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I am pessimistic about Pakistan: Robert Blackwill

LiveMint logoLiveMint 10-06-2014 Elizabeth Roche

New Delhi: Robert Blackwill, US ambassador to India between July 2001 and July 2003, is credited with playing a major role in re-scripting India-US ties in the past 15 years. Currently in India on a short visit, Blackwill spoke about the future of India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India’s ties with its neighbourhood under the new government and the security situation in Pakistan. Edited excerpts:

What is your assessment of the future trajectory of India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi?

One of the things that I find so fascinating is we haven’t seen anyone like Narendra Modi, who comes from outside New Delhi, with his overwhelming electoral mandate, with managerial success in Gujarat and strategic vision. So I think the whole world, including the US, is very excited about the dynamic new Indian leadership and all of us— and I speak for the US—have a strategic interest in a strong India, which plays its part as a balance in Asia.

And he, so far, certainly hasn’t put a foot wrong. It’s been an extremely adroit performance in my view so far. So we are hopeful. But in the end, it will be up to him and to his colleagues to pull India out of this economic downturn and we wish him the best.

You have spoken of how India’s foreign policy, like that of the US, has been largely defined by political and military terms and how it should re-orient foreign policy to succeed in an age crucially defined by economic power projection. One of the first initiatives taken by Modi on the foreign policy front was to invite leaders of South Asia to his swearing-in ceremony. India has also indicated that it will engage its neighbours economically. Pakistan in the past has not responded to India’s overtures. So do you see this attempt by the prime minister succeeding?

With the rest of the neighbours, they will respond for their own reasons very positively to that initiative of the Prime Minister. And we will see what (Pakistan Prime Minister) Nawaz Sharif does back home. As we all know, his problem is largely the Pakistan military. Probably the greatest influence on the Pakistan economy is not the Pakistan finance minister but the Pakistan military and the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence). I don’t know what he (Sharif) will be permitted to do.

I hope and I think its likely that the Indian government will continue to press them and get them to respond to economic initiatives and may be even—I am guessing now —Nawaz Sharif would like to do that, but his freedom of manoeuvre is pretty narrow and so we will see. But I think the right thing to do is to enhance the economic ties between the two governments but I don’t know how much Nawaz Sharif will be able to respond.

Will geo-economic engagement with Pakistan help sort out their problems?

I am pessimistic about Pakistan. I think the long-term trends in Pakistan are so worrying it’s hard to see what pulls them out of it. The attack on the Karachi airport and so forth. One’s heart goes out to the normal people of Pakistan who are now trapped in a country where violent extremism expresses itself every single day and kills innocent people like those people at the Karachi airport. And so I think it’s a very dangerous place.

Of course, it concerns you obviously because of the terrorism emanating from there which continues to this day and because of their nuclear weapons. They have a very active ambitious nuclear weapons programme. They are moving their weapons closer to the front, which is very dangerous. The future of Pakistan is by far the most worrisome shorter-term issue in this region. It’s hard to be very optimistic about Pakistan. The Pakistanis are trapped in this militarized society, violent jihadism, so I don’t know how they will get out of this.

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