Address by Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee

Prime Minister of India

New York
September 7, 2000

Asia Society Annual Dinner

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to return to Asia Society. It is a privilege to once again address this distinguished gathering of scholars, thinkers, captains of industry and practitioners of foreign policy.

Two years ago, I had the opportunity to share my thoughts with you on future relations between India and the United States of America. This March, President Bill Clinton and I outlined the vision of a new relationship between the world's two largest democracies in the 21st century.

This vision is anchored in something that is fundamental to both countries. And is best captured in the joint declaration we signed, A Vision for the 21st Century:

"We are nations forged from many traditions and faiths, proving year after year that diversity is our strength. From vastly different origins and experiences, we have come to the same conclusions: that freedom and democracy are the strongest bases for both peace and prosperity, and that they are universal aspirations, constrained neither by culture nor levels of economic development."

As India and the United States work to deepen their ties, these common conclusions are greatly strengthened by institutions such as Asia Society.

You provide a forum to examine the antiquities of Asian civilisations, study current Asian affairs and analyse possible future developments. These interactions have helped us understand how the USA perceives Asia, especially India. I hope they have also helped members of the Asia Society acquire a deeper understanding of India's aspirations and her desired place in the world.

Since I last addressed Asia Society members, there have been several political and economic developments in India.

In the fall of 1999, we had a fresh mid-term general election. By giving a clear and decisive mandate for the National Democratic Alliance, the people of India have once again reposed their faith in our policies and programmes. More importantly, they have wholeheartedly reiterated their unflinching commitment to democracy.

Ironically, even as my Government was being sworn in, an elected Government in our neighbourhood was being dismantled and democracy being snuffed out by that country's military. The irony was even greater because the coup took place in the dying light of the 20th century whose passage into history was supposed to herald a new era free of militarist triumphs over democratic values.

These and other developments in India and her neighbourhood represent, in a larger sense, India's success as a democracy in South Asia, indeed in Asia. The political, economic and social transformation that is taking place in India today embodies the aspirations of a billion people as well as our Government - equality of opportunity, power of participation and freedom to succeed.

We believe that empowering the individual means empowering the nation. And empowerment is best served through rapid economic growth coupled with rapid social change. To keep pace with the fast changing global economy, we have taken several steps to deepen and broaden the process of economic reforms.

It is true that only by opening our doors can we usher in the wind of change. But it is equally true that we need to be cautious so that all we have and value are protected if the wind were to turn into a storm. And because we are a vibrant democracy, we have to be sensitive that the weak and the vulnerable benefit from economic reforms and globalisation.

We will continue to make our markets more conducive to enterprise and initiative. We will continue to make our institutions stronger and more transparent. We will continue to invest in people, who are our greatest resource and strength. In short, the course we have charted hinges on the twin goals of economic growth with social equity.

Impatient investors and eager sellers can often be heard saying that India is slow to change. To them, I have this to say: We are a diverse democracy and we need to carry the people with us. Efforts are being made in this direction and we are confident of success.

India today is a nation of the move. The momentum for progress has started gathering speed. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in industries that will shape global economic relations of the future, industries that also the prime movers of Indo-US relations - in formation technology, knowledge intensive industries, entertainment, communications and services.

I would also urge those who tend not to notice this change to heed the fact that we have averaged a stable and consistent growth of over six per cent a year in the last decade. We have laid the foundation for significantly higher long-term growth of seven per cent and beyond. This is something few economies can claim with certitude.

It is, in a fundamental sense, our emphasis on stable political and dynamic economic environments that has helped accelerate growth. Openness and transparency, rule of law and free flow of information that characterise democracy are also the institutions on which durable and stable market economies are founded.

And an increasingly open and dynamic India does not see its socio-economic development in isolation. We see our fortunes linked to the prosperity and stability of our Asian neighbours, indeed, to that of the global community.

Friends, India's historic and civilisational role in Asia over millennia is well recognised. A large number of countries in Asia trace the roots of their cultural traditions to India. India has been, and continues to be, the link between West Asia and East Asia. In a sense, India is central to the Asian identity.

Much of the harmony and stability that we seek in Asia would depend on how India evolves and reflects its growing strength. It would depend on not only economic progress, but also how best we are able to nurture and strengthen our democratic way of life and plural society.

It will also depend on our success in ensuring peace and stability around us. In this great endeavour, I am sure we will derive strength and encouragement from our growing, co-operative relationship with the United States of America.

We are conscious that for all the promise of co-operative prosperity, Asia also faces risks and challenges to its future security environment. Asia is still striving to cement its various fault lines, reconcile past differences with future interdependence, confront the challenge to progressive and liberal values from terrorism and religious extremism that belongs tot he medieval age, and cope with social strains caused by unequal development.

Asia faces future risks from possible aggressive assertion of interests and claims. Across the immense space and diversity of Asia, the challenges are sometimes similar, but often different.

The task of securing India's future in this complex scenario of risks and challenges is ultimately ours. We will exercise our judgement, with responsibility and restraint, to meet our objective.

As I see it, Asia's collective peace and prosperity will be best secured only when nations on this continent develop common stakes and are no longer divided by narrow interests. And, common stakes can be developed only through close ties and friendly relations.

As the largest country in South Asia and the only one that shares borders with all other countries in the region, we are mindful of our special responsibility in taking the leadership in fostering co-operation. Indeed, India has consistently sought to build good neighbourly relations in the South Asian region. This is not only the policy of my Government, but is a reflection of our national consensus. We seek no undue favours, nor do we accept the right of others to seek unilateral advantages.

In pursuit of this approach, we have displayed a generosity of spirit that few countries can match. We have shown this in our dealings with all our neighbours. Again, this is as much a reflection of my Government's thinking as of our national genius.

All these have been an integral part of our approach to Pakistan, also. From the time of the Shimla Agreement - a generous agreement if ever there was one - we have sought to build friendly relations. Those of you who were present when I last addressed the Asia Society in 1998, will recall my emphasising India's faith in bilateral dialogue and accords in building peaceful relations with Pakistan.

In the spring of last year, I travelled to Lahore in search of a new quality of relations in the sub-continent and a new age of regional co-operation. That our initiative was not merely a gesture is reflected in the Lahore Declaration and the resumption of composite dialogue.

The rulers of Pakistan responded through Kargil in the summer of 1999. The history of that episode is well known. Pakistan suffered a military and diplomatic defeat. But instead of heeding international opinion, instead of responding to our offer to normalise relations, Pakistan responded by removing the last vestiges of democracy and embarking upon a yet more adventurous course of stepping up its terrorist campaign.

The hijack of the Indian Airlines aircraft to Kandahar in the winter of last year, the massacre of 40 innocent Indians during the visit of President Clinton in March, the carnage that left more than 100 men, women and children dead and whose purpose was to scuttle the nascent peace talks in Kashmir, are part of the painful record of this cross-border terrorist campaign.

In the face of extreme provocation, we have shown patience and restraint. Unfortunately, Pakistan has misread our generosity of spirit and our desire for friendly relations as weakness. It has consciously opted to pursue the path of hostility by promoting terrorism in different parts of India.

The protagonists of this terror campaign are known to the world. The proliferation of practitioners of medieval religious extremism in our neighbourhood is only one of the factors that have contributed to cross-border terrorism. But they have provided a convenient cloak to disguise the aggression on our civil society - the cloak of jihad.

This is nothing but an attempt by those who have adopted cross-border terrorism as an instrument of state policy to disown responsibility for their terrible crimes against humanity. We reject, and we call upon the international community to reject, attempts to cloak cross-border terrorism as jihad.

We are a patient people and have persevered in the search for a peaceful settlement with Pakistan in the conviction that war is in nobody's interest. We have displayed patience and restraint in order to discharge our higher responsibilities towards the region.

We are determined to preserve and protect our national interests. None should doubt that India has the means and the will to protect her territorial integrity, secular unity and communal harmony. We will continue to conduct ourselves in accordance with the great traditions bequeathed to us by our civilisational history in combating the terrorism and instability that is emanating from our neighbouring region.

Nevertheless, India remains committed to a composite dialogue process with her neighbour. But for any meaningful dialogue, that country must demonstrate its commitment to existing bilateral agreements and abjure cross-border terrorism. Unfortunately, the current leadership of Pakistan has time and again publicly repudiated both the Shimla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration.

Terrorism poses as much a threat to all countries that subscribe to open society and democracy, as to India. In fact, many a country in the West, including the USA, is seized of this problem.

Huge amounts of narcotics that form the mainstay of terrorist funding are today finding their way into the USA and European countries. Some terrorist groups have sought sanctuary in the West. Let there be no doubt that they will one day threaten the fabric of those very societies that have given them shelter today. Indeed, the USA is already facing this threat.

India has been in the forefront of campaigning for early adoption of the Comprehensive Convention Against Terrorism. We acknowledge with appreciation the USA's support on this front. We look forward to the Convention's adoption by the United Nations General Assembly.

When I addressed Asia Society in 1998, I had mentioned how India had raised, for five decades, her voice for universal verifiable nuclear disarmament. But not only was our voice disregarded, India's sovereign right to keep the nuclear option open was sought to be curtailed.

In the circumstances, we exercised our nuclear option. Our decision was as much influenced by national security concerns as to assert our objection to nuclear apartheid.

The multipolar world of the 21st century necessitates a plural society order that accommodates and acknowledges the growing strength and confidence of emerging economic and security players. We believe that in the emerging multipolar world, a plural society order alone can deal with the challenges of the new era.

Hence, our resolve to build a multipolar world where we have strategic space and autonomy in decision-making, instead of being subjected to the hypocrisy and hegemony of those who refuse to dismantle their nuclear stockpiles.

However, our decision to acquire credible minimum nuclear deterrent has not deflected us from our belief that peace between nations in this new century is best guaranteed by nuclear disarmament, and not nuclear deterrence. But there appears to be little inclination on part of nations that have acquired huge stockpiles and delivery systems to turn their swords into ploughshares.

Therefore, till such time weapons of mass destruction are dismantled, we will retain a credible minimum deterrent. Our experience has taught us that to defend peace, we have to be strong.

Above all, India's security, stability and prosperity are central to security, stability, democracy and prosperity in Asia. The security of a billion people will contribute to the security of Asia. Our strength and unity will be vital to the stability of Asia. Our prosperity will support prosperity in the region. And, the initiatives we take to uphold all that India values and symbolises will not threaten, but strengthen, the future of others.

I also believe that those who share our vision of Asia must show in the policies they formulate that they recognise our stakes in the region and the full sweep of our security concerns. I cannot imagine that any future paradigms or arrangements for security in the region can be effective if it does not include India.

Friends, as a nuclear weapon state, we acknowledge the responsibilities that come attached with it. Indeed, India has proved to the world, in more ways than one, that it is a responsible state.

We have maintained our unilateral moratorium on further tests. We have scrupulously adhered to export controls, unlike some countries in Asia. We continue with our "no first use" policy.

On CTBT, we have been involved in seeking a national consensus. However, pending the evolution of a national consensus on India signing the CTBT, my Government will not prevent the Treaty's entry into force. We also believe that all other countries that must ratify CTBT under article XIV of the Treaty, should do so without condition. My Government has agreed to participate in negotiations on a FMCT at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva.

All this demonstrates that India's genuine concern is to secure her national interests without in any manner affecting peace and stability in the region. If I may quote one of your presidents, we believe that peace lies in strength.

We believe that economic restrictions serve little purpose other than being irritants in bilateral relations. We feel, as do your policy makers, that India and the USA are natural allies. Given the potential of mutual benefit of close co-operation between India and the USA, it is for you to judge how far such restrictions serve our mutual interests.

Before I conclude, I would like to comment on what is perhaps the most significant development in India-US relations since I last had the opportunity to speak to you.

President Clinton's visit to India was truly historic. It is my belief that when the history of India-US partnership is written, the six-month period between March and September 2000, beginning with President Clinton's visit to India and culminating with my return visit, will be seen as the defining moment.

Two years ago, I had said that India and the USA are natural allies in the quest for a better future for the world in the 21st century. This March, the two natural allies forged their common challenges and opportunities into a vision of co-operative endeavour.

That partnership is important, above all, for Asia. Our many shared values provide the foundation for it. Our many common interests in the region demand it from us.

In the world of the 21st century, in which Asia will be central to global stability and prosperity, our relationship will play an important role.

Thank You.