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The Dr Richard J Cohen Chat

'India and Pakistan have to approach the situation in Kashmir as if they were starting all over again'

Dr Richard J Cohen (Wed Apr 5 19100 8:15 IST)
Hello everyone. I'm here, sitting at my computer at the Indo-American Centre for International Studies in Hyderabad.

Karla (Wed Apr 5 19100 7:30 IST)
Mr Cohen, what do you make of Mr Clinton's speech at the FICCI? A lot of sentimental stuff but again nothing concrete. By when do you foresee the results of this visit actually affecting India for the better? What do you think will be the next US adminisration's view of India in the coming months?

Dr Richard J Cohen (Wed Apr 5 19100 8:20 IST)
Karla, Your question is right on the mark. People are beginning to ask themselves what was the meaning of Clinton's visit? What will develop out of it? Relative to Clinton's speech in the FICCI, I'd have to say that like most of his speeches, it was more about style than substance. In reality, the trip wasn't well planned. That is, there wasn't enough time to sort out just what Clinton would sign, seal and deliver. So, we have to look to the future and expect that the full effect of the visit can only be measured over, say, the next 12 months. One also needs to realise that the liberalisation of the Indian economy must proceed for many of the economic predictions that were discussed to become possible.

Rajesh (Wed Apr 5 19100 7:11 IST)
Mr Cohen, Clinton's visit to Pakistan yielded nothing in any way. In fact, they are now planing to put Nawaz Sharif in prison for life. Do you think his visit to Pakistan was a waste?

Dr Richard J Cohen (Wed Apr 5 19100 8:23 IST)
Rajesh, Some analysts would agree with you that nothing much was achieved by Clinton in Pakistan. Although I wouldn't go as far as to say that Clinton should have been expected to get Sharif off the hook or for that matter, settle the Kashmir issue. His speech before the Pakistani people was rather unique in world politics, however. Very few visiting heads of state are given the chance to say the kind of things Clinton said on Pakistani television. Now, there has been some indication from Pakistan that they want to send feelers to India about restarting a dialogue. Now that is a positive development. Perhaps it can be attributed to the visit.

Dutts (Wed Apr 5 19100 8:23 IST)
Why hasn't the US supported India's bid for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council? It still backs Germany and Japan.

Dr Richard J Cohen (Wed Apr 5 19100 8:26 IST)
Dutts: It appears that the USA places Germany and Japan higher on its list of allies. Don't expect the USA to behave rationally when it comes to an expansion of the membership of the Security Council. It is self-interest at stake, pure and simple.

Tantra (Wed Apr 5 19100 8:25 IST)
Mr Cohen, what are the immediate measures India must take enhance Indo-US relations? What should our diplomats there do?

Dr Richard J Cohen (Wed Apr 5 19100 8:29 IST)
Tantra, India can take a less rhetorical position with respect to the Kashmir issue and to the CTBT perhaps. Nationalism is fine to a point but I think India is secure as a nation, far more than it appears to understand and it can produce less defensive rhetoric based on the nationalist self.

Prasanna (Wed Apr 5 19100 5:17 IST)
Hi Dr Cohen! Was there a need to establish a new Forum for Science and Technology or a Centre for Democratic Governance when the Indo-American Centre for International Studies has, over the years, built up the infrastructure and expertise to take up those kinds of programmes?

Dr Richard J Cohen (Wed Apr 5 19100 8:32 IST)
Prasanna, I must admit I was disappointed when I read that the remaining funds in the US-India Rupee Fund which essentially ceased functioning in 1996, that is, Rs 30 crore, has been earmarked for the establishment of a Indo-US Science and Technology Forum. Since the Forum will largely be articulated through electronic databases and educational avenues, I don't see why the Indo-American Centre for International Studies can't be used as the foundation block for such an initiative.

Merlyne (Wed Apr 5 19100 5:21 IST)
Hi Dr Cohen! Have you ever asked the White House officials or the Capitol Hill people why they have stopped funding cultural/ educational organisations like the USIS and the ASRC/IACIS? And what have their replies been?

Dr Richard J Cohen (Wed Apr 5 19100 8:37 IST)
Merlyne, I could be wrong, but I have heard some government officials actually say that since the Cold War is over, the cultural information once thought to be a crucial "weapon" is no longer needed, as the "American way" has won the battle worldwide. In my opinion, such a view is extremely short-sighted. Especially from the perspective afforded to me living here in India. Anyone who knows India understands that cultural viewpoints contribute directly to an individual's decision-making process. Especially in the case of politicians and business people.

Khayyum (Wed Apr 5 19100 6:18 IST)
Dr. Cohen, There is no Cold War now, the world has become unipolar. Indo-American relations are improving, except of course when it comes to the CTBT. It is time now to get some funds for American Studies. Any hope on those lines?

Dr Richard J Cohen (Wed Apr 5 19100 8:40 IST)
Khayyum, you are a man after my own heart. American Studies is well developed in India thanks to this library and research centre which I direct and which has been in existence for 35 years. But now it is time for both, the Indians and Americans to find a way to fund it. Those who oversee the American Studies establishment in the USA should take note of the fact that there are over 6,000 Americanist scholars in India. They need support.

Bunker (Wed Apr 5 19100 8:22 IST)
Dr Cohen, do you think the Clinton visit has actually made any difference to South Asia, particularly to Indo-Pak relations?

Dr Richard J Cohen (Wed Apr 5 19100 8:45 IST)
Bunker, I believe that Clinton's visit has made a very positive impact on South Asia. Let's not forget Bangladesh. Clinton is the first American president to visit Bangladesh. Bangladesh has come a long way from 1971. Not many countries have been born in such a crucible of pain and suffering and have survived. Recently, back in the USA, Clinton remarked that the USA didn't do enough to support Bangladesh's battle for independence. Which is to say that we backed the wrong side. And such a remark now seems to suggest that Clinton is still sending messages to Musharraf! And with the visit, the position of South Asia in the scheme of world affairs has to be strengthened.

Aslam (Wed Apr 5 19100 8:26 IST)
Dr Cohen, we in Pakistan feel that your President's visit to the sub-continent was an utter failure. Can you suggest one single achievement of Clinton's trip to the sub continent?

Dr Richard J Cohen (Wed Apr 5 19100 8:49 IST)
Aslam, I can understand your opinion when I look at things from your perspective. But frankly speaking, Clinton didn't visit Pakistan as such. His visit to India, from a number of different perspectives, was a success. Sure, it could have been better planned, but continuing tensions in South Asia made it difficult to finalise the trip until it was almost too late. If Clinton was going to come at all, it had to be before we got to deep into the summer here. I'm afraid it was simply a token visit Clinton made to Pakistan. He must have carefully weighed the options before doing so. In a way, it has to be understood as being a politically calculated decision on his and his advisor's part.

Ila (Wed Apr 5 19100 8:30 IST)
In case of an India-Pakistan war now, where do you think USA's interest will lie?

Dr Richard J Cohen (Wed Apr 5 19100 8:52 IST)
Ila, I'm sure Clinton will try at first to mediate. But in the end, if directly approached by India (which might not happen), he would probably side with India. A tough question and I hope it doesn't come to that. People are beginning to talk about war. I suggest we don't consider that an option.

Vakul (Wed Apr 5 19100 8:42 IST)
Why is the educational link between India and the US in terms of grants, scholarships and student exchange programs being neglected by the US government?

Dr Richard J Cohen (Wed Apr 5 19100 8:56 IST)
Vakul, actually the Fulbright program does provide grants and fellowships for study in the USA. Also, on a private basis, you know that the US educational institutions are open to applications from Indian students. My own university back in the States awards fellowships to Indian applicants. This year alone, here in Hyderabad, I have attended visits by delegations from the USA, usually representing a single state such as Michigan. There were representatives from educational institutions present who were signing MOUs to set up exchanges and all kinds of degree programs, whereby a degree from a US-based university would be awarded to an Indian student who has taken courses here locally.

Sudarshan (Wed Apr 5 19100 8:51 IST)
Well, Mr Cohen, America has, more often than not backed the wrong side! But you will agree that India too was born in a "crucible of pain and suffering", as you put it.

Dr Richard J Cohen (Wed Apr 5 19100 9:0 IST)
Sudarshan, I agree. We backed Pakistan, for purely selfish interests. But which country doesn't behave like that? Now the tables have turned and USA is behaving differently, essentially because the national interests have changed. And yes, India too was born out of a molten crucible of human suffering. The manner in which the British handled the issue was abominable. Both Churchill and Mountbatten cannot be exonerated. Essentially, the British handed over the security of the "Free World" to the US in February 1947. They were rendered bankrupt by WWII.

Jo (Wed Apr 5 19100 8:51 IST)
Mr Cohen, it is nice to see you again. What impact will the visit of the FBI chief to India have? Are India and the US going to fight Islamic terrorism in South Asia?

Dr Richard J Cohen (Wed Apr 5 19100 9:6 IST)
Jo, Good question. I think the visit of the FBI chief is the kind of follow-up visit that we will be seeing more of. It is a partial answer to the question, "What will develop out of the Clinton visit?" The FBI chief represents the most serious form of government to government cooperation. He is essentially the nation's police chief. It's linked to laws and civil society. It appears as if India and the US are ready to cooperate in such ways as to promote and further the effectiveness of their respective civil codes. Sure, as part of such an agreement, you should expect the sharing of information with respect to terrorism. The FBI has a mandate to investigate the breaking of laws pertaining to US official property overseas, such as embassies.

Shaji (Wed Apr 5 19100 8:58 IST)
Is the pro-Indian lobby in Washington of any use? Isn't India paying too much money to them for nothing?

Dr Richard J Cohen (Wed Apr 5 19100 9:9 IST)
No Shaji, on the contrary, not enough money is being spent. Maybe the Indian embassy is spending too much. But it will be the Indian-Americans who will make a difference in Washington DC. And they do have the money to spend. I think it is just a matter of time. It depends on how they see their own interests. It is rather strange, but most of the money in the Indian-American community is with those working in the computer industry. So, it will depend to a certain extent on how the government treats the computer industry. There are many Indian and Pakistani Americans working in Microsoft in addition to their own firms.

Neena (Wed Apr 5 19100 9:5 IST)
Information technology is going to be the key reason for future relations between the two countries. Am I right, Mr Cohen?

Dr Richard J Cohen (Wed Apr 5 19100 9:16 IST)
Yes Neena, you are right. IT will be at the forefront of the relationship. The possibilities are virtually exponential in character. However, if the wraps on many of the manufactured items can be taken off, as they were this last week, then all kinds of trade can go forward with the US. For instance, China is the largest exporter of finished clothing in the world. Now why is that? India has a long and glorious history of producing textiles, some of the finest in the world. Certain Indian products of the medieval period were a craze in Europe and that's why the Europeans wanted to come to India so desperately! But India has to build infrastructure to facilitate trade. My ability to converse with you is limited by what I am getting via this ISDN line I'm using right now. A 64kbps line which is probably giving me about 20 per cent capacity. Why? Because medical transcription firms in Hyderabad are ftp-ing their files to the states as I type, and clogging up the very narrow bandwidth!

Akd (Wed Apr 5 19100 9:3 IST)
Mr Cohen, will the CTBT become a major stumbling block for a fruitful Indo-American relationship in the future?

Dr Richard J Cohen (Wed Apr 5 19100 9:18 IST)
Akd, You know, I don't think so. Both the nations will not make that happen. It is more of a domestic political issue on both sides. We will have to wait and see who wins the next presidential election in the US. The situation in India is clear. It will be very hard to build a consensus on the issue in the near future here in India.

Mickey (Wed Apr 5 19100 9:7 IST)
Good evening, Dr Cohen. I don't think you are very right in saying that all nations act only in their self interests. If that were the case, India too would have grovelled before the US in the 50s and 60s. India didn't. It probably cost us a great deal, but there's such a thing as self-respect as well... though Americans may not know what that means.

Dr Richard J Cohen (Wed Apr 5 19100 9:21 IST)
Mickey, I don't read you. Didn't India act in her self interests in the way she dealt with the US during the 50s and 60s? Actually, India had a very interesting approach. Don't forget how she dealt with the Soviet Union too. And you know, India has managed to pass through the Cold War without a major breakdown in her economy. Look at Russia, the entire second world for that matter. Actually, I think India acted in her self-interests all the time and chose a difficult, but enlightened path. No kidding.

Watts (Wed Apr 5 19100 9:10 IST)
Dr Cohen, you Americans manufacture aircraft, sell them to the world and make money. We Indians produce potatoes and sell them to make our ends meet. But how come that America has developed an interest in India all of a sudden?

Dr Richard J Cohen (Wed Apr 5 19100 9:25 IST)
Watts, you forgetting that we only make a few things anymore. They may be aircraft and sophisticated computers. But we increasingly need partners like India. Most people are not aware that "back office" operations for many US companies are now processed here in India, even in Hyderabad. Thousands of jobs are being created in India to service the transactional needs of companies not only in the US, but elsewhere too. India has a surfeit of well educated, English speaking graduates who need jobs. And they are finding employment doing, as I said, "back office transactions" for customers 10,000 miles away.

Jamke (Wed Apr 5 19100 9:25 IST)
Who do you think is right -- India or Pakistan in dealing with Kashmir?

Dr Richard J Cohen (Wed Apr 5 19100 9:29 IST)
Jamke, a very difficult question to answer. In my personal opinion, I think India and Pakistan have to approach the situation in Kashmir as if they were starting all over again. The welfare of the people who are actually involved must be taken into consideration and should not be compromised in order to make a political point or serve a nationalist agenda. If I had been Clinton visiting India, when the 35 Sikhs were killed, I would have found a way to express my deep felt horror over the fact that it probably was my presence that precipitated the massacre. I'm sure President Clinton felt likewise. It is not easy being the head of state, of any state. Sorry, I'm becoming agitated.

Aury (Wed Apr 5 19100 9:14 IST)
Mr Cohen, how do you view Al Gore and Bush junior? Are they both pro-Indian? Or will they reverse the slow US drift towards India?

Dr Richard J Cohen (Wed Apr 5 19100 9:32 IST)
Aury, I don't expect either Gore or Bush to reverse the change in Indo-US relations. Bush might be more influenced by certain ultra conservative elements in the Republican Party. But it will depend on how many Republicans get elected along with Bush. I'm not particularly impressed with Mr. Bush's demeanor, especially when he talks about foreign affairs. He doesn't seem to take much interest in it unfortunately. I think Gore would make a better President.

Mudit (Wed Apr 5 19100 9:30 IST)
Why is it that USA has involved herself in the Kosovo crisis, the Iraq crisis and others, but has stayed away from the Kashmir issue?

Dr Richard J Cohen (Wed Apr 5 19100 9:35 IST)
For two reasons, Mudit. India so adamantly refused any interference. And two, Kosovo and Iraq are "closer to home." You could say the same thing about America's lack of action in Africa.

Mickey (Wed Apr 5 19100 9:25 IST)
Well, it's quite a surprise that you see it that way. Most people today just revel in criticising the policies of the first few governments that we had after Independence.

Dr Richard J Cohen (Wed Apr 5 19100 9:41 IST)
Mickey, I know what you mean. Sure, one can shoot holes at the so-called "Nehruvian period." If Nehru had a fault, it was that he thought he had all the answers, that he was thinking for the moral majority of India. Many people supported him. After all, free elections were held under Nehru's governments. Voting was at an all time high. Sure, mistakes were made by way of continuing many policies which were actually extensions of colonial thought as well as untried socialist experiments. All kinds of development projects went bad in those days. Why is it that the economists and political scientists never apologise?

Dr Richard J Cohen (Wed Apr 5 19100 9:44 IST)
Thank you one and all for the really good questions. It's great to see how engaged net-users are in world affairs. Hope to chat some other time! Richard J. Cohen email: