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'China cannot be and should not be the arbiter in South Asia'

By T P Sreenivasan
November 20, 2009 16:35 IST
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T P Sreenivasan, the former ambassador, on what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should tell America's President at the White House on Monday.

Dear President Obama

I am grateful, Mr President, for the honour you have bestowed on me by inviting me as the first State guest of your administration. My people will appreciate this gesture, but they will judge my visit more by its substance than by its ceremonial frills. I appreciate this opportunity to discuss issues with a man of destiny, a fact recognised by the people of the United States last year and by the Nobel Committee this year.

I cannot but recall my last visit to the White House on the eve of the end of the second term of President Bush. At that meeting, we gave the finishing touches to the 123 Agreement, which transformed India-US relations. Three of the Senators who voted for the agreement at that time occupy the most important positions in this administration and this augurs well for the implementation of the agreement.

I appreciate your personal commitment to the agreement. We are ready to work together with you on nonproliferation and disarmament in accordance with our own international commitments. Your declaration in Prague that the US would favour a nuclear weapon free world has raised new hopes for the survival of the globe. We also welcome the Secretary of State's wish to work with India on a 21st century version of the NPT.

On bilateral relations, we have reason to believe that we are on a firm footing, particularly after the visit of the Secretary of State to India. We rediscovered each other since the days of President Clinton and President Bush took the relationship to a higher level. As Hillary Clinton rightly observed, we are in the 3.0 stage in our relations and the prospects are bright.

With goodwill on both sides, our cooperation can be further expanded. Your citizens of Indian origin are helping in the process, as you acknowledged by joining them in the festival of lights at the White House.

The international situation, however, is a cause for concern. I am glad to find signs of recovery in the US economy. It cannot but have benefits for us. Your visit to China must have been of great significance in this connection. I look forward to hearing from you on the impressions you have gained in China.

As you said, China need not have an adversarial relationship with you. The same is true of us, though some of the words and deeds emanating from Beijing seem to suggest that China believes in cooperation and confrontation at the same time.

China is not a disinterested observer in South Asia. It is in possession of part of Jammu and Kashmir and has been an unscrupulous supplier of arms and war-like nuclear material to Pakistan. China cannot be and should not be the arbiter in South Asia and, in any event, we do not want any third party intervention in India-Pakistan relations.

I am sure that you are aware that we have refrained from provoking China on any issue, not even Tibet. The Dalai Lama is an honoured guest in India till he is enabled to return to Tibet in freedom and dignity. His visit to Tawang was entirely for spiritual reasons and he did not engage in any political activities. The Olympic torch had a most peaceful passage through India. We are determined to engage China on the border issue and find a solution with mutual understanding and mutual accommodation.

In our own region, things are still in a state of flux. You have been fighting a war against the terrorist sources in Afghanistan and Pakistan for eight years now. The Af-Pak region is still volatile. Pakistan is continuing its game of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. Pakistan cannot fight terrorism and nurse it at the same time.

We are concerned that the resources you give them to fight terrorism are being diverted to wage a war against India. They are bombing the Indian embassy in Kabul instead of blasting terrorist outfits. The biggest challenge today is to figure out who is in charge in Pakistan. But if all those in power do share one thing in common, that is their animosity towards India. They are determined to protect the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack.

We simply have no way to do business as usual with Pakistan as long as there is no satisfaction over the investigation into 26/11 and as long as we are not satisfied that there will be no more Mumbais.

Mr President, we are with you in your fight against terror in the Af-Pak region. It is the same region that feeds terror in Jammu and Kashmir for the last 20 years. We have a stake in your success. We are ourselves engaged in conquering the hearts of the people in Afghanistan. Our projects are extremely popular and that is the reason why the Taliban does not attack these projects.

We are very much in place in the country to take on reconstruction efforts once the war is over. You and we share the hope that Afghanistan will remain a stable, independent and nonaligned nation, at peace with the rest of the world.

I would urge you to persist in your efforts to root out terrorism. No one doubts your intentions and we are confident that the US would withdraw, once your mission is completed.

A peaceful and terror-free Afghanistan should be your legacy. We have remained in touch with Ambassador Holbrooke, even though his mandate, rightly, does not include India. We shall be ready to work with him on the stabilisation of Afghanistan.

We have come a long way from Stockholm 1972 to Copenhagen 2009 as far as our awareness of climate change issues is concerned. Mrs Indira Gandhi was the only prime minister who attended the Stockholm Conference. Today, every leader in the world, from the US to the tiny island of Maldives, is fully engaged on this issue.

In a dramatic display of the plight of the fragile islands, the President of Maldives held a cabinet meeting under water. India is committed to do whatever it can do within its capabilities to stem the tide of environmental degradation, but the onus of arresting the growth in the emissions of greenhouse gases rests entirely with those who have contributed to the present situation by years of unscrupulous consumption.

As for India, we have committed ourselves to not exceeding the per capita emission of developing countries at any time. This is more substantial than any artificial limits that any treaty may impose on the developed world. But in Copenhagen, we are willing to work with you to find the balance between the imperatives of protecting the environment without losing sight of the compulsions of development.

Mr President, I am here on a quest for a perfect partnership with you. We have resolved most of the differences which have bedeviled our relations in the past. What remains is for us to remain faithful to the understanding we have reached and to move forward for the benefit of our people.

I hope my visit will help us to reach that goal.

Thank you.

Manmohan Singh

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T P Sreenivasan