A Conversation With Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar of India

Wednesday, September 25, 2019
Adnan Abidi/Reuters
Subrahmanyam Jaishankar

Minister of External Affairs, India

Frank G. Wisner

International Affairs Advisor, Squire Patton Boggs, LLP; Former U.S. Ambassador to India

Foreign Minister Jaishankar discusses Indian foreign policy under a newly re-elected Modi government.

WISNER: Ladies and gentlemen, good evening.

My name is Frank Wisner. I am a(n) international affairs advisor with a law firm, Squire Patton Boggs, as well as a former ambassador to India myself. I am really pleased today to be able to welcome all of you to a conversation with India’s distinguished minister of external affairs, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.

It’s a privilege for all of us, Minister, to have you with us today, and I look forward to the conversation that’s going to follow. We will start with a bit of time between the two of us to get the conversation going, and then it’s my intention to open it to the floor. And the floor in this sense is a rather broad one. We are linked to the rest of the nation—audio link, and so there will be questions coming in from around the country.

So when we get to questions, please state your name, keep your question short, limit it to one question if you don’t mind, and we’ll be able to accommodate a lot. The minister’s answers, from my experience, are usually extremely—very sharply to the point, and we will get to many of you today.

But again, Minister, a warm welcome to you. It is really a privilege to have you here. The time is right. The last days have underscored the importance of the relationship that has been developing between this country and India, a relationship that is of vital importance to Americans. We need to understand, in terms of the maintenance of the global balance, the ability of a balance of power to be achieved in the world between great powers, the future of your often troubled region, the economic opportunities that lie before India. But we are here today as well in light of the fact that your prime minister has returned to office with a(n) outstanding majority which has given him extraordinary capability to shape an agenda and be able to carry that through your legislature.

But enough about India and the United States. I also want to just say a quick word to all of you about the minister. I’ve had the privilege of knowing you, sir, for some time. I’ve regarded you for many years as one of India’s foremost strategic thinkers, a very skilled diplomat. I first watched you negotiate the Civil Nuclear Agreement which was a tough negotiation; complex technically, fraught politically. I’ve watched you as ambassador in Washington where you made a real mark as foreign secretary guiding the hand of Indian diplomacy. And now—I can’t remember if there is an exception, I didn’t do my research well enough—but I think you are the first career officer in the diplomatic service—not?

JAISHANKAR: No, Natwar Singh.

WISNER: Natwar. Of course Natwar. That’s right. I should know that.

Well, but it’s still an extraordinary honor that a career officer in the service should end in the political position that you are now engaged in.

So let me begin, Minister, with a question. This is a decisive moment for India. The prime minister, when he cleared the election, turned to the nation and said that this was a time for all Indians to join in building a strong India. But to get there, India is going to need the sinews of a great power. The sinews of a great power include a strong economy, defense, intelligence, the capability to develop scientific knowledge. As you, today, look out at the future of Indian power and India’s emergence as a great power, what are the challenges, and how do you and the prime minister see India begins to cope with them so we can measure where you are?

JAISHANKAR: Well, thank you. Let me begin, Ambassador Wisner, by first of all telling you how pleased I am to be here, to be here at the CFR, and it’s really wonderful to see so many old friends with whom I’ve had good conversations over many, many years.

To turn to your question, you know, I think anybody who is looking at Indian foreign policy today needs to look at Indian domestic policy. They need to look at it because it’s the changes that are underway today in India which would define our capabilities and, frankly, our attitudes for the coming decades.

Now there are many ways of describing it. I’ll give you a short version. The normal metric of measuring progress has actually been the rate of growth, OK? It’s not a wrong metric, but it’s not a full metric. The interesting change that we are seeing in India—and we’ve seen that very sharply over the last five years—is actually the socio-economic changes that are taking place: the growth of awareness, the growth of literacy, you know, changes in gender gaps, changes in skills, changes of connectivity. So the India of 2019 is very different from the India of 2014. And part of the reason why, in the elections, the ruling party—led by the prime minister—got not just a mandate, but actually got a substantially higher segment of votes. I mean, the numbers spoke a lot for what the population felt.

Was that the—the prime minister is still very much the symbol of credible change in the country, and credible change, which means people actually think something important, something sort of discernible happened in those five years, and therefore they continue to trust in that—trust in him as an agent of change in India.

And the connection I am making is that if, in the next five years—we are very hopeful that there is a very visible change in the human development indices of India, that there is a change in what are really the bottom-line requirements that, you know, if you can, to my mind, ensure universal health coverage, universal housing, universal literacy—I mean, these are the goals. And poverty—elimination rather than alleviation.

And these goals are captured by the SDG and, you know, the point really is that today it’s India’s performance which is going to determine the global result on SDGs. And that India which comes out, to my mind, attitudinally, capacity-wise would be very different and would be much better positioned to play a greater role in world affairs.

There will be some very unique developmental challenges because there are no set models, there are no precedents that India can follow in this part. I mean, India can’t replicate China, India can’t replicate Europe, so India will have to invent a development part for itself, which will be a kind of a(n) all-of-the-above kind of very mixed, complex developmental model. But out of that I actually see a much different society coming out and a society which will be both capable and be more globalized than it is today.

WISNER: Minister, I think what I’m also trying to drive at is what is the strategic framework that you have and the prime minister has in mind as you chart India’s course forward, and where do we fit in? What should be the objectives of the U.S.-India relationship?

JAISHANKAR: Well, you know, the strategic framework, in a way, is not something which we can determine. We can determine our strategic part or strategic options, but the strategic framework is something which will evolve from the interaction of world powers with each other.

So now this is how we look at the world because that’s what you are asking in a way. There is a very radical change underway in the world, and radical change in the sense that this time around, really, the 1945 world order is running out of gas, that there are changes which are happening which will really transform the relationships of major powers with each other, with the world as a whole—with the international order, and a large part of that is the changed posture of the United States—much more nationalistic United States, which has repositioned itself or is repositioning itself, in present, continuous—and where some fundamental questions are being asked about the reliability and relevance of the alliance systems which have anchored American policy and global order for many years.

It’s also a different—it will be a very different world because you have the rise of China, and the rise of China is really the first rise of a potentially global power. The last time we saw such a rise it was masked by the Second World War, so when the Second World War ended, suddenly people found that they actually had—I mean, they had one global power, the United States, but they had the second as well, the Soviet Union.

So this time around there isn’t a masking. I mean, it is a—it is a very visible rise, and that will have its consequences. Europe is—you know, while the attention in Europe has largely gone to Brexit, I think continental Europe itself is going through a journey, a process.

In Asia, I think there are other issues: the centrality of ASEAN is a bit of a question mark; it wasn’t that much before. It’s not very clear what will Japan do, how much will Japan do, or how that will work out. I’m sort of putting India in brackets because this is us talking about the world. There are issues about, you know, the future of Africa and the volatility of the Gulf, as well, and not least to the return of history in the positions and policies that Russia has taken, particularly in the Middle East.

So this sort of world scenario, to me the strategic framework would be more multipolarity; unfortunately, less multilateralism; leading, suddenly from the perspective of a country like India, to a sort of a—I would say a multi-alignment, which is you keep your relationships well-oiled with all the major power centers, and the country which does that best actually has political positioning in the world which may be superior to its actual structural strengths. So I think good diplomacy probably means more today than it did a few years ago.

So how do you—how do you manage that, and how do you ensure that is the challenge? When I say all this, I mean, it’s not—it’s not going to be clean and analytically neat. I mean, there will be issues. You will work with different countries. There will be—you would work with countries in some regions but not in other regions on some issues, but not in other issues; work with them depending on time, place, situation. So it’s going to be more variables, much messier, much nimbler, but also more creative. And for people of our profession, that’s wonderful.

WISNER: Will we fit in?

JAISHANKAR: Oh, it’s a new business waiting to happen.

WISNER: But between the United States and India, what are your—

JAISHANKAR: Oh, between the United States and India, look, I’ve seen the enormous change, and I remain optimistic that there can be—you know, that this is really the beginning and there is much more we can do. And I don’t say that as sort of a feel good statement. I really think that there are structural convergences between us. When I look at what would be the probable state of the world economy, the fact that we moving to much more knowledge-based technologies and knowledge-based economy, for me the relevance of each country to the other would grow. When I look at many of the big challenges, the challenges are similar—you know, challenges of terrorism, maritime security, of truly global, common connectivity; when I see also the human element: our ability to talk to each other—I mean, I am having this conversation with you. I’m not sure in how many capitals a similar conversation could be taking place.

So for me, the human element is not unimportant, and if any of you think it is, you should have been in Houston with me at “Howdy, Modi!”—(laughter)—and you would have got the message. So I do think that there is a lot that we have going for each other, but it needs to be tempered by realistic expectations, by a sense on both sides that neither would automatically and unthinkingly underwrite the position of the other.


JAISHANKAR: And therefore it is important to have those good conversations and deep understandings of each other.

WISNER: I’m so glad you put it that way. I believe respect for India’s strategic autonomy is critical in the terms of America fashioning our end of the relationship. But relations, structures, and strategy depend on how we execute on given issues, and there are a number out there today.

Minister, I would like to touch on a couple with you before we go to questions. The vexing question of Kashmir, of Pakistan, that aspect of Kashmir—how do you look forward to managing your relationships with Pakistan? How do you see you can get yourselves in a position where you are back in dialogue and have a chance to get a grip on the stability of South Asia?

JAISHANKAR: Well, you used two key words, and I would like to begin by differentiating them. One was Kashmir and one was Pakistan.

I’ll tell you why I do that. I don’t think that the fundamental issue between India and Pakistan is Kashmir, OK. I think it’s part of the issues between us, but if you look at a lot of what has happened in the last thirty, forty years—you know, you had for example the 26/11 attack on the city of Mumbai. Now the city of Mumbai is a few thousand miles away from Kashmir. You had, you know, the abortive attack on the India parliament.

So I think there are larger—I mean, we should distinguish between the antipathy—the deep antipathy that the—that segments of Pakistan nurse towards India from coveting Kashmir. I think they are autonomous issues; they are linked to each other—

WISNER: Accept the distinction.

JAISHANKAR: —but they are not the same issue.

WISNER: Accept the distinction, focus on Pakistan.

JAISHANKAR: So let me—let me look at Pakistan. To my mind, the big challenge before us is if you have differences with a neighbor, how do you resolve them? Now these differences are not normal differences because they are rooted in our history, and our history is not—to the extent any two neighbors have what we may call a normal history, it’s not a normal history.

Now if you look in terms of how these countries have dealt with each other, from—and I’m obviously giving you my side of it—you have a neighbor who will not trade with you, who is a member of the WTO and, before that, of the GATT, but will not extend MFN status even though they are legally obliged to—and we did.

You have a neighbor who would not allow you connectivity, so we have, for example, the potential to use Pakistan to transit on to Afghanistan or Iran, but they will not allow you that connectivity; who in many ways have slowed down regionalism largely because of a concern that that might integrate them more with our economy; who filter people-to-people interaction. So it’s a very challenging neighbor, OK?

Now all of that you could still handle if they then don’t do the one thing which is actually unacceptable in the world today, which is to conduct terrorism as—in their eyes—a legitimate tool of statecraft, as a way of pressurizing you to come to the negotiating table. Now it’s not that it has never been done before in history, but it’s not today acceptable as a sort of a norm of international relations anymore. There is no part in the world—I mean, you have terrorism in different parts of the world, but there is no part of the world where a country uses it consciously, deliberately as a large-scale industry against its neighbor.

So for me the issue is not do you talk to them, don’t you talk to them. Of course, I mean, everybody wants to talk to their neighbor. The issue is how do I talk to a country that is conducting terrorism and which, frankly, I would say follows a policy of implausible deniability; that, you know, they do it, they kind of pretend they don’t do it. They know that that pretense is not serious, but yet they do it. So how do you—how do you address that? I think it’s a huge challenge for us.

WISNER: Though I leave this moment in our conversation seeing no particular windows opening in the dialogue between Islamabad and Delhi, but let me take you down the road a little bit further to the neighbor, Afghanistan, of huge strategic significance to India over the centuries, and now how do you see the next steps in the wake of our negotiation with the Taliban? How does India’s strategic balance in your northwest frontier—how do you assure that?

JAISHAKAR: Well, look, at one level we can understand the compulsions on the United States. I mean, the United States has had an eighteen-year military commitment in Afghanistan, and frankly, I can’t think of any country other than the United States which is even capable of such a commitment. So the first point I would make is even while people are focusing on, you know, the Americans are pulling out, or negotiating, whatever the U.S. is doing, I think the region and certainly countries like us should stop a moment, reflect on the last eighteen years, and express their appreciation for what the U.S. has done to stabilize that region, that’s been for the larger benefit of the region.

Having done that, you have to then say, OK, the U.S. is now reassessing its commitments. You may not—we may like it or not like it. It’s not relevant. The U.S. will do what the U.S. has to do. Then the issue is, you know, how best do you manage it? What suggestions to do you give, how do you work with different players on that. And here, for us, the guiding principle would be the enormous achievements of the last eighteen years, because an enormous amount of good was done in Afghanistan. I think today I don’t see that reflected in the discourse. I mean, anybody who’s been to Afghanistan, and I’ve been there, you know, if you look—if you look at the demography of Afghanistan, Afghans have left for the last eighteen years the Taliban-controlled areas and gone to the areas controlled by the U.S., which tells you what actually the average Afghans feel.

You’ve had—eighteen years is a long time. And you actually had a generation of Afghans who’ve grown up with only this as their living memory. So how do you actually protect against, you know, today the gains of multiple opinions, of pluralism in different ways, of the ability of faiths to—multiple faiths to coexist? You know, women’s rights, children’s rights, some of those basic civil liberties which we take as a norm in every other state. So how—you know, for me, I do get the big message, which is that the U.S. is going to sort of reposition, you know, re-posture, in a way. But how do you protect against, while doing so? I mean, to me, that’s the big challenge.


JAISHANKAR: And, you know, I would say at the present time the best bet would be actually perhaps to, frankly, trust the Afghans more. I think somehow there’s a tendency to be very dismissive of those who—you know, those forces who have grown in the last eighteen years. I think there are capabilities there that are—even institutions there. I think a lot of that will not disappear when the United States hypothetically were to tend down.

WISNER: But in your construct of multiple powers in the world, there will be other players with which India has established relationships—with Russia, with China, with Pakistan—all of which will impinge on Afghanistan’s future.

I am stealing too much of your time. In fact, I had several other questions. I wanted to talk about China. I wanted to get for a moment deeper into the question of Kashmir. But I recognize time’s limited and we have a busy audience here, we want to get to their questions, and an audience out in the rest of the country. So please let me stop here and ask the floor, put your hand up, state your name, and then we’ll try to call on you. And be sure you keep that question short. I see a gentleman in the little row there, it’s over here. He needs a mic, doesn’t he? Go ahead. Go ahead.

Q: I didn’t raise my hand, but I do have a question.

WISNER: Oh, I’m so sorry about that. (Laughter.)

Q: Not at all. If the microphone comes to you, you have to. Sir, good evening. My name is Michael Carson from McKinsey & Company in London.

My question, which I hope doesn’t sound facile to you, is around the sport of cricket. I speak as an Englishman and knowing that the region is massively invested in cricket, with Afghanistan and Bangladesh now emerging too. But between India and Pakistan, often the countries stop when the two nations play each other. There’s a rivalry, for sure. Can this not be a source of a rapprochement, seeing as it touched the two countries at the very deepest level?


JAISHANKAR: You know, I must tell you, when I look back at the last few years one little thing which I did, which I’m particularly proud of, was to help find the Afghan national team a kind of a home—a cricket base to actually develop the team, which happened to be a suburb of Delhi. And when I look at them today performing I identify almost as much with them as I do with my own team.

But the answer to your question about India-Pakistan cricketing linkages, look, it’s very difficult in real life to separate issues. Now, if you—if you see some of the very difficult things which have happened between India and Pakistan—I mean, we had, you know, some years ago an attack—a very major attack on an airbase in India. Then, I mean, this year we’ve had—you had in 2016 an attack on a military camp which killed a lot of people. This year we had a suicide attack which killed a lot of policemen. If the dominant narrative of a relationship is of terrorism, suicide bombings, violence, then you say, OK, guys, now take a break, let’s go and play cricket, I think that’s a very hard narrative to sell to people. So there is—there is—I mean, look, this is a democracy. Sentiments of people do matter. And the one message I don’t want to give is you do terrorism by night, and it’s business as usual by day. You know, and unfortunately that’s the message I would give if I were to follow this one.

WISNER: Question? Elisa, front row.

Q: Thank you. Alyssa Ayres, Council on Foreign Relations.

I’ll take up the question on China that Ambassador Wisner didn’t get to. Maybe mine might be a little different. We’ll see. One of the areas that has been a source of the strategic partnership between India and the United States and, frankly, a source of differentiation between our countries and China, is democracy. But India has not been a country that traditionally likes to promote democracy externally. Can you speak a little bit about how the government is thinking about its role as now a member of the quad consultation, our strong relationship—the Malabar exercises are just beginning now, along with Japan. How does that democracy piece play in the way India is thinking about its foreign policy?

WISNER: I’m going to push Alyssa’s question also to ask you to expand it a little bit and talk about her question in the context of how India foresees careful management of its competition and its cooperation with China.

JAISHANKAR: OK. But before I get to the C-word, I want to say a few words about the D-word, which is democracy, because I’m not sure I entirely agree with the assumptions underlying your question. I think Indians are more cautious about talking—about promoting democracy abroad. But if you look at the actual record, you know, there was a consistent policy for many, many years of promoting the democrats in Nepal, when it was a monarchy, you know, first when the Ranas were ruling, then when it was a monarchy. So actually Nepali political parties, including Nepal congress, operated for many years out of India. And the democratic forces in Nepal always had a sort of home in India.

If you look at Myanmar, again, we were one of the earliest supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi. And when the NLD got going, in fact, a lot of the NLD activists found refuge in India. If you look at Bangladesh, in fact, we have been far more consistently supportive of the Awami League and less so of military regimes and the BNP, which was very closely aligned to them. If you look at Sri Lanka, where the big challenges was less of democracy but more of pluralism of ethnic identity, again, the absence of pluralism and the attempts to impose a very unitary culture was something which clearly was disapproved by India. And, again, there was very practical consequences for that.

Even in Pakistan. I mean, if you look at the democratic forces of Pakistan, I mean, the Bhutto family at one point of time and Nawaz Sharif, these are people with whom there was very visible sympathy where India’s concerned. I think—so my first point would be that actually we don’t kind of wear it on our sleeve, but like any country, the things you believe in you are comfortable with other people in those societies who have similar thoughts.

Now, the other part of your—the same observation was as though the U.S. has been consistently supporting democracy, which again is a very challengeable proposition. I will not talk about other parts of the world, but at least in our part of the world, you know, a lot—a lot of our difficult history comes from the fact that the U.S. had an image of being consistently supportive of Pakistani military dictatorships. So my own sense is we have both outgrown that. You are perhaps a little more consistent in your practice, we are a little more consistent in our articulation. And I do think today this is a meeting ground between us. But we have—look, we come from different cultures, you know? In our part of the world, you often do things by more subtle signals than very open policy statements. And I think part of the Indian American relationship today is harmonizing our ways of pursuing our values and interests.

Regarding, you know, when it comes to China, first of all, it’s unrealistic in the world to only sort of do business with people who think similar to you. That doesn’t work in the marketplace, it doesn’t work on the street, it doesn’t work in global affairs. So we have to accept different societies are differently structured. They have their own particular systems. Where we are concerned—I mean, where China is concerned, our relationship today is, first of all, based on the fact—I mean, it’s just a very—it’s the second-largest economy in the world. It also happens to be our largest neighbor. It’s a neighbor with whom we have a very, very long history—a history of culture, a history of interactions of different kinds. And increasingly, it is today our second-largest trade partner. And, you know, the fact that China’s influence has grown over many years is also a fact of life.

So, you know, considering that international affairs is a business of realism, not de facto all the same, and then try to find an equilibrium with the country concerned. And we will—you know, there are differences we have with China. It’s not a secret. They accept it. We accept it. We have a boundary issue. We have had negotiations for many years. We have other areas where we may not always agree. But I think today it is a very stable relationship. It’s a very mature relationship. Where we differ, we have mechanisms and a sort of a—in a way a sort of ethos of handling it. And frankly, it’s not a relationship that has given cause for anxiety to the world for many, many years.

Now, you know, your question, Frank, about what are the areas of competition and cooperation? Look, international relations by its very nature is a competitive business. There’s nobody with whom you don’t compete. But there are a lot of countries with whom you try to find areas of convergence, which then become the basis of cooperation. There are areas of convergence with China. I think in the economic domain there is a lot. I mean, today we are getting Chinese foreign investment in India, which is a good thing. We do trade with China, not as balance as we would like but, you know, that’s shown trends towards improvement in the last year and a half.

But there are larger issues. I mean, there are developmental issues, issues of regimes, you know, what should the WTO be like, how should climate change negotiations be conducted. These kind of issues, how do international institutions run. So these are sort of areas where actually we have practical understandings with the Chinese. So it’s going to be a mixed bad.

WISNER: Good. Well, I have a sea of questions. I’m going to start on this side of the room.

Q: Tazy Schaffer from McLarty Associates in Washington.

I was interested in your argument that the transformation of India’s economy and society were what was going to shape Indian foreign policy. And in general, I would agree with that. But I wonder, India has, in spite of its enormous economic advancement over the past ten, twenty years, remained very cautious about further market opening. Most countries that have experienced really rapid growth have actually opened their economy and continue to do so. I wonder what it will take in India’s democratic society to get more constituencies on board for a more open economy, or whether this is going to be either a stumbling block or an area where India looks out and nobody’s done it yet.

JAISHANKAR: You know, look—if I were to look at the trend line, I would say the trend line would obviously be that India is moving towards a more open economy. India is a more open economy in 2019 than it was in 2009. And more in 2009 than it was in ’99. And so if you take ’92 as sort of a bottom line, I think there’s a fairly clear direction in which we are going. Now, here’s the challenge. Some of the areas—now, first of all, I’m not disputing the underlying assumption. If you ask me, should we be opening up more my answer to you would be a yes. But it would be a qualified yes because when you open up an economy you’ve got to be a little careful exactly which sectors you are, and what the consequences of that would be. There would be sectors where, let us say, the employment—the sector affected would be, you know, small famers, marginal—subsistence farmers. And you are dealing with countries, you know, with U.S. or Europe, where there’s heavy subsidiary of agricultural production, which is commercialized, industrialized in many ways. And it’s therefore a very uneven competition in a way.

So you weight your sort of pluses and minuses. And we are not unique in doing that. I mean, the United States, which is in a much more secure position, after all, has so many constituencies when it comes to opening up the American economy. And ask the Japanese what are the constituencies they have. We won’t even talk about, say, a country like China. So the fact that there are constituencies which would cautious against opening is a universal situation. So I think that needs to be recognized. But at the same time, I would say at the moment the strongest prospect of further opening up appears to lie in the RECP negotiations. RECP is a free trade agreement which we are doing with the ASEAN, Japan, China, Korea, Australia, and New Zealand. So that I think would be a step forward. But after that, who else we would look to for our limited or a full FTA? I think that remains an open question.

WISNER: Minister, one of those members of the Council who’s been listening wanted to ask me to bring you back a step to the question on Pakistan. Shireen Tarheli (ph) asks: Given today’s situation, are India and Pakistan permanent enemies?

JAISHANKAR: No, no. I mean, look, Shireen (sp) knows the word “permanent” is not generally relevant in international affairs. (Laughter.) We all know that—we know the quotation which is used to justify that. And, you know, we have to—I mean, first of all, diplomacy is an optimistic profession, OK? So you always hope that things will get better. You don’t begin your business by saying, this is a terrible day and I’ve got nothing. Then you have nothing to do. Secondly, you know, I’m a neighbor, OK? And no neighbor can ever give up on a neighbor. So I’m not pessimistic. But I’m realistic about diagnosis the problem that I have. And my own sense is, you know, the Pakistanis need to change position, not for us. They need to change it for themselves. I mean, you look at the state of Pakistan and what it has done to itself in the last thirty or forty years. So I think their own—I mean, I used to be concerned about Pakistan. I still am. But I’m not concerned for Pakistan as well. So I do think that their own self-interest mandates that they take a different tack when it comes to terrorism.

WISNER: Good. Madam.

Q: Hello. Good evening. Tess Davis. I’m executive director of the Antiquities Coalition, a nonprofit that’s dedicated to fighting the illicit trade in art and antiquities.

And certainly India has had some major successes on this front, and recoveries, and really increasingly prioritized the recovery of stolen and looted artifacts and idols, in close partnership with the U.S. Department of State. And I was wondering if you could speak to some of these successes and also share why this has been such an important issue for the Ministry of External Affairs, and also for the State Department as well.

JAISHANKAR: Well, you know, I can remember a few of these successes, because often you would get the return of an artifact when, you know, something special was going on, like a prime minister’s visit, so it tends to stick in your mind. And I’ve seen that in the U.S. I’ve seen that in Germany. I know there was one in Australia. So it’s been—it’s something which has happened quite regularly. And I think the difference is, frankly, we have pursued these cases far more vigorously than we did before. I think it’s important today that, you know, we don’t allow this illegal trade in artifacts.

It’s, frankly, part of what I would, you know, from sort of a political science perspective you talk of rebalancing of the world. But the rebalancing of the world is not just in economic terms, and political terms. I think, for me, cultural rebalancing is equally important. Not stealing other people’s artifacts is part of cultural rebalancing. So I wish a lot of museums would give it serious consideration. And I think it’s also, you know, we need far more, you know, more multiple narratives, in a way. So it’s a—I’m sort of making a jump her—but for me, something like global yoga, you know, celebrations. I find it very interesting, because yoga has localized in many ways, and yet remains—it remains Indian, but it’s localized and it’s global. And the fact that it has achieved today the kind of—you know, it’s pervasive, but it’s achieved a sort of a prominence that it didn’t have earlier. That, to me, is a very—is an example of how actually that cultural rebalancing is slowly happening in the world. And certainly the return of artifacts would be another one.

WISNER: Good. Minister, there are many questions, but I don’t want the evening to close out without making certain we go back to August 5 of this year, and decision of your government to bring an end to Article 370 and take full responsibility for the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. What I’d like to drive at, or ask you to explain to us, is what is the strategy now of your government to restore a degree of normalcy in the territory to rebuild confidence, to reestablish civil political rights? How do you move forward from where you’ve been to where you would like to be? How do we get there?

JAISHANKAR: OK. To answer that question I’d like to explain to you what was the thought process behind August 5, because that will then answer a lot of what you’re asking. Now, the thought process was this: I think many of you who know Indian history will recall that there were about six-hundred-odd princely states at the time of independence who were given the choice of joining India or Pakistan, and most of them made up their minds. One which held out in indecision at that point in time was the state of Jammu and Kashmir. And at that time, Pakistan tried to force the issue by really invading Kashmir. And that decision went the other way, which was, OK, Jammu and Kashmir decided to join India instead of Pakistan.

Now, the first point, which I’d like you to recall is, all the states joined the Indian union in exactly the same terms and conditions. That they actually had a form—I have a picture of the accession—instrument of accession that the maharaja of Kashmir signed. All of them had a form, the blank parts of the form were the name of the state, the name of the ruler, the date of accession. Otherwise, it was exactly the same. Now, initially when they joined, all of them agreed that they would cede to the union the rights—you know, the powers on foreign affairs, defense, and communications. And then as the Indian constitution came into being, you know, the idea was that they would, each one of them, accede to the constitution in question. And they were participants in the constitution-making process. So as they acceded, they sent delegates. And so it was like a Philadelphia convention, where, you know, people then sent their delegates as the convention progressed.

And Jammu and Kashmir also sent their delegates. Now, the situation in Jammu and Kashmir was peculiar for a number of reasons. And one of them was the fact, of course, that they were a border state, but also that they were, themselves, under attack at that time. So they had a desire to extend the period of alignment with the rest of India in terms of, you know, application of laws. And the constituent assembly recognized that they were a very special case at that point of time. But there was then a big debate. So which part for the constitution do you accept and at, you know, what length of time would that take place? So this was not a simple decision. There was a lot of negotiation on it. You know, you look. There’s a lot of correspondence on it. And all of this is actually archival material today.

Now, to cut a long story short, what happened at that time was that to accommodate them, the only temporary article of the constitution was drafted. OK, I underline this—the only temporary article. This was what today we call Article 370. At that point it was numbered Article 306(a).

Now, immediately after that article was—the constitution was adopted, there were a series of presidential proclamations under that article, which started aligning the state, OK? In the last seventy years you had fifty-four of these presidential proclamations. But here’s what went wrong. The presidential proclamations were very rapid in the initial years, but as, you know, there was a climate of intimidation and separatism in Kashmir, they started to dry up.

They started to dry up because the state politics was now, you know, the people found that there was an arbitraging possibility using the separate—you know, the 370 article, because 370 essentially mandated—you know, one of the consequences of 370 was you had local ownership of property, where you had—you know, which is a provision of—another provision of the constitution called 35(a). And there were restrictions in many ways of what would be normal economic activity in the state.

So over a period of time you had really three consequences. Number one, you didn’t have the economic activity and economic energy in Kashmir, in Jammu and Kashmir, that you had in the rest of India, which meant less jobs, less job opportunities, more sense of alienation, a sense of separatism, and therefore a climate for terrorism from across the border.

The second was that the state was, in socioeconomic terms, increasingly less aligned with India. So if you look at all the progressive legislation of India, they did not apply to Kashmir, because whenever you drafted a law in India, pretty much, you know, clause two or clause three of that law would say but this law is not applicable to the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

So what you had was you didn’t have right to work. You didn’t have right to education. You didn’t have right to information. You did not have affirmative action. You did not have the law against domestic violence. You didn’t have law on representation of women in local bodies. You didn’t have equal, you know, property laws between men and women. You didn’t have juvenile-protection laws. So I can cite to you at least about one hundred important laws which did not apply to Jammu and Kashmir.

Now, one was a political consequence—economic consequence. The second was a social consequence. But one and two really led to three, and that was a political consequence, because what all of this it did was it allowed really sort of a narrow elite to arbitrage this 370, to monopolize political power, to create a sort of a closed-loop politics. And they had a vested interest in keeping alive separatist sentiment. And you had, actually, a situation where separatist political parties were openly allied with terrorist groups operating out of Pakistan.

Now, here’s the choice which the government faced. When we came back to power this May and did a Kashmir review, there were two choices. One was you had a set of policies which were on the books for seventy years. But for the last forty years, they were visibly not working. And, by the way, when I say visibly not working, that meant in the last thirty years forty-two thousand people got killed; the fact that the level of intimidation had reached a height where you had senior police officers lynched on the streets of Srinigar, you had journalists who wrote against separatism who were assassinated, you had military personnel returning home for Eid who were kidnapped and killed.

So, you know, pre-August 5—please remember this—pre-August 5, Kashmir was in a mess. I mean, the difficulties in Kashmir have not started on August 5. August 5 is supposed to be a way of dealing with those difficulties. So the choices were either you continue what was clearly not working or you try something very different. And I think the decision was to try something very different.

So our expectation today is, by doing away with what was a temporary solution, what was meant as a bridge but became a barrier, that we will be able to push investments, economic activities, into Kashmir, that we will be able to frankly change the economic landscape, change the social landscape.

Now, we realize it’s not an easy exercise, because there are deep vested interests which will resist it. And so when we do this transition, our first concern was that there would be violence, that there would be demonstrations. Terrorists would use those demonstrations. And we had the experience of 2016, when there was a very—there was a self-advertised terrorist cult figure who was killed, a gentleman called Burhan Wani. And after that there was a spike in violence and about—I forget—about fifty-plus people lost their lives.

So the intention was manage this transition situation without loss of life. So what the restrictions which came about gathering of people, about communication, these were intended to prevent that.

Now, as the situation stabilizes, I think a lot of those restrictions would be rolled back. Already landlines are reconnected. My understanding is that the mobile towers have started to be switched on, that, you know, the schools are open. The sort of economic activity has picked up.

Particular effort is being made to keep the supplies at normal in the state, so there’s no shortage of food or medicine or supplies. This is harvest season for apples, so again, a particular effort is being made to procure apples so that the farmers don’t feel that they’ve been victimized by these changes.

But, having said that, for us the primary concern would be to prevent loss of life. And if I were to put the temporary termination—temporary suspension of internet on one side of the scale and permanent loss of life on the other, I know which side I would go.

WISNER: Well, I think you’ve sensed, since you’ve been here, a very high degree of concern; not that the United States or public opinion in the world has agency. The responsibility lies with India to achieve the goals that you’ve set out tonight. And we all wish Kashmiris well and you well in re-finding stability in that state, building a different future.

But lots of other questions. On the edge, a gentleman with glasses, hand up, sitting—yes, sir, you.

Q: Stephen Blank.

You described many positive changes in India. One change we feel—many feel is more worrisome, and that is the erosion of the constitutional commitment to a secular state and the rise of a very politicized Hindu nationalism. Can you comment on this please?

JAISHANKAR: Look, I don’t agree with your—I mean, your analysis and the question which flows from it. I would put it differently. I think that what we have seen after seventy-odd years of independence is actually the results of the democratization of India. And by that I mean that today political power, social power, to some degree economic power, has shifted out of the big cities, the more cosmopolitan cities, where people speak English, where they have sort of a global comfort level, people like me, with whom you’d be comfortable, and moved to a different set of people, people who are much more comfortable speaking in their own languages, who have a sort of a cultural, I would say, milieu in which would be far more rooted on the ground in many ways.

So to my mind the changes which have happened in India are actually—they demonstrate the successes of actual—you know, of democracy and what it has meant in terms of the consequences on the ground.

So I don’t accept that secularism is under threat, for a very simple reason. Look, at the end of the day, secularism was not promoted by a law or by a constitutional belief. It was promoted by the ethos of the society. So, you know, the ethos of the society was not secular. No law, no constitutional provision, would have ensured it. And I don’t think the ethos of the society has changed. I think the ethos of India and the Hindu ethos of India is actually very secular. It’s very pluralistic.

WISNER: Minister, I fear we’re running to the end. We have time for perhaps one more question. Sarah (sp), young lady in the fourth row.

Q: Diana Lady Dougan, CSIS and also a number of other things, including just having done a film on the first woman sharia judge in the Middle East. We were up for the Emmys last night.

So I can’t help but be impressed with what you’ve said about Kashmir and the reforms that you’re doing. But one of the things is that India is the third-largest Islamic population in the world, and the Asia-Pacific is the largest Muslim population in the world. And, like it or not, there is a very deep perception that, whether it’s Hindu nationalism or whatever, there’s just a little too much on the books that puts Prime Minister Modi in a position of being not just nationalistic but anti-Muslim. So my question to you, without defending the premises or lack of validity of the premises, what do you see India’s role is going to be going forward in dealing with the issues of Islam globally?

JAISHANKAR: Look, it’s—I don’t know if you know we have—there’s a national organization of great influence and debate in India called the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind. They’ve just had their annual meeting, and they have spoken up very clearly in favor of the changes which are—which are envisaged in Kashmir.

I don’t think—I mean, my first response to you would be I would not—I would not agree that the Kashmir issue should be seen through common knowledge, OK? My second observation would be that if you look today at the changes in India, I—probably the word I can—which captures it best for me is, you know, India is modernizing in a very interesting way. And it’s not necessarily state-driven.

OK, I mean, to me, anything the state does is overshadowed by what the smartphone does. I mean, if you look today, the—you know, the moment people have money, the first thing they do—I mean, when I had money, I first dreamt of buying a car. You know, someone today who’s sixteen, seventeen, eighteen will think of getting a phone and improving the phone.

So I don’t—you know, you are seeing a more urbanizing society; in that sense, a society which is interestingly more meritocratic. It is—the social gains are spreading. But at the same time, it’s also mixing up—there’s a lot of internal mobility, which wasn’t there before. So I would actually predict to you that you would have a society increasingly where traditional identities matter less than they did in the past.

In terms of, you know, how do we approach the Indian state or the political party, the ruling political party, look, today, if there’s one area where we have—we can boast of visibly good relations, particularly in the last five years, that would be the Gulf. And you know the dominant faith in the Gulf. I think they see it, because they—there is an objectivity about them and a sort of—they don’t have vested interest in what is essentially an Indian domestic discourse.

So I would not—I would not be comfortable with the view that somewhere we are headed for some kind of collision with the—with the Muslim community globally. I don’t think that is the case.

Q: (Off mic)—about collision, (they ?) were talking about—

WISNER: I think—Diana, if you’ll forgive me, we have to bring the session to a close. I want to thank everyone for coming and being part of this tonight. (Applause.)

Minister, particularly to thank you. You’ve given us a sense of the structure of India’s foreign policy, to which this country is privileged to relate and will have to relate in the years ahead. And you’ve given us some very sharp insights into the domestic nature of India. So thank you on behalf of all of us. Appreciate it.

JAISHANKAR: Thank you. It was a pleasure. (Applause.)


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