External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, currently on a visit to the U.S., was interviewed by former U.S. National Security Adviser HR McMaster. The questions ranged from the pandemic to China, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He warned that in the post-Covid world, there is need for better balance, less risk in terms of production and supply chains and, therefore, the need for countries to work together.
On China, he warned of consequences in international relations when one country amassed enormous power in a short period of time. He expressed his doubts about the current U.S. trajectory on Afghanistan, and while welcoming India’s ceasefire with Pakistan on the Line of Control, indicated that the key question remained Islamabad’s use of terrorism as an instrument of state policy.
He said India remained a robust democracy, the only change being the entry into politics of people who were confident of their faith and beliefs. He pointed out that over the last year, 800 million people received free food and 400 million had money deposited in their bank accounts with nobody asking questions about their faith or ethnicity.
Here’s the transcript of what Jaishankar said in the interview:
Increasingly, I hear about strategic autonomy from the West, convenient change to resilience more reliability and to my mind it makes an argument for a decentralised globe with different centres of production, an assurance that if something goes wrong, the world will not be so threatened as the sway we have seen in the last year.
My central thesis is that India is a deeply pluralistic society and has been open and positive to engaging with the world. In that sense it is falling back on its tradition and culture. People intuitively understand the challenges of today. We are an international society and the world as a family is deeply embedded in Indian thinking. Also the challenges of today, the interplay of powers and their relationships, interdependence, the constraints of power and ethics matter. There are great traditions of statecraft, diplomacy and multipolar politics in India which are applicable to this day and age.
The period when we treated the Indian and Pacific oceans as separate areas is now behind us, the world has changed and the seamless nature of the two oceans is evident whether in terms of politics or trade. The question is when we accept there are multiple interests in determining international relations, that it is central to the welfare of the world combined with respect for international law, then we conduct ourselves in a way that our collective interests are best served. India, Japan, Australia and the U.S. have gone to the extent of creating a platform to share interests and this will do a lot of good to the world. The free and open Indo-Pacific is about global good.
I have no doubt that we Indians are confident about our democracy and we believe that this political system and the value system suit us because it reflects our fundamental diversities. There is a culture of reasoning and coming to positions and an acceptance of what the rules of the day throw up. So over the last 75 years we have seen multiple elections at different levels, changes in the party in power at different levels and that is proof of democracy working and I don’t think anybody will trade democracy for an alternative form of government.
If you have a sharp increase in power of one state, there are consequences in international relations. Another way of looking at it is that different countries have different challenges. Sometimes in international relations, it is common to cooperate where interests converge. It is important for countries to think common and where interests converge, we work together and that is what happened with the Quad. Today we discuss vaccine supply chains, we discuss maritime security, technology issues. This is what world politics is about—working to find common ground.
Top On Agenda
The big issue is the world is not going to be the same after Covid, because we are, all of us, in different ways going to worry about our exposure. Historically when times are good, you see international relations as one of endless opportunities, but when times are tough you realize they come with risks like the pandemic, so the big takeaway is you need a world less risky, a world that works for all. So I would argue, international equity and fairness are not noble principles, they are practical and very common sense, like creating a broader stakeholder relationship so the world is better balanced.
The key question is that Covid is on everyone’s mind and people worry: do we have affordable and accessible vaccine? We can’t have a part of the world that is neglected and not safe. So how do we get through the global challenges in a global way? That is the big question.
The real global challenges are climate change, pandemics, terrorism, problems that are multinational or international but we are conditioned to think national and you can see the challenge out there. In a way, the pandemic will compel us to look at this closely. Hope we do the same with climate change and get serious about addressing it.
If we overlook or excuse or justify terrorism and accept it as unorthodox statecraft, we are setting ourselves up for a huge challenges and that is unfortunate. People hoped 9/11 would find a way, and one expected a narrative from Pakistan which was not justified by ground reality. That country was even proclaimed by one of your predecessor’s as Major Non-Nato Ally. So some habits of the past, a degree of risk aversion and looking for easy answers leads you down a certain path. Things in Afghanistan did not happen overnight, it was a series of conclusions, judgments and policies made that took matters in a certain direction. To me as a practical person, the question is: what’s the best that we can do in the given situation? I believe for all the limitations and mistakes, the gains of the last 20 years in Afghanistan, an entire generation has grown with a better life than they had in the last 20 years before and that is something worth defending and nurturing. It is important that we understand Afghanistan is a pluralistic society with a diversity of ethnicities and minorities that should be given their due. Women and children’s rights must be protected, all that was built up by the world and the U.S., I think was of great value and should not be sacrificed at the expediency of the politics of the day.
A lot needs to be done in talking to foreign ministers in the region and in Europe. I think people worry about what happens if things go badly. Afghanistan, like all societies, has to be allowed to decide its future, but how do societies decide their future? There has to be some legitimate process. You and I have elections. The world has a lot of influence which it can bring to play in a positive manner on what is happening in Afghanistan. The current system may have its shortcomings but the question is how do you find an acceptable basis as to who will govern Afghanistan. It should not just be handed over to anybody.
Trajectory Of Pak
What I can tell you is that we had an agreement some weeks ago between the DCMOs that we would not fire across the Line of Control and it has seen a lot of that because of infiltration. So the basis for not firing is clear and that basis is infiltration and if there is none, there’s no reason to fire. But there are bigger issues at the end of the day. The two neighbours have to find ways, it’s not about living with each other. I think we won’t live with each other if you are agnostic about each other. Cross-border terrorism and the appropriation of the costs to themselves, what it has done to their own society and how that has impacted them, they need to reflect on it since they are doing it to themselves. Important if they are thinking of better ties with India, on our side there is clarity on thinking that we cannot accept terrorism as an instrument of statecraft.
‘Concocted’ Political Imagery
I served multiple administrations over a number of years when I was a professional diplomat and civil servant and today I am an elected MP of the BJP, so do I have a political viewpoint and intent? Of course, and hopefully I am an articulate exponent of the intent. In the past there was reliance on vote bank politics which appeals to vote banks on the basis of identity and beliefs, and the fact that we have departed from it has been a difference. Faiths all over the world are tied to culture and identity and in our society we define secularism as equal respect for all. It does not mean denial of all faiths or your own, so what you are seeing in India is the deepening of democracy with the broader representation in politics and leadership positions of people who are more confident of their culture and land and beliefs. These are people who are less from the English speaking world, less connected to other global centres. That is a difference and sometimes that difference is judged politically harshly and is often used to create a certain narrative. At the end of the day we are diverse in every sense of the term.
We are going through a stressful time because of the pandemic. Last year we provided free food for multiple months to 800 million people and money was deposited in the bank accounts of 400 million. We are feeding more than the population of the U.S. and we are doing it impersonally, we are not asking anything more than name and bank accounts, so when it comes to real governance you find that there is a difference between the political imagery concocted and the governance record. So politics is at play, and I would see it as part of a political effort to depict our current government in a certain way and I have a profound difference with that.
I have a big agenda but I think our ties have gone a long way. My sense is that in Washington today there is a real appreciation of the potential in this relationship, and that’s true in Delhi as well. So the challenges for us is to keep in mind the pandemic, rise of powers, the fact that today we recognise the world is multipolar and all the more important to work with each other more effectively. I see a big change in the U.S. mind space in that regard. The U.S. has an enormous ability to reinvent itself and re-strategise and I think when it comes to big issues, maybe because we are political democracies, pluralistic, market economies, we have fundamental convergences. I think the challenge is how to translate that convergence into actionable policies.