How did 9/11 change the US-India equation? Was it partly responsible for the growing comparison of India with its northern neighbour China? What is India's role in the post-9/11 world order? That is what Dr Alyssa Ayres, deputy director of the Center for the Advanced Study of India, University of Pennsylvania, discussed with rediff.com readers.
For those of you who missed the Rediff Chat, here is the transcript:
ramananda asked, Good morning Dr Ayres, and welcome to the Rediff Chat...it is a great pleasure to have you with us...
Alyssa Ayres answers, Good morning, or maybe I should say good evening for those logged in from India. Thank you very much for inviting me to do this chat, and I look forward to all of your questions.
ramananda asked, First question for Dr Ayres: How did 9/11 change the India-US equation?
Alyssa Ayres answers, This is a really good question. On the one hand, 9/11 reinvigorated US-Pakistan ties, which had been in the doldrums. So from India's perspective, this was something of a setback. But on the other hand, it made the US much more sympathetic to what India had been saying about terrorism. And we can see from the record that those who feared that the US would abandon India in favor of Pakistan have been proven wrong. So looking back on the last five years, US India ties have grown substantially, on several different tracks.
chinaman asked, Dr Ayres, you there? I want to know whether this comparison of India with China has intensified post 9/11, and whether it is truly justified...
Alyssa Ayres answers, Actually, chinaman, I have spent a lot of time thinking about this. There's definitely been an increasing amount of comparison between India and China in the past two years. It's interesting, because looking back over the last five years, this is the starkest reminder of how much things have changed. Though successive US administrations have been working hard to "dehypenate" the relationships with India and Pakistan, it's also true that India had, until recently, been thought of more typically as a major regional power and the boundaries of that region were contained within what we call South Asia. I think the major difference now is that India is seen as an emerging global power, a rising Asian power alongside China, and that perception has enlarged the landscape in which people at least in the US think about India. So increasingly India is being discussed in blunt terms such as "India versus China" or "Where to Put Your Money India or China?" Is it justified? I actually don't think this is a useful way to think about the great changes taking place in Asia today. This either-or idea doesn't really reflect the many great differences between India and China that make it impossible to compare them on a one-to-one basis. If you are looking at the data in terms of sheer economic growth, it is definitely true that China has outperformed India. Here are just two metrics: China's GDP per capita is $6,800 in PPP terms. India's is $3,300, again in PPP terms. Last year China's exports were about $750 billion, while India's were about $76 billion. So there's a big gap. China's infrastructure is, at least in its coastal cities, world-class, and developing at a frantic pace. To put it bluntly, Shanghai and Beijing, not to mention Hong Kong, are world class cities. India's cities are another story. Yet India is growing, albeit more slowly, while maintaining a vibrant democracy, and while keeping together a multicultural, multiethnic polity. So India has long ago "overtaken" China in terms of democratic freedoms.
Deva asked, Talking about US-India relations, come on, please don't insult our intelligence. Fact is that US is using Pakistan's terror machine and its compulsive hostility and nuclear blackmail as a means to contain India. This is the truth is it not?
Alyssa Ayres answers, Deva, you are entitled to your opinion. I think the situation is much more complicated than that.
vg1802 asked, Why USA define terrorism according to his benifts and noe by the act of grusome killing of innocent peoples...why US cried only when there is a thret for himself ..and ignore all terrorism act in other countried in the name of war of freedom...dont u feel that if US dont make double standerd in handeling terrorism then world could be more peceful..
Alyssa Ayres answers, Hello vg1802. This is obviously a really popular question here, so let me tackle it. There is a lot of disagreement between India and the US on this, much of which hinges on the person of General Musharraf. Generally the view in the US has been that he is an imperfect ally, but our best hope in the war on terror. However, I believe we should be taking a more nuanced view. The relationship between the military and the militants in Pakistan is complicated, and symbiotic not adversarial as the "conventional wisdom" would have it. Right now Pakistan has been doing just enough in the war on terror to get by, sort of like a student doing enough to pass but not striving for an A. What the US ought to do is demand more action against radical militant groups. We have seen clear evidence that even after General Musharraf banned Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Muhammad in his January 2002 speech, they simply changed their names and kept operating. Last fall in the earthquake aftermath, the Jama`at ud-Dawa (the L-e-T's new name) was openly collecting donations of cash, food, and clothes to deliver to the needy. (They even put up photos on their website showing huge piles of clothes as evidence of their charity work). The Taliban are a similar case. They are supposed to be banned, but as we have seen they are regrouping, growing stronger, and attacking NATO troops in Afghanistan.
chinaman asked, Thank you, Dr Ayres. But what I was asking is, given the disparate political and economic systems in the two countries, is it really fair to compare India and China?
Alyssa Ayres answers, If you make the comparison in strictly political or strictly economic terms, it's unfair. Or as they say, like comparing apples and oranges. But if you step back and take a broader view about Asia and the countries that will exert economic, military, and cultural influence, you can't avoid the comparison. At any rate it's an intriguing question, don't you think?
Kannappan asked, Thanks for taking my question. I have heard many times from different analyst that the relationship formed between India and USA in the last decade is not just between a few in political offices but between societies, similar to the relation between US & UK or Israel or Japan. When I see the ground situation in USA I feel a majority of the American folks can't differentiate India from Middle East. How does a common American citizen see India & its citizens? I'd really appreciate your thought on this.
Alyssa Ayres answers, Kannappan, that's a fair point. I think it's probably the case that a great many Americans wouldn't be able to tell a Coorgi from a Jat. However, just to put this in perspective, I've been called a "Britisher" in India countless times. So maybe both peoples need to learn more about each other!
ramananda asked, Dr Ayres, taking off on Chinaman's question, do you think India, which has been begging to be 'de-hyphenated' from pakistan, is now being hyphenated with China, and that despite the obvious differences, the west now sees the two nations through the same prism?
Alyssa Ayres answers, Ram, I think that any new hyphenation is a creation of the popular press more than anything else at this stage. To the extent that people in the west are thinking about India and China as the two most important developing economies on earth, well then yes, it's the same prism. But that's a pretty broad prism. Actually I think this works to India's benefit, just as the old India-Pakistan hyphen worked to Pakistan's advantage.
T Shankar raman-2 asked, Why USA is always a double standard player? On one side it is against terrorism and on the other it is into the act of the same -- destroying Iran.Please explain
Alyssa Ayres answers, Shankar: In some ways I think Indian concerns about double standards or being "dictated" to by the US are a throwback to the Cold War. From a US perspective, Iran is probably the single most destabilizing regime in the world today. Indians are free to argue that it is in the US's best interest to take a firmer line with Pakistan. Similarly, the US has every right to make the case that a nuclear-armed Iran is in nobody's interest. As India plays a larger role in the international order, it ought to think in terms of its responsibilities toward maintaining that order.
Neha asked, hey , care to consider my question ?Daliy terrorist attcks are happening in India also.Do india need to follow US and take strong steps at domestic and international level ?
Alyssa Ayres answers, Neha: India is a sovereign country and a power in its own right. It has been tackling terrorism for decades. Obviously the Indian government takes steps it considers necessary. If you and others think those are not strong enough, you should speak up to try to shape policy in India. Isn't that what democracy is about?
chinaman asked, Err...folks, I thought this discussion had something to do with India and China...but all I see is pakistan, pakistan, pakistan...when will you guys get over it?
Alyssa Ayres answers, Thanks, chinaman!
nuclearwinter asked, Dr Ayres, perhaps this is not the right forum for this question, but is the India-US nuclear deal now before Congress only about nuclear power, and not weapons?
Alyssa Ayres answers, OK, nuclearwinter. Maybe a little off topic, but key for the US-India relationship so I'll try and answer. This deal is about civil nuclear energy and how India and the US can work together on it. Weapons are not part of this deal. Overall I think this deal makes sense. It will most importantly enable the US and India to overcome what had been the major barrier to cooperation at the highest levels. In terms of the global nonproliferation order, it takes India from being part of the problem to being part of the solution. I also believe it will go a good part of the way toward solving India's energy problems, with benefits of reducing global warming (nuclear energy is clean). It will also reduce India's dependence on imports of oil and gas from problematic parts of world. Fortunately it appears that the Indian government and the US Congress understand this. The bill so far in the US has solid, bipartisan support. It has passed in the House 359-68, and out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee 16-2. It suggests a consensus nationally that this deal makes sense.
shekar asked, How much indian citizen communication skills are having advantages over Chirna english communication skills? will this attract USA polocies towards india? of course india tech guys are forward than china
Alyssa Ayres answers, India's English communication skills definitely give it an advantage. But don't count the Chinese out. They've rolled out English language education so you can expect this gap to narrow.
Tejas asked, US is a democracy & I do believe its in best interest of Indian Subcontinent that Indo-US relationship go forward, with US knack to crack even friends(CIA episode of espionage) how much chance do you give to this relationship!
Alyssa Ayres answers, Tejas: I agree that the Indo-US relationship is in both our best interests. I think it's going to continue to move forward regardless of political vagaries, too. Just look at the recent past. The Bush Administration has prioritized strengthening the US-India relationship, reflected in the Indo-US nuclear deal. But it's also important to recognize that this process had begun under President Clinton. It was toward the end of his second administration that Clinton visited India, which was the first visit by a US president in some twenty-two years, since Carter's visit in 1978. So you can see that both parties at the very highest levels now view India as an important partner. The best clue for what chance the US-India relationship has going forward is the voting record in the US Congress on the nuclear deal. The bill passed in the US House of Representatives by a decisive margin --and the support was across party lines. I think the evidence is pretty clear that any new administration in the White House, regardless of party, would seek to build the relationship, in all dimensions, even further.
chinaman asked, If you ask me, India should do whatever it takes (or can) to sort out this business with Pakistan once and for all, instead of whining to the west...what say, Dr Ayres?
Alyssa Ayres answers, Good point, chinaman. You know, there seems to be a strong tendency to view Pakistan through the prism of the US and what the US should do. But India makes its own policy choices, and they are made by Indian politicians in New Delhi, not by Americans in Washington.
bomber asked, The challenge for India is not so much of beating China, but of providing a decent standard of living to the Indian people. DON'T YOU THINK SO ??
Alyssa Ayres answers, Hello bomber: Obviously you are right. But the competition is good to the extent that it makes India strive to do exactly that.
ramsengupta asked, Dr Ayres: India and China: friendly competitors or deadly rivals?
Alyssa Ayres answers, Ram: Actually, a bit of both. India's own relationship with China continues to grow in intriguing ways. A burgeoning economic relationship, traditional Indian wariness of Washington, and Chinese pragmatism regarding issues such as Kashmir may well see the two Asian giants enmeshed in a relationship that's more cooperative than competitive. But admittedly it is too early to tell. As several Indian analysts have pointed out, India also has genuine concerns about growing Chinese influence and the close relationship with Pakistan.
Jayesh asked, Good Morning, I want to know how are people reacting today? Are they scared or.. ?
Alyssa Ayres answers, Jayesh, thank you for asking this. The mood in the nation is one of mourning and remembrance more than fear. We are all going about our business as usual but with a thought for what happened five years ago, and thinking about those who lost their lives.
Ashwin asked, Hi alyssa.The US supported Israel when it bombed Lebanon.Why then does it say India should use restrint when Pakistan repeatedly trains terrorists?Its an open secret that the Terrorist camps in Pakistan are operated with the active suporrt of ISI.Why then is the US still supporting Pakistan?U said India makes its policy decisions.But whenever India wanted to attack Pak,its the US that threatened sanctions.Why this soft hand with Pakistan?
Alyssa Ayres answers, Hello Ashwin. I have tried to answer this, but will take another crack as it seems to be a recurrent question. I've said that the international community, including the US, needs to hold Musharraf to account for his promises to eradicate terrorism. In short, countries are responsible for activities emanating from their soil. That said, you seem to overestimate how much of a role the US plays in determining India's policies. Do you think India's own politicians are ready to take the kind of actions you suggest? I can name half a dozen political parties who think otherwise. Why blame the US?
DrPaul asked, Jon, you seem to have bought into Musharraf's claim that after him comes chaos. (I am quoting from Ramananda's column which I just read on rediff)...but do you really think it's a choice between him and the mad mullahs? Isn't democracy still one of the options?
Alyssa Ayres answers, Hello DrPaul and thank you for this question. I think this is a false choice. The mullahs never polled more than five percent of any vote before Musharraf started giving them patronage. Democracy is still one of the options, an important one. But only if it encourages a liberal democracy and not a fundamentalist one.
Tejas asked, U.S has a dedicated wing for INDIAN studies at every level be it Economics/Defence/Strategy/Academic & its not a post 9/11 phenomenon.Why INDIA! even when we were not on any significant position on map of US interests?
Alyssa Ayres answers, Hello Tejas: this is an interesting question and one that I research. There's definitely a longer history of US study of India much prior to 9/11. We have departments where people study Sanskrit, Indian religions, Indian history, Indian culture, art history, economics, politics...the list is very long. But when you compare the study of India in the US with the study of China, or Russia, or any of the countries in western Europe, the numbers are still small. So we could really expand this.
ramsengupta asked, Thank you, Dr Ayres. Coming back to US-India , do you see any possible irritants or roadblocks to this rapidly burgeoning relationship?
Alyssa Ayres answers, Hello, Ram. Actually some of the biggest irritants you can see in the tenor of some of the questions in this chat. A lot of Indians seem to see the US as the sole factor determining how India responds to Pakistan. I think there's a tendency to blame the US for things, when India is a power that takes its own decisions. US policy is just one of many factors Indian policymakers would be considering. It's important to keep this on the level of a rational friendship and not look at it as a love affair, because that always carries the risk of disappointment. On the US side, the disappointment may well be for those who like to view India as a potential hedge against China. As I said before, India will of course follow its own interests, as it always has.
ramsengupta asked, Dr Ayres, if there was one thing that you could change in India, what would it be?
Alyssa Ayres answers, One thing? Probably infrastructure. Two things? Infrastructure and quality of governance.
bomber asked, Doc, its time for me to exit this chat. Can't help repeating, YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL !
Alyssa Ayres answers, Thanks, bomber! On that pleasant note, thanks so much to all of you. I also have to run. Have enjoyed this chance to chat with you all. Bye!