likely to be the US President in 2008? Does it have any implications on US foreign policy?
Dr. Stephen Cohen answers, Good question, can't answer it definitively, but it is ingteresting that both have an Indian interest of sorts. I don't know if Hilary sees india from a strategic or political perspective (as does Ms. Rice), her husband certainly liked India and was uncomfortable with the sanctions that he had to impose after the tests.