Interview: India's Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna

BANGALORE, India — A rising economic power. Nuclear-armed. Culturally ascendant. Diverse. Overpopulated. Poor and rich.

India is all of these things and more. So when it comes to foreign policy, and India's role in a dangerous and fast-changing world, who speaks for this country of 1.2 billion people?

Somanahalli Mallaiah Krishna, or S.M. Krishna,  India’s external affairs minister. Krishna, 77, is a career politician, and a Fulbright scholar who was educated in the United States. 

In this exclusive and wide-ranging interview with GlobalPost, Krishna delves into India's recent tensions with China, its troubled relationship with Pakistan, as well as its positions on Afghanistan, Iran, climate change, last year's nuclear deal with the United States, and what he really thinks of President Barack Obama.

GLOBALPOST: Tensions are increasing between India and China over a contentious border issues, river water sharing and the Dalai Lama’s visit to north-eastern India bordering Tibet. How do you assess the current relationship?

S.M. KRISHNA: The Chinese foreign minister Yang Jia Chi was in Bangalore Tuesday for a bilateral meeting. We are both quite satisfied with the extent of goodwill between us. We are working toward further cordiality between the two countries. The Chinese minister lingered at the dinner in his honor and such gestures indicate the level of relationship between our two countries.

How do you view the larger India-China rivalry?

That is the wishful thinking by some interested parties. India and China are going to be the powers that will shape the 21st century. China knows it. India is conscious of it. Together, we can make a distinctive contribution toward global development and shaping of global disputes.

India-U.S. ties improved during the Clinton presidency and had their heyday during the Bush administration. Where are India and the United States headed under President Obama?

Knowing President Obama’s love for India, knowing his admiration for Mahatma Gandhi, in one of his speeches he talks of Mahatma Gandhi inspiring him, giving him strength to fight the presidential election against such heavy odds, and coming out in flying colors — naturally India believes there is no reason for us to feel insecure about our relationship with the United States.

What do you think of the U.S. presence and policies in Pakistan and how does that affect the region?

About the relationship between the United States and Pakistan, it is left to those two countries to regulate it and establish a policy frame. But being a friend of India and Pakistan, the United States must always be conscious that the things they do in Pakistan should not hurt India’s interest. It should not create a big stumbling block for cordial relations between India and the United States.

Washington has announced a U.S. aid package of $7.5 billion over five years. Good idea?

We have no quarrel with the aid or even the quantum of aid that the United States provides Pakistan. But the United States should monitor the aid so that it is utilized only for the purpose for which it has been sanctioned by the U.S. Congress and the U.S. president. The Kerry-Luger Bill partially, though not substantially, takes care of this.

Has the U.S. been trying to persuade India to restart talks with Pakistan?

India is an independent country, we take our own decisions. We evaluate what is good for India. We are guided by ourselves and not by others.

How does India feel about some of the violent Kashmiri militant groups aligning with the Pakistani Taliban? What does such an axis mean?

I think Taliban and other forces that are inimical to India have always worked together and in tandem. They will continue to work together. We are conscious of it and we are getting prepared to deal with it.

President Obama is struggling to make crucial decisions on Afghanistan, while support for the Afghan war fades in the West. Do you think the U.S. can unilaterally pull out of Afghanistan?

It is a value decision that Afghanistan should take and the United States should take. We are there just to help our Afghan brothers rebuild their country and we are doing whatever we can to aid that.

Your joint statement Tuesday with the foreign ministers of China and Russia stated that the world must remain committed to assisting Afghanistan. Some are interpreting the statement as asking the U.S. not to exit Afghanistan.

I think Afghanistan needs help. It is a country right now in turmoil, it is moving from one crisis to another. But in the meanwhile, the brave Afghan people have faced an election and that shows their resilience.

The India-U.S. civil nuclear deal was part of a broader strategic dialogue between the United States and New Delhi. Do you think India wants to be part of any new non-proliferation regime that can be worked out?

We will not sign anything so long as it is discriminatory; we have spelled out our position. India has made known its objections to the present NPT, we would want it to be drastically revised.

What is India’s stand on imposing sanctions against Iran?

Sanctions may not have the desired result. In the past, we have seen sanctions being clamped on many other countries.

Just weeks before the Copenhagen conference on climate change, the United Nations signaled it was scaling back expectations of reaching agreement on a new treaty to slow global warming. What is India's position?

India and China have taken an identical position. We represent the developing countries’ point of view. We would like developed nations to make sacrifices in terms of providing us technology and resources so that we can start mitigating risk in our own countries. Even though we are not responsible for this, we would like to become part of the solution, not the problem.

What do you think of the current regime in Pakistan and its capability to handle the crisis?

I would not like to pass judgment as Pakistan is capable of handling its own problems. All that we want is a stable Pakistan, a strong Pakistan as our neighbor.

Little has come from India’s repeated attempts to collect evidence dossiers and bring to justice those Pakistanis involved in last November’s terrorist attack in Mumbai. Is that frustrating?

A mature country like India will have to pull out a lot of patience when dealing with a neighbor like Pakistan. We will continue impressing upon Pakistan that in their own interest, it is necessary to curb and dismantle the terror infrastructure built over a period of time. As the saying goes, we reap what we sow. Pakistan is reaping what they have sown. Now is a good time for them to take some decisive action and eliminate terrorist infrastructure.