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The Rediff Interview/President George W Bush

September 02, 2004

US President George W Bush says he is "absolutely committed to building an enhanced, comprehensive relationship" with India.


In an exclusive interview with Aziz Haniffa, national affairs editor, India Abroad -- the newspaper owned in the United States by -- his first with a South Asian newspaper, the President lauded India for being "an outstanding partner in the global war on terror."


The second of a three-part interview: 


Part I: 'I am committed to an enhanced relationship with India'


As you know, since Mr Vajpayee extended an olive branch to Pakistan to begin a peace process in South Asia, both countries have engaged in a dialogue to seek rapprochement, which could ultimately lead to a resolution of their differences and the tensions that have existed for decades. You have been lavish in your praise over this development. But besides lauding both sides, how do propose to encourage this peace process to build up momentum and resolve some of the contentious issues like Kashmir?


India and Pakistan are well aware of the stakes involved in the bilateral relationship.  We are particularly concerned about the nuclear risk, and we want to be helpful. India and Pakistan are responsible for their relationship. These tensions have existed for many years. I believe that steady progress is possible as long as good faith exists on both sides.  We continue to urge both sides to work together towards peace and have offered help as requested by both parties.


We are not a mediator, and it is up to India and Pakistan to maintain the momentum. The recent bilateral dialogues are a positive sign and we are hopeful that the two parties will continue to work together as they have been in recent months.


In this regard, the US policy has been to encourage both India and Pakistan to resolve their differences, including the Kashmir issue, bilaterally. You have made this clear in your meetings with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, including in your meeting in New York last year and earlier, when you hosted him at Camp David, despite Pakistan's imploring the US to get involved and mediate this problem. Will this continue to be your policy, or do you see the US playing a more proactive role like in the Middle East or Northern Ireland to generate momentum in the peace process, perhaps, with a roadmap of sorts?


Every conflict in the world has its own dynamic. I don't view our involvement in Northern Ireland or the Middle East as a template to be rigidly applied to all other areas of the world.  Kashmir is a disagreement of long standing, and feelings about it in the two countries often run deep. India and Pakistan are going to have to keep talking and working to see how they can reduce tensions and build confidence in the short run and where they can reach agreement in the long run. We have no mediation role here. We are however, a friend, urging both sides to work together to achieve peace in the region.


With the recent passage of the US- and British-sponsored resolution in the United Nations giving the world body a supervisory role in Iraq and the turning over of power and sovereignty to the new Iraqi Interim government, will you once again request India -- as you have in the past -- to provide peacekeeping troops in Iraq and be part of the Coalition forces to help stabilise the situation in that country?


We would like all the great nations of the world to participate in the multinational force that will help Iraq complete the transition to peace and democracy. That would include India, of course, which has a great deal of skill, experience, and credibility to contribute to the multinational force. With the new Iraqi interim government in place, it is their prerogative to determine their security needs.


If India still refuses to do so, are you confident that US-India relations will not be adversely impacted and the growing relations would continue unabated? Can you assure India that this will be the case and that the blossoming US-India relations are irreversible and India's refusal to commit troops to beef up the coalition forces will not dislocate this envisaged US-India strategic partnership?


There are many ways that other nations can contribute to the development of democracy and stability in Iraq. While we greatly appreciate India's participation as an ally in the war on terror, we certainly respect India's sovereign right to make its own choices. Our relations with India have many dimensions; they do not rest on one decision. I believe the Government of India takes the same view, and we look forward to developing our strong relations. I also note that the force in Iraq today, to which other nations are considering contributing troops, is a multinational force that is now explicitly sanctioned by the UN.


Mr President, India was hugely disappointed and angered when Secretary of State Colin Powell announced in Islamabad in March that Pakistan would be accorded Major Non-NATO Ally status, which you officially announced by your statement on June 16. India was particularly disappointed, because before going to Islamabad, Mr Powell had been in New Delhi meeting with the then-prime minister and other senior Indian officials and did not breathe a word of this pending announcement to the Indians. Is this the way to consolidate a friendship and treat a future strategic partner? India still considers this a slap in the face and a huge insult, and some analysts and commentators have gone so far as to say this was also a contributing factor to the defeat of the last government.


Our relationship with India exists on its own merits, and is independent of our relationship with Pakistan. This is good for India, Pakistan, and the United States. We are well aware of the sensitivities in the Indian-Pakistani relationship, and we will continue to build strong bilateral relationships with both countries. Again, ours is a mature and multifaceted relationship that is not dependent on one issue or one event.


Part III: 'Economic isolation is not the right way'


Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Image: Uday Kuckian

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