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Program 9928
July 13, 1999


Kamlesh Sharma, Ambassador to the United Nations, India

This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.

AMBASSADOR KAMLESH SHARMA: India will very shortly have a billion people and that constitutes a very, very large market for anybody, particularly the United States, with whom we have the largest trading relationship and also the largest investment relationship.

KEITH PORTER: This week on Common Ground, a look at India’s vital role in global affairs.

SHARMA: We’ve had globalization in the past—colonialism. And colonization was possibly the most effective form of globalization in the past. So we know what unequal globalization is all about.

KRISTIN MC HUGH: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It is produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Kristin McHugh.

PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. India is the world’s largest democracy and an important player in South Asian regional affairs and increasingly, in global affairs. India’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Kamlesh Sharma, spoke with us recently about India’s relationship with the rest of the world. I first asked Ambassador Sharma how his job has changed since India became a nuclear power.

SHARMA: It certainly was a change. At one of my lectures someone in the audience asked me, semi-rhetorically, “What did you get out of these tests?” and I replied, “Well, at least I got your attention. That’s a good start.”

That’s a serious point I’m making, because although India is the world’s largest democracy; it has some stunning achievements in social cohesion, preserving individual liberties—in both parts of the century—while we were colonized where the freedom movement contributed—and in the second half of the century, brought adherence to democracy and liberty, contributed to the world, the focus of the society in America I found very much was “Why is India a nuclear power?” And I think the larger picture has generally been missed.

PORTER: I was reading a speech that Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott gave recently. And in that speech he had a quote where he said, “India holds the view, with which we very strongly disagree, that for the foreseeable future India must develop and deploy a nuclear deterrent. For our part the United States holds with equal conviction the view, with which India disagrees, that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is a bedrock of whatever hope humanity has of eventually weaning itself off nuclear weaponry.” Is it true, do you believe that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is a bedrock of human hopes for avoiding some nuclear catastrophe?

SHARMA: No, I’m afraid our view is that it is possibly quite the opposite. It’s one treaty that builds into itself a division of states which is inequitable, with variable rights. States that can defend their sovereignty through the possession of nuclear weapons as against other states that may not defend their sovereignty through possession of nuclear weapons. This treaty has therefore introduced into the world of law, if you like, a notion of differential sovereignty, which means that my sovereignty is more precious than yours. I don’t think any global treaty which is based on that premise constitutes a hope for mankind.

We have always been skeptical of this treaty because we regarded it as a treaty that is going to solidify and freeze and perpetuate the monopoly of ownership of nuclear weapons and that that was the intention. If the intention had been to arrest a moving target we would have been with it, and for 25 years we observed whether that in fact was going to be the case. But it was not. The nuclear weapon powers did absolutely nothing to get rid of nuclear weapons—in fact doctrines on all sides were developed and are still being developed to justify perpetuation of ownership of these weapons. So what the NPT Treaty has become has become a vehicle for perpetuation of a monopoly and not for ridding the world of nuclear weapons.

PORTER: Is there any possibility of another document, another mechanism which might meet those goals?

SHARMA: The NPT itself has that mechanism. There is an Article VI in it that says that in good faith the nuclear weapons powers must go to the route, take the route of, for nuclear disarmament. The trouble is that that Article has completely disregarded. If only that Article had been given a real expression of political will I think we would be in a very, very different world today.

PORTER: Back on the United States. Do you believe that the United States has paid enough attention to South Asian issues in recent years?

SHARMA: I think the attention of the United States is starting to move in that direction, that regional direction a little bit more than was the case previously. And this is a combination of political, security and economic reasons. Primarily these societies are moving up. India will very shortly have a billion people and that constitutes a very, very large market for anybody, particularly the United States, with whom we have the largest trading relationship and also the largest investment relationship. And it’s very good news for us that the profile of South Asia and India in particular in the United States as an economic partner is moving up significantly.

As far as the security relationship is concerned, despite what Strobe Talbott mentioned, which you have cited, he has been in fact the interlocutor with our Foreign Minister over eight rounds of talk, in order to come to an understanding whereby common ground is created and both sides can feel comfortable with each other. This has never been done in our bilateral relationship before. And these eight rounds constitute a very, very important departure.

So yes, in answer to your question, there is a greater attention, and we welcome it.

PORTER: I believe in Secretary Talbott’s comments, he’s talked about a, not necessarily a—he shies away from the term “negotiation,” instead talks about “harmonization” of US and Indian goals and methods. Do you agree with that? That we need a harmonization?

SHARMA: That’s true. And I think that term “harmonization” was used by our Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh, which Talbott has used very approvingly. And I think that is an absolutely appropriate term. We are not doing damage control here. These are the two largest democracies in the world. Not only that, these are the two democracies that have based their political-social philosophy on protection and promotion of individual liberty in all its aspects. So therefore we don’t, we don’t only have material self-interest in improving our relationship; in the world of the future we have a very strong—or should have—in its political expression, a very strong ideological and idealistic component. And therefore to talk of harmonization and understanding through a process of concentrated dialogue is a much better term in my view than simply talking about some form of co-existence.

PORTER: Obviously one of the major issues facing India today is your rising tensions with Pakistan over the issue of the Kashmiri people. Do you believe that this dispute should be internationalized? That’s the term I’ve heard. Or is this a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan?

SHARMA: Our views are a very clear one on this. We feel that the only way forward in this issue is for the two governments to start discussing it together with the totality of our bilateral relations. In fact this is an approach that has been accepted by world governments and this had been set in motion. We have agreed that there should be eight subjects and these subjects cover all possible areas of cooperation: individual issues that we have to discuss, economic matters, trading relationship, people-to-people contact, cultural relations—everything. And we believe that once the climate of our relationship increases and gets better then it will make it possible for us to crack the hard nuts as it were.

But the reverse is certainly not possible. Which is, without an improvement in bilateral relationship, to feel that the political climate can be created in which a difficult issue can be resolved, is simply not a credible approach. Interestingly, I saw a few days ago the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, has said that “I made this mistake, in taking this approach when I was Prime Minister.” And that the right approach was the one which we, which I have just mentioned.

PORTER: That it’s possible to have a normal relationship with Pakistan, even if every single “very hard nut” as you put it is not solved. It’s still possible to have a normal relationship?

SHARMA: Not only is it possible but I believe that that’s what the people want on both sides.

PORTER: Because both India and Pakistan are nuclear powers I think it’s logical to say that any confrontation between the two could be viewed as a global security issue. Do you believe that?

SHARMA: It is incumbent upon both of us to have a relationship that brings down the nuclear dimension and any danger inherent in it, to zero level. And I think both sides are cognizant of it. We have contributed in this on our side by making some things very clear. One is a unilateral moratorium on further test, making it clear that we don’t wan to indulge in an arms race, talking about a minimum nuclear deterrent—and not a huge armory or an arsenal. But most importantly, of unilaterally saying that our policy will be one of no first use. Therefore under no circumstances whatsoever can it be expected that India will ever take recourse with this side of its defense capability. You can’t make a more important contribution than that to the debate. But both governments also are now entering into a discussion of confidence building measures and other arrangements whereby we completely take away any potential of this new capability posing a threat to either side.

PORTER: I want to press you a little bit on this issue on the internationalization. Should other countries or should any other international body, get involved in your dispute with Pakistan?

SHARMA: We believe that that won’t add any value to it at all. In fact, it will take us away from the productive route, which is bilateral, which will immediately become stymied. And it will not do any, not bring any advantage to the question of political will, which has to exist from both sides in order to solve the problem. How is political will in both governments generated by a third party wanting to knock our heads together? It simply cannot be done. The only way is to do it ourselves.

PORTER: Along this so-called “line of control” where we have so much tension right now, the Kashmiri—or the forces representing the Kashmiri people—seem to be very well equipped. Where do we think that equipment came from?

SHARMA: Well we have made it very clear from our observation now, not only initially but after about 10 day of this action continuing that this is a body of people that has command and control and direction functions from regular armed forces of Pakistan, and participants as well. And a large number of recruits and mercenaries from other areas, particularly Afghanistan, are also included in it. If you look at the military infrastructure which has been made available—from artillery and snowmobiles and equipment and other aspects of professional behavior, which we have observed—we have absolutely no doubt in our mind that this is an operation which is directed by the Pakistan Army. And in the recently concluded meeting in Delhi—which hopefully will continue to lead to a positive result—we made it very clear that the real issue now is to do a rollback on it and to restore the status quo ante and restore the sanctity of the line of control. It is a sanctity of that border, physically, between India and Pakistan, on which any conference and any form of bilateral relationship with the potential for the future, can be built. If that is brought into dispute it is going to bring the whole prospect of bilateral relationship into complete confusion.

PORTER: We have the whole Western world involved in NATO and now the UN Security Council involved, in carving out what looks like an autonomous region for the, for Kosovo in the former Yugoslavia. Do you have any fear that the rest of the world may take it upon itself to carve out some area of autonomy for the Kashmiri people?

SHARMA: We had made a statement when this operation started in Kosovo that the route that should have been taken is through the Security Council. And the legitimacy of all action of Security Council acting on behalf of the general membership, is optically as well as substantially extremely important. Otherwise a suspicion will always be created that it is power which is going to dictate what is achieved in international peace and security, and not a notion of international legality.

As far as the Kashmir issue is concerned we have no such concern. In fact, the response of the rest of the world, including Western capitals, to what has happened now, has been the sanctity of the line of control has to be preserved, and both countries, after the occupation and this aggression has been vacated, both countries must get together and find a solution to this issue which is durable.

PORTER: Do the Kashmiri people have any hope of autonomy or self-rule in the future?

SHARMA: What shape there will be in the future as to the resolution of this issue, is something which is difficult to predict.

MC HUGH: Printed transcripts and audiocassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts a wide a range of programs designed to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.

Our conversation continues with Kamlesh Sharma, the Ambassador of India to the United Nations.

SHARMA: The Chinese-Indian relationship is a very stable one. And in fact it connects with what I’ve been saying earlier, which is that we also have an issue with them, which is the border issue. We took a conscious decision that we would strive for an improvement in the general relationship in the confidence that improvement in that relationship will contribute to a settlement of this other issue which persists between us. In fact, this is what we are saying of our relationship vis-à-vis Pakistan as well. It’s not as if we are asking Pakistan to do something which we are ourselves in our relationship with China, have not given effect. I think that both governments of India and China are committed to a stable relationship and a relationship that contributes to peace and security in Asia.

PORTER: There are some pundits who speak of perhaps a new Cold War between the United States and China. Do you see something like that happening?

SHARMA: I think that the management of relations between China and America right now has entered a new phase because of a lot of elements that have entered into it, from development of theater missiles, from the allegations that a lot of confidential secret information had been channeled to China, issues pertaining to human rights, trade issues. This has given an agenda in the bilateral relationship which is extremely challenging for these two countries.

But yes, I have seen—in fact I saw one of the covers of a recent magazine that suggested that the new security threat might be China. This is of course a very negative way of looking at the relationship, just when we’ve overcome one Cold War and put it behind us. I don’t think we need to create a new one.

PORTER: This would put India in a very interesting position, in its sort of ideological alignment with the United States, yet its geographical nearness to China. Do you fear, do you have some fears about a conflict between the US and China?

SHARMA: We have always believed that inter-state relationships must be stable. And should not be overtly confused with ideology. And we have pursued this with our neighbors as well. And I think that if we can have an expression in this belief from all states, that responsible inter-state behavior is an obligation on all states of the world, then you have a groundwork on which we can bring, or we can build a world order in the future which is nonthreatening.

PORTER: On the question of the United Nations and the Security Council, the talk about reform of the Security Council has sort of fallen out of fashion for the moment at least, but I would assume that India would still welcome a permanent seat on the Security Council in recognition of its regional role.

SHARMA: The general recognition—in fact there’s a resolution, consensus resolution in the UN—that the Security Council reform is one of the important aspects of UN reform as a whole. When the Security Council was formed with its permanent members it reflected a power relationship and in fact a product of a European civil war which became a world war in other theaters as well. People do realize that in the world of today when the number of countries represented in the UN has increased from 40-odd when the Security Council was formed to 180-odd, and secondly, when the membership of the UN primarily consists of developing countries which did not exist in 1945-46 as sovereign entities at all—that these two are tectonic changes in world affairs to which the Security Council also has to adjust. And unless there is an expansion of both permanent and nonpermanent members that gives an expression to the aspirations and perspectives of the developing world you will not have the voice of the Security Council carrying either balance or conviction.

PORTER: We did some stories on Common Ground about the creation of the International Criminal Court. And at that, at the treaty conference in Rome, the representative of India made it clear that they would not sign a document that gave extra power to the Security Council over the International Criminal Court. And it seemed to me that there were many people there, not just the representative of India, who was very concerned about giving this, what they called this “unrepresentative body” even more power over world affairs. Do you agree with that.

SHARMA: We have not found it possible to join the movement on the creation of the International Criminal Court. And at that meeting we had given some of the reasons for it. And one of the reasons went in the direction that you have mentioned.

The creation of this court together with the land mines treaty is a very interesting development. Because it exemplifies to my mind two things. One, the power of civil society in the world today, and the locomotive function which they can exercise. There is a lot of push towards these achievements in the world which overtake the requirement that sovereignty is also involved and state perspectives are also involved.

The other is the feeling that despite the fact that the United States may not be able to join these initiatives, these initiatives can find an expression. Both the land mine treaty and the International Criminal Court came into existence despite the fact that the US has not joined them. I think we need to see how this new phenomenon in the world of international affairs finds expression, but we do believe that sovereign perspectives, to have an important and durable result, and harmonization of sovereign perspectives, are very important.

PORTER: One final area for you and that has to do with globalization. As you look at the world becoming more highly globalized do you see India as well-positioned to take advantage of at least the most positive aspects of globalization?

SHARMA: We believe so, although we feel that globalization should mean globalization of all aspects of international relations. Not just globalization of trading opportunities, globalization of movement of capital, but also globalization of equal opportunity and globalization of living standards. We cannot have globalization which is thrust upon smaller countries, which has the result of marginalizing them, which has the result of upsetting the social agenda and creating and political stresses. The movement of globalization has to be a benign movement for everybody and not just an opportunistic movement for the larger and the more powerful players.

As far as India is concerned it’s in a unique capacity because of our economic capabilities, the size of the population and the mass which we have, the way in which would look at globalization is different from many smaller countries. But we do also share those concerns. We’ve had globalization in the past—colonialism. And colonization was possibly the most effective form of globalization in the past. So we know what unequal globalization is all about.

PORTER: Some people equate or say they equate the word “Americanization” with globalization.

SHARMA: That’s one aspect of it. Certainly. It means that the most visible aspect of globalization becomes an opportunity for what Joseph Nye calls the “expression of soft power,” from America. Which means the cultural influences, the fast food stores, the information technology influences, the opportunities to multi-nationals; these are created immediately. And then people say, “All right, this is a form of globalization which has happened extremely swiftly. But what about some of the other aspects which we see in developed societies?” Which is the social safety net for instance. The social safety net in a global sense must consist of a supportive international environment that has to go hand-in-hand with the forces of market globalization.

This means that the overseas development assistance must go up. Right now it is steadily declining. Ever since the Cold War was over (between 1990 and now), there has been a one-third decline in ODA. This is only one aspect of what I mean by a supportive environment, which makes sure that globalization is a force which everyone sees in beneficial terms. Because everyone will not gain equally in the process of globalization. There’s going to be distances created between societies. There are going to be differences created within societies. And these stresses can only be managed through a flow of resources in the areas that get neglected as a result of globalization.

PORTER: That is Kamlesh Sharma, the Ambassador of India to the United Nations. For Common Ground, I’m Keith Porter.

Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.

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