INTERVIEWER: Let me begin Madam by asking you, in your role how have you found Washington, DC.? I know you have been here before but how have you found the city this time around?
AMBASSADOR NIRUPAMA RAO: First of all, you know it’s the beauty of the city that strikes you. I live in a particularly nice part of town, very close to the National Zoo and Rock Creek Park so I am surrounded by greenery which is what I love the most because that part of India that I come from, which is in the deep south of the county, it’s called Kerala, and it is known for it’s green foliage and lush vegetation. And when I come to Washington oddly enough it reminds me of home. So I like it very much here.
INTERVIEWER: What is a typical day like for you? And when does it start and when does it end, or does it?
AMBASSADOR: Well it’s a 24/7 assignment, a job if you want to call it that. And I’m, you know busy most of the time. In fact I haven’t had a weekend to myself for ages I feel since I’ve come to Washington because I travel a great deal around the country and I crisscross the United States most of the time meeting with Indian Americans. As you know we have a large Indian expatriate community here in the United States. And then I find a lot of universities and academic institutions across the country have begun or launched India programs and they want you to come speak and interact with their faculty and students. And then I meet business people and I speak to the chambers of commerce, and I meet with the local congressmen and senators and the governors. So I am busy most of the time. So it’s a lot of public diplomacy, let me put it that way, but I think public diplomacy has become such a crucial part of what we do anywhere globally as diplomats today.
INTERVIEWER: Give us a sense of how important India’s relationship with the U.S. is?
AMBASSADOR: It’s a very important, very crucial, very fundamental relationship I would say. When I use the word fundamental I think its fundamental to the interests of both countries because here we are two large vibrant democracies. And we have I think set a certain standard for what democratic functioning is, what the democratic way of life is, how do you balance diversity, how do you deal with pluralism in your societies. So we have a lot in common and I think if what you see, if you were to define the trend in the relationship in the last few years, it is this increasing discovery of the convergences between us, of the common interests and the shared values that make us come together.
INTERVIEWER: India has changed over the years and become an economic power house as time as passed and it is that nature of what India has become and the potential for India that I’m sure is a big part of U.S. interest, in making sure that this relationship is sound. How would you describe India’s economic relationship with the U.S.?
AMBASSADOR: Well it’s a driver of the relationship in many ways because India is well poised to become the third largest economy in the world in the next few years. We are a county of one billion people and the GDP of the country has grown very fast in the last few years. We’ve had an accelerated rate of growth of the economy. It has been affected somewhat in the last year or so because of the global recessionary trends and also because we’ve had some supply side constraints within the domestic framework of the economy. But let me say that the transformation of people’s lives in India has been revolutionary and millions of people have been lifted out of poverty and this process is continuing.
Now if you ask me why the United States is drawn to India, or course we’re a huge market and it’s a very domestically driven market. The demand comes from within the country. So there is a great deal of attraction when a foreign county or a foreign investor is looking at the economy of India and the potential and the prospects to do business there. And we have a very strong entrepreneurial tradition in India. The private sector of the country, even when the economy was relatively closed, was quite vibrant and that vibrancy has come to the fore even more in the two decades since we launched the process of economic reforms. So there’s increasing synergies being created between industry within India and industry abroad. And foreign investment has flown in a great deal in the last few years and we have a number of the Fortune 500 American companies that do business, and good business, in India. They’re making profits, they find India a good business destination.
And we would like it even to be even more conducive for foreign investment so the government has announced in the last few weeks further reforms, including reform in multi-brand retail which will allow a lot of the big multi-brand chains to come into India and to do business there. And we have allowed this or we have permitted this because we really want to see more progress in the supply chain from farm to market and in the cold storages. A lot of our food, we produce a lot of fruits and vegetables, in fact we’re among the topmost producers in the world, and a lot of it goes waste because we haven’t developed cold storages and food processing wherewithal that can preserve these foods. So, we hope with this process of opening up in this area that we will see a transformation in these sectors.
INTERVIEWER: You know, the economic part of security is something that a lot of countries have started to take a much closer look at, and the United States is among them, considering the fact that the world is changing and the power structure, the economic drivers of the world are changing as well. And that has to be factored into any national security strategy: how strong is your economy? So this makes perfect sense that you would be having this kind of dialogue and discussion with the United States with an eye towards the future, considering some of the actors in that region like a China, or a Pakistan, or a Afghanistan and other countries that are emerging. So, with that in mind towards that end, what are the main national security concerns, issues, or threats to India?
AMBASSADOR: You know India is a large country and, as you have I think rightly pointed out, we live in a complicated neighborhood. And India has faced threats and continues to face threats across its borders from terrorism and religious extremism and we have to be constantly vigilant about this. But there are other aspects of security. Of course security of our borders, making sure that territorial integrity and sovereignty is protected because any county has the right to do so, as you will agree. But when you look at development, you know India is a developing country and we have to deliver inclusive development to vast sections of our population. Even today many of them live in poverty. So aspects such as food security, energy security, human security in total, I think these are very, very important when you consider the whole paradigm of security for a nation today. And energy security particularly because when you look at the need to build better infrastructure to promote development you have to be able to provide electricity and cheaply access energy for vast sections of the population. A lot of our energy has to be imported from outside. You know the fuel that we need to generate electricity, to fuel our industries and our transportation sector; we have to import it from outside mostly from the Gulf region. So these aspects are very, very important, very crucial for India’s development.
INTERVIEWER: You know as you mentioned energy, there was an episode during the summer that gave people a big pause. They asked a big question how India was going to process energy moving forward. I think it was the big blackout. Give me a sense of how much of an issue, concern, or problem that the event was and what India is doing moving forward form there?
AMBASSADOR: You know, yes, the blackout did occur and it did create concern all around that it should have happened, but you also must look at what happened after the blackout. We were back on our feet within hours. I mean power had been restored, the national grid was functioning normally once again very, very soon after this had occurred. So it was an unfortunate occurrence, and naturally it generated concern all around, but the process of getting back to normal, I think you should also understand that. I’ve seen in many parts of the world including here in the United States that it takes time once there are power outages. It’s natural that days go by sometimes before normal power is restored. That didn’t happen in India, this was a nationwide “crisis” that we momentarily faced at that time. But we were able to get the grid going again almost immediately and power was restored to all the consumers concerned.
I think people seem to miss something in all of this because the question is not so much the breakdown of the grid, the question is more how do you deliver adequate power to all the millions who inhabit India and we are still a ways off from doing that. But it is encouraging to note that in the last couple of years particularly, the rate of increase of power generation has been phenomenal. It has far exceeded anything that we did in the last four or five decades. So, this is something that people, our friends around the world should recognize, and I’m sure they see it. Anybody who studies India closely will understand all these factors. So you need to take a more nuanced look at these issues. It’s not a question about the lights going out and why did that happen. There was a technical problem with the grid, we don’t deny that, but that problem was set right almost immediately.
But we have to focus on the larger picture and what our planning authorities are doing to give great focus to the creation of enough capacity in power generation, whether it’s through thermal power, whether it’s through hydro-power, whether it’s through solar and wind power. In fact, the quantum of solar energy that we’ve added to the national grid in the last few years has also been, you know, I think it’s been far above the normal global averages. If you go to India you will notice that. And nuclear power. You are aware of the civil nuclear deal we had with the United States. It really opened the universe for us in many ways about creating nuclear energy partnerships with a number of a foreign friends and partners. So that is also an area where we are giving increasing focus.
INTERVIEWER: And part of the reason why I asked that question about the black out, because we’ve had over time here in the United States blackouts as well, and there have been questions here about how well we would do if we had a big blackout now and if it were caused by cyber hackers, intruders of that nature. What’s India’s view of dealing with upcoming challenges that cyber may present to security?
AMBASSADOR: Well, we are very, very vigilant and all of us need to be vigilant about the threat from cyberspace or people like hackers and those who want to disrupt our computer networks and our power grids and railway and transportation grids and the airline transportation network. So we have to be extremely vigilant about this. And the other day I was listening to what U.S. Defense Secretary Panetta spoke on this issue. And how that cyber warfare is a new dimension of warfare today and all countries, especially countries such as ours, countries which are democracies, which promote freedom of expression, which have generally allowed the expansion of cyber networks especially in terms of Internet capacity and the use of electronic mail and e-governance because you know that enables inclusion, that enables people to avail themselves of development and its fruits have to be extremely vigilant and create that capacity to defend our countries against intrusions of that nature. So we have to be constantly vigilant about this and create that capacity and to be in our own individual ways extremely vigilant about ensuring that our own networks do not get intruded upon or hacked by people with interests that are counter to the national good or peace and stability in our countries.
INTERVIEWER: I want to ask you a few questions about a few of your neighbors. And I’ll start with Pakistan. How would you describe your relationship with them?
AMBASSADOR: It’s a complex relationship. There’s been a history of conflict, of difference, of alienation between our two countries. But what we have consciously done in the last two years particularly is to open up dialogue with Pakistan. You know you cannot deny geography, as we have always said in our part of the world, you can’t deny geography and we cannot ignore the fact that we have neighbors around us and we have to deal with them. We have to create a modus vivendi with our neighbors. The same applies to Pakistan. We are committed in my country, in my government, to seeing how we can explore the ways and means to create a normalized relationship with Pakistan. And what that entails is basically to first of all reduce the trust deficit between the two countries and to increase confidence in dealing with each other. And enable the people of both countries to connect more easily with each other, to allow trade and business to flow between the two countries because that itself creates a constituency for better relations. It’s been tried and tested all over the world and we don’t see why it shouldn’t apply to our part of the world either.
And we want to build confidence, mutual confidence in especially areas like Jammu and Kashmir, which has been, as you know, a bone of contention between the two countries. We want the people on both sides of the line of control in Jammu and Kashmir to be able to meet with each other, to trade with each other, to build better transportation links, and to decrease, you know, that sense of alienation and, you know, being apart from each other all these years. And I believe that process which we were able to launch over the last few years has moved forward and there are gains accruing from that. There is more understanding flowing from that. And I think if we can maintain that, we would have achieved a lot.
But let me also say, as there’s always a flipside to all this and the flipside is our concerns about terrorism and extremism, which has flown in the direction of India from Pakistan over the years. You know what happened on the 26th of November 2008 in Mumbai, in the big commercial capital of Mumbai in India where we had more than 170 people killed in the attack; that terrorists who had planned this in Pakistan, who came across from Pakistan, launched the attack on the Taj Mahal Hotel and other installations and other places where people went in Mumbai. And it was a terrorist attack from beginning to end. And we have yet to really see a satisfactory closure to the investigations into that attack. We have conveyed and constantly stressed to Pakistan that it is necessary for our two countries to cooperate, and cooperate meaningfully in bringing those people who are responsible for this attack to book and to see that justice is done. We are obviously continuing those efforts at this moment but the people of India have still not received satisfactory answers to what happened in Mumbai and what Pakistan, and I mean the fact that there was a Pakistani role in terms of Pakistani agents, Pakistani citizens who were involved in this cannot be denied. And we must see a satisfactory closure to that investigation because if there is a repetition of that for the future where would the normalization process stand? And that why it’s so important that Pakistan pays attention to this very serious request from India that we should see these investigations completed and those responsible for it brought to book.
Because there are safe havens in Pakistan, there are groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, a group that is proscribed globally. It] is still very active within Pakistan and you have leaders like Hafiz Saeed of the Lashkar-e-Taiba who are able to move around pretty freely, to broadcast to their constituencies within the country. So that has, that certainly rankles in India and if you were to ask the average citizen in India, he or she will speak about their very serious concerns about these issues. So terrorism and violence must be contained, must be eradicated, must be eliminated, particularly within Pakistan for our region to feel more secure, stable, and so that we can progress.
INTERVIEWER: It’s interesting you put it that way because not the least of which is the concern for India and for anyone who is against terrorism, is the fact that the organization the TTP along with LeT routinely threaten India. And I think there was one earlier this week. Some sources of mine in India had mentioned to me that there was a threat against the Marriot Hotel and threatening India and Indian business to attack them if they were to serve American customers. And everyone knows a Marriot is an American company. How do you handle situations and scenarios like that?
AMBASSADOR: There is a lot of cooperation between India and the United States in the field of homeland security and counterterrorism today. And you know when incidents or when information like this comes to notice obviously agencies in the two countries do remain in constant touch with each other and there is information sharing and intelligence sharing. That necessarily has to happen in such situations. So I want to say that this aspect of our strategic partnership is of very great importance and it leads me back to that central point I made before, that the price of liberty, as Thomas Jefferson I think said, is eternal vigilance.
INTERVIEWER: Yes. Back to the broader Pakistani relationship issue that you talked about a minute ago. You laid out what India’s interests are and what your interests are. How have the Pakistani’s responded to the overall interest of India to fix these things that are wrong, to set things right that have not been righted? What kind of response have you gotten? And you’ve told me that the results have not been satisfactory, but do you get the sense that they’ve tried?
AMBASSADOR: Well when you talk to the civilian government in Pakistan, you know, for example, there is a dialogue between the Interior Ministry in Pakistan and our Home Ministry which is you’re your Department of the Interior. And that dialogue has gone on and there is a certain channel of communication that is now open, so we are at least dealing with each other. We are interacting with each other and you know the people on both sides are getting to know each other which is a good thing I think, promotes communication and it certainly enhances confidence in dealing each other.
But there are other sections of government, there are other wings of authority within Pakistan as you know the intelligence agencies, the army. We don’t deal directly with those agencies within the dialogue that we transact with Pakistan. Just basically between the civilian authorities on both sides. The ministries, whether it’s the interior ministry or the foreign ministry or the cultural agencies involved in both countries, the consular departments. So that is the structure we have begun to build and which we will go on building.
But you know Pakistan works very differently from India as you know. We have been a democracy for the last 60 years and over. And Pakistan has had long periods of army rule as you know and right now its civilian democratic government is beginning to find its voice, which we welcome in India as a democracy. We would welcome democracy everywhere, particularly in our neighborhood. And we will continue to deal with the civilian democratic government; the two parliaments are interacting with each other. Politicians on both sides are getting to know each other. So we hope this consolidates itself. I think this is a process that you’re seeing. We don’t know about the outcomes as yet. We I think should be sincere in these efforts and it is necessary for that sincerity to be reciprocated by Pakistan. We hope it is being reciprocated in Pakistan. There has been progress. We don’t deny that. And the Pakistani government has, you know, worked with us in India to see that this progress is achieved. So we will, I can only say that we must be hopeful and that we must look at these issues, such as normalization, with an open mind and that we should deal with each other as two mature countries.
INTERVIEWER: Well I’ll ask one more question about that and then move on because we’re running out of the allotted time for us to sit down. It’s often said that if you want to get something done you have to get women involved. So you are an ambassador representing India and Pakistan has a female ambassador here. Have you had the chance to engage her?
AMBASSADOR: Yes I have met her and she’s an extremely accomplished woman and she has had a very prominent role in public life in Pakistan. She’s been in politics. So we, in India at least, we have interacted with her even before she became ambassador here. So it’s very nice to have a woman ambassador from Pakistan here in Washington. And I think as you rightly said, the women of the world bring to conference tables and negotiating tables, you know their own experience and their holistic view of looking at things. The perspective that women bring to many complex issues is important. And inclusive. I think women are conditioned to have inclusive perspectives, to listen and to solve problems, to build consensus. I think women are wired to be democratic.
INTERVIEWER: I can’t deny that at all. On any level. So moving on to some of the other issues before time runs out, you’re relationships with China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran. Let’s start with Iran, do you have a relationship with them?
AMBASSADOR: Of course we do have a relationship with Iran and without wanting to sound clichéd, it’s a civilizational relationship because India and Iran have through history interacted very closely with each other. You know our languages have common roots, culturally and historically people have moved between the two countries. We have a very large Shi’a Muslim population in India. As you know India has a very big Muslim population. The Muslim minority in India is the largest minority in the country and it’s close to 170 million people today in India. We don’t have the census figures as yet I think from last year, I mean specifically regarding Muslims, but we have a huge Muslim minority. So they have connections with Iran. So this is not a relationship we can wish away, the India-Iran relationship.
And Iran is a very important country in our neighborhood. It is near neighbor, it’s not an immediate neighbor, not a contiguous neighbor, but it is a near neighbor. And today when you look at the situation in Afghanistan for instance, it has not been possible for India to work for Afghanistan’s development by accessing Afghanistan through Pakistan because you know the Pakistanis have not been exactly willing to do that. So we have had to look at how we can transit through Iran into Afghanistan to do our road building work, to be able to, as I said, deliver development in Afghanistan. So the port of Char Bahar for instance in Iran, the development of that port and the creation of access facilities into Afghanistan form Char Bahar becomes very important. So from that point of view also the relationship with Iran is important.
But finally, I also want to mention energy because Iran has traditionally been a supplier of crude petroleum to India, traditionally. The proportion of that supply has gone down in the last year particularly because of the sanctions that have been put in place against Iran and its petroleum sector, so we’ve had to look to diversify those resources and to work out, you know, new modes of payment because you can’t pay in dollars anymore, so we worked out rupee payments. But that still, we can’t escape the fact that, you know, supplies have gone down and constraints have operated in this regard, so we’ve looked to diversify those resource supplies.
And as far as Iran’s nuclear issue is concerned, we have been very, very clear and unambiguous in our position in India that we do not want to see another nuclear weapon state in our neighborhood. And Iran, in our view, should cooperate with the international community and the International Atomic Energy Agency to answer the questions that have been raised about its nuclear ambitions because it is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. And signatories to the NPT can develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, for electricity for instance but they don’t have the right to develop weapons. So I think these questions must be resolved. And we certainly don’t want the situation to escalate to a point of conflict where if war were to erupt it could have repercussions for all of us. We have six million Indians who live in the Gulf today and so livelihoods are at stake. And most of all, energy security also becomes jeopardized for everybody in the region. But India cooperates with the international community on these issues and we’ve had a very constructive dialogue with the government of the United States on many of these issues.
INTERVIEWER: Well it’s very clear that I’m going to run out of time before I get to all of these questions but perhaps another day we can try this thing again. I would love to hear your thoughts about China and any of the other neighbors.
AMBASSADOR: I used to be ambassador in China at one point and so I’ve had a long period of experience in dealing with India-China relations. And I’ve seen that relationship grow in the last two decades particularly. And we have today a relationship with China that is focused on resolving the outstanding problems between our two countries particularly the border problem between the two countries peacefully through negotiation. We have been able to build mechanisms to maintain peace on our borders with China and to enhance confidence, mutual confidence between the defense establishments of the two sides and the border troops that guard our borders. So that has been, you know, one of the achievements I would say of the India-China relationship and we call it in fact a strategic partnership for peace and prosperity today, a strategic cooperative partnership for peace and prosperity.
And trade. China is our largest trading partner in goods today. We have a huge and growing volume of trade of China today and people are interacting with each other. Connectivity has grown. So the relationship is no longer in deep freeze. Fifty years ago there was a conflict between the two countries and for a decade and a half after that we were, we did not have much contact or communication with each other but all that has changed.
INTERVIEWER: Let me just ask you then about Russia before, and you can respond in kind.
AMBASSADOR: Well we have a special and privileged partnership with Russia as you know, and that is something that has been in place for decades now. And once the Soviet Union disintegrated we picked up the threads once again and built a strong relationship with Russia. Russia is a close partner of India. And again, it’s a very important country that straddles Europe and Asia and I think we, all of us, especially in the big countries in the world, will have to build a cooperative dialogue with Russia on so many issues that confront our century today. Russia is and will continue to be a very important partner for India.
INTERVIEWER: Interesting. Last thing, is there anything I haven’t asked you about that you would like to share with us that’s important to you?
AMBASSADOR: Well, I just want to say that the relationship between India and the United States is really, as President Obama mentioned when he came to India, one of the defining, indispensable partnerships for our century. And we have to work hard at this relationship, create more depth to it, even more depth to it. And to make it increasingly an indispensable presence in our world today. A presence that promotes peace and stability and progress for us all.
INTERVIEWER: Madam thank you so much. Madam Ambassador it’s been a pleasure to sit and listen and to get to know you and hear your views.
AMBASSADOR: Thank you so much, it’s an honor to be on your show.
INTERVIEWER: Thank you.