Former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal spoke to Rediff readers about the impact of Obama's re-election on India's ties with the US and Indo-China relations. Here's the full transcript of the chat:
Princess: Hello sir, how would you describe the state of Indo-US relations, now that Obama has been re-elected? What do you think the focus areas should be?
kanwal sibal: I think the relations are in good shape despite unfulfilled expectations on both sides. They have entered into a phase of steadiness though they lack excitement. Obama's re-election will provide continuity to the relations. The bilateral agenda is well set and implementation can continue without any hiatus. On Pakistan, Kashmir, terrorism and China Obama's views have evolved and have become more congenial for us. On outsourcing, he is being populist and alienating the most pro-US sections of our society -- the entrepreneurs who are building India's knowledge economy.
Mellon: Mr Sibal, Obama administration has not really bothered about India, isn't it? Don't you think a Republican administration will be better suited for India?
kanwal sibal: Well, Bush was good for India but bad for the US and the rest of the world. Romney would have been easier on outsourcing and immigration, but he would have put us in a spot on Iran and Syria, especially if he took military action. Our interests in the Gulf, with 6 million expatriates, $37 billion of remittances and 80 per cent of our energy supplies would have been disrupted. Finally, any US Administration will work for US interests and will fit our interests into its own international jigsaw puzzle. We have to leverage our relations with the US to our advantage but have to ultimately stand on our own feet.
Tomyumsoup: Do you think there will be a breakthrough in Indo-China relations in 2013?
kanwal sibal: No, China is not interested in settling the border issue. It thinks that as time passes it will forge ahead of India more and more. Meanwhile, it will use the border issue to make us behave, put us on the defensive, play up Pakistan and our neighbours against us. It wants to keep India distracted so that we cannot raise our profile in Asia enough to challenge China. It will make some friendly noises from time to time to confuse us and our public opinion and discourage us from moving into the US camp. It wants more economic opportunities in India and it has a powerful corporate lobby in India backing it. It wants to have the best of both worlds -- more trade with no political concession.
Ajeet: There is considerable speculation on what will happen once the US pulls out of Afghanistan? Will the scenario be as dreary as what the doomsayers are predicting?
kanwal sibal: It could be. The International Crisis Group's recent report is most pessimistic. The fact is the US and its allies are bogged down in Afghanistan and want to cut and run, but not in disorder like in Vietnam but with a semblance of order. Hence, the talks with the Taliban and the coddling of Pakistan. Karzai is manipulative but has no strong political base. The Afghan National Security Force cannot operate on its own; it has little hi-tech intelligence capability and no air assets. The Taliban can continue to perpetrate violence and keep the situation unstable. Pakistani ambitions are there to be contended with. The West no longer has democracy and nation- building agenda in Afghanistan. One hopes conditions of a civil war can be avoided.
Kishore: In coming years, is China going to be more aggressive, when it comes to relationship with India? Is India capable of replying with same aggression?
kanwal sibal: We should build up our military strength on a priority basis. That is our surest guarantee against Chinese bullying. But we should also continue to engage China pragmatically and not think in terms of aggression
Astana: Sir, do you think our ministry of external affairs has kept pace with the changing unipolar world? Or are we dominated by mindsets that think of non-alignment all the time, think of China as an adversary not a partner?
kanwal sibal: We are not thinking of nonalignment but of strategic autonomy, which means we decide on issues in the light of our national interest, not of others. We are members of the India-Russia-China dialogue, of BRICS of the India-Brazil-South Africa dialogue. We have vastly improved relations with the US with which we have a strategic partnership. We have the India-US-Japan dialogue and naval exercises. We are showing flexibility and forging relationships wherever it suits us. I think we are being wise. China is an adversary. It is the only country apart from Pakistan that claims our territory. We should not forget that.
Hamid: Excuse me sir, but I have been most exercised by this decision to resume cricketing ties with Pakistan. I know this is not part of your agenda here today, but can you please shed light on what earthly reason there can be for this preposterous decision to show the world everything is normal, when the fact is nothing can ever be normal between us? Have we so easily forgotten 26/11 sir? Are Mumbai lives so cheap?
kanwal sibal: I think this decision is wrong. We want Pakistan to act on terrorism and try those accuse of the Mumbai carnage. We should know what we want and not pretend things are normal when they are not.
asha: Hi Mr Sibal. With the US headed for next recession and Europe in turmoil as well, where do you see India's exports and economy headed? Are we in for a major recession ourselves?
kanwal sibal: We are not heading into a recession but the situation in the US and the Eurozone is hurting us economically. Poor governance in the country is adding to our problems -- lack of reforms and decision-making. We have to have a growth rate of 8 per cent plus to make a dent into poverty. At 5 per cent plus we will be in trouble.
Kabeer: How would India's relationship changes with the US with the distinct possibility of a Third Front coming to power where Left parties possibly play an influential role?
kanwal sibal: Our relations with the US are important enough for any party in power in India to disrupt them. Common sense dictates that we maintain fruitful ties with the most powerful country in the world. Yes, on some issue the Left will be problematic but they too will have to take pragmatic decisions. Even Morsi in Egypt realises the need for good US-Egyptian ties. There is no room for ideology today. We should be pragmatic and serve our interests.