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September 14, 2000
'No region is a greater source of terrorism than our neighbourhood'
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's address to the joint session of the US Congress
It is with a deep sense of honour that I speak to you today. I would like to thank you, Mr Speaker, and the members of the Congress for giving me this opportunity.
In November 1999 a remarkable event took place in the House of Representatives. By a vote of 396 to 4, the House adopted a resolution congratulating India and my government on the successful elections completed in October 1999. This display of broad-based bipartisan support for strengthening relations with India is heartening.
It is a source of encouragement to both President Clinton and to me, as we work together to infuse a new quality in our ties. I thank you for the near-unique approach that you have adopted towards my country.
Those of you who saw the warm response to President Clinton's speech to our Parliament in March this year will recognise that similar cross-party support exists in India as well for deeper engagement with the USA.
I am also deeply touched by the resolution adopted in the House two days ago welcoming my visit and the prospect of closer Indo-US understanding.
American people have shown that democracy and individual liberty provide the conditions in which knowledge progresses, science discovers, innovation occurs, enterprise thrives and, ultimately, people advance.
To more than a million and half from my country, America is now home. In turn, their industry, enterprise and skills are contributing to the advancement of American society.
I see in the outstanding success of the Indian community in America, a metaphor of the vast potential that exists in Indo-US relations, and what we can achieve together.
Just as American experience has been a lesson in what people can achieve in a democratic framework, India has been the laboratory of a democratic process rising to meet the strongest challenges that can be flung at it.
In the half century of our independent existence, we have woven an exquisite tapestry. Out of diversity we have brought unity. The several languages of India speak with one voice under the roof of our Parliament.
In your remarkable experiment as a nation state, you have proven the same truth. Out of the huddled masses that you welcomed to your shores you have created a great nation.
For me the most gratifying of the many achievements of Indian democracy has been the change it has brought to the lives of the weak and the vulnerable.
To give just one figure, in recent years it has enabled more than a million women in small towns and distant villages to enter local elected councils and to decide on issues that touch upon their lives.
Two years ago, while much of Asia was convulsed by economic crisis, India held its course.
In the last ten years, we have grown at 6.5 per cent per year: that puts India among the ten fastest growing economies of the world.
Economic activity gets more and more diversified by the year: President Clinton and many among the friends gathered here have had occasion to glimpse our advances in information technology.
We are determined to sustain the momentum of our economy: our aim is to double our per capita income in ten years -- and that means we must grow at 9 per cent a year.
To achieve this order of growth we have ushered in comprehensive reforms. We are committed to releasing the creative genius of our people, the entrepreneurial skills of the men and women of the country, of its scientists and craftsmen. At the same time, we in India, remain committed to the primacy of the State in fulfilling its social obligations to the deprived, the weak and the poor.
Important sectors of the country's infrastructure -- power, insurance, banking, telecom -- are being opened to private initiative, domestic and foreign.
Trade barriers are being lowered.
Mr Speaker, ladies and gentlemen,
There are forces outside our country that believe that they can use terror to unravel the territorial integrity of India. They wish to show that a multi-religious society cannot exit.
They pursue a task in which they are doomed to fail.
No country has faced as ferocious an attack of terrorist violence as India has over the past two decades: 21,000 were killed by foreign sponsored terrorists in Punjab alone, 16,000 have been killed in Jammu and Kashmir.
As many of you here in the Congress have in recent hearings recognised a stark fact: no region is a greater source of terrorism than our neighbourhood.
Indeed, in our neighbourhood -- in this, the 21st century -- religious war has not just been fashioned into, it has been proclaimed to be, an instrument of State policy.
Distance offers no insulation. It should not cause complacence.
You know, and I know: such evil cannot succeed.
But even in foiling it could inflict untold suffering.
That is why the United States and India have begun to deepen their cooperation for combating terrorism. We must redouble these efforts.
Mr Speaker, ladies and gentlemen,
There was a time when we were on the other side of each other's globes. Today, on the digital map, India and the United States are neighbours and partners.
India and the United States have taken the lead in shaping the information age. Over the last decade, this new technology has sustained American prosperity in a way that has challenged conventional wisdom on economic growth.
We are two nations blessed with extraordinary resources and talent. Measured in terms of the industries of tomorrow, we are together defining the partnerships of the future.
But our two countries have the potential to do more to shape the character of the global economy in this century.
We should turn the example of our own cooperation into a partnership that uses the possibilities of the new technologies for defining new ways of fighting poverty, illiteracy, hunger, disease and pollution.
Mr Speaker, ladies and gentlemen,
We believe that India and America can -- and should -- march hand in hand towards a world in which economic conditions improve for all.
A situation that provides comfortable living standards to one-third of the world's population, but condemns the remaining two-thirds to poverty and want, is unsustainable.
The foremost responsibility that the 21st century has cast on all of us is to change this unacceptable legacy of the past.
It should be our common endeavour to overcome this legacy. I, therefore, propose a comprehensive global dialogue on development.
We would be happy to offer New Delhi as the venue for this dialogue.
In this Congress, you have often expressed concern about the future contours of Asia. Will it be an Asia that will be at peace with itself? Or will it be a continent, where countries seek to redraw boundaries and settle claims -- historical of imaginary -- through force?
We seek an Asia where power does not threaten stability and security. We do not want the domination of some to crowd out the space for others. We must create an Asia where cooperative rather than aggressive assertion of national self-interests defines behaviour among nations.
If we want an Asia fashioned on such ideals -- a democratic, prosperous, tolerant, pluralistic, stable Asia -- if we want an Asia where our vital interests are secure, then it is necessary for us to re-examine old assumptions.
It is imperative for India and the United States to work together more closely in pursuit of those goals. In the years ahead, a strong, democratic and economically prosperous India, standing at the crossroads of all the major cultural and economic zones of Asia, will be an indispensable factor of stability in the region.
Our cooperation for peace and stability requires us to also define the principles of our own engagement. We must be prepared to accommodate our respective concerns.
We must have the mutual confidence to acknowledge our respective roles and complementary responsibilities in areas of vital importance to each of us.
Security issues have cost a shadow on our relationship. I believe this is unnecessary. We have much in common and no clash of interests.
We both share a commitment to ultimately eliminating nuclear weapons. We have both declared voluntary moratoriums on testing.
India understands your concerns. We do not wish to unravel your non-proliferation efforts. We wish you to understand our security concerns.
We are at a historic moment in our ties. As we embark on our common endeavour to build a new relationship, we must give practical shape to our shared belief that democracies can be friends, partners and allies.
In recent years, through all the good and difficult times, we have spoken to each other more often than we have even done in the past. I thank President Clinton for this leadership and vision in steering this dialogue. I sincerely thank members of this Congress for supporting and encouraging this process.
As we talk with candor, we open the doors to new possibilities and new areas of cooperation -- in advancing democracy, in combating terrorism, in energy and environment, science and technology and in international peacekeeping. And, we are discovering that our shared values and common interests are leading us to seek a natural partnership of shared endeavours.
India and the United States have taken a decisive step away from the past. The dawn of the new century has marked a new beginning in our relations.
Let us work to fulfill the promise and the hope of today.
Let us remove the shadow of hesitation that lies between us and our joint vision.
Let us use the strength of all that we have in common to build together a future that we wish for ourselves and for the world that we live in.
rediff.com has assigned Associate Editors Amberish K Diwanji and Savera R Someshwar to cover Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's visit to the United States. Don't forget to log into rediff.com for news of this historic visit as it happens!
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