Tuesday, January 03, 2006
I am not comfortable dealing with Dictators: Senator George Allen
Senator George Allen, R-Virginia like many of his colleagues in the Senate and Congress are realizing the potential of India and Indian Americans. Recently the Senator from Virginia visited India and was quite impressed by India’s “successful diverse technological growth and leadership.” In an interview with me (the first given to any South Asian journalist), Senator George Allen, who some say is the prime republican candidate for the Presidential election 2008, speaks about India, Indo-US relations and the civilian nuclear issue. Here are some excerpts.
January 3, 2006.
DR: Senator, this was your first visit to India. What have learned so far?
GA: There are so many people from India in Virginia and the United States, some have been key supporters in my campaign and so I wanted to visit India. I was very impressed by the number of engineers graduating. The idea of innovation and I do want the US to be the world capital of innovation, and I wanted to see what India was doing and how they were doing it. I spoke with the leaders of the Indian Institute of Technology. I also met with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi, and then we went down to Bangalore, which was simply amazing. I want to learn more about India; the reason is that I feel that the people of India and the US need to be much closer together. India is after all the world’s largest democracy; many languages, many religions, many cultures and India can be a role model for countries that have ethnic, religious and cultural differences.
DR: I believe that before embarking on your trip to India, you had some negative feelings. After this visit has that cloud been lifted?
GA: Actually there had been some isolated incidents of human rights, but I was not overtly bothered, I was really impressed by India and wanted to see it. Prime Minister Singh came here and I attended his address to the Joint Session of Congress, and since we shared similar values, I wanted to strengthen the relationship. What impressed me were the optimism and the tremendous economic growth of India. I thought we have energy problems in the US; India has a more severe problem. India has a long way to go but clearly there is a will and direction.
DR: I am glad you brought up the energy issue. During Prime Minister Singh’s visit, President Bush announced that India would receive civilian nuclear technology from the US. Do you support this as presented by the administration?
GA: Yes I do! India of course will have to meet some commitments too in planning a credible and coherent separation of civilian and military power. Having said that, I saw how awful the air quality was in India, at least in some cities I visited. The fact is that India has to import more energy than we have to. The cleanest method of generating energy is either clean coal technology or nuclear. For India to be able to survive and grow as a country they will have to go nuclear. We need India’s support of not having a gas pipeline from Iran, as we need to keep pressure on that country. The key for India would be to come up with a way so that they are not in violation of the NPT. India has a very good record….
DR: Do you consider India to be a responsible nuclear nation?
GA: Absolutely. Their record has proven itself. They have not shared this technology with other nations unlike some countries in that area.
DR: Senator, will you be accompanying President Bush to India early next year?
GA: Unfortunately no!
DR: What would you like President Bush to achieve from his trip to India?
GA: Two things! In a larger sense continue to build this really positive and constructive relationship between the people of America and India. The President going to India will definitely help, so will the people India who have a positive image of the US, surveys indicate that. It would be good for the Presidency. Secondly, the nuclear issue. Hopefully, by then the government of India will be further along devising a credible plan as to how the civilian and military aspects could be clearly separated. This will help the President because ultimately Congress will have to vote on this. The President cannot go ahead unless the Senate ratifies the bill.
DR: So you don’t think the bill would go through before the President’s visit?
GA: It will be difficult. We will be tied up in January with the Supreme Court vacancy. It would also help if India signed the NPT.
DR: Senator that is not going to happen.
GA: Well! That would help…
DR: Is there any substantial reason for India to sign the NPT?
GA: It is an indication…
GA: It is. There are countries that are willing to sign it
DR: There are also countries that will not sign too…
GA: But then they are not trying to get an exemption from the NPT.
DR: But then India does have an exemplary track record in non-proliferation.
DR: Senator lets not get into semantics…
GA: (Laughing) I understand. Look I want this to happen. But please understand there will others want the same. We are trying to stop North Korea. Your neighbor Pakistan will want the same once India gets it. I can assure you of that. Obviously there was a serious problem with that nuclear engineer from Pakistan (The Senator was referring to Abdul Qadeer Khan).
DR: The grapevine has it that you could probably be the next President of the United States. Will you be running in 2008?
GA: Well! I am up for reelection.
DR: Are you ruling it out?
GA: No! I have been encouraged by many people to look at it and I am looking at it.
DR: I am sure our readers are intelligent enough to read between the lines Senator.
GA: Here is what your readers should understand. Regardless of what position I hold, I am very impressed by India. There are all sorts of religions. It is the second largest country with a Muslim population. Granted there is a lot of poverty. The country is a leader in innovation and the US can learn a lot from India. In addition to the nuclear situation, cooperation of energy in bio fields, instead of worrying for oil from the Middle East. The Indian community in the US, are such leaders in medicine, technology and the hotel industry. They are valued members in any community.
DR: The Democrats tout themselves as a party for immigrants, yet you hardly see Indian Americans in cabinet level positions. What is your party’s stand?
GA: When I was Governor there was an Indian who was a key leader in planning. I do not care much about ethnicity but capability. For the most in our party we reach out to anybody who pays taxes, if they work for a living and if they care about their families they ought to be on our side.
DR: Do you support India’s bid for a permanent seat in the UNSC?
GA: It is certainly worthy of strong consideration. I am not going to say yes or no. But, there is compelling argument for India which is the largest democracy and why it is not in that seat.
DR: Agreed that Pakistan is a great ally of the US in the war against terrorism….
GA: Correct. They made that decision.
DR: The package of F-16’s to Pakistan. Where on earth do you think they will use them and against whom?
GA: They are really very much on the front line. They are not actually going to purchase them because of the devastating earthquake. They simply cannot justify the expense now. I am not sure where they will use it. We do not need an arms race. Let me say one thing the clear irritant between Pakistan and India is Kashmir.
DR: You mean Jammu and Kashmir…
GA: Right! That’s good. Its fun with you! The best tea I have had anywhere is Kashmiri tea. I love it. From this earthquake the partial openings of portals has eased some pressure. Maybe, it could diffuse the situation somewhat. Again I repeat Pakistan will ask for nuclear energy once India gets it, even though they are not a democracy.
DR: Senator! I must ask you this question then. Is the US more comfortable dealing with dictatorships than democracies? Is this a fair question?
GA: It is a fair question and an interesting one! I am personally more comfortable dealing with people who are elected than with a dictator or monarch. I have Thomas Jefferson’s seat in the House and I would only deal with people who are public servants than deal with people who think they are in control because of dictatorial ways of repression and keeping people down.