New Delhi, Nov. 1: The high priest of the international strategic community, Henry Kissinger, believes that the growing intimacy between India and the US has nothing to do with China but is founded on the common belief that jihadist Islam must be contained.
In an exclusive interview to The Telegraph, Kissinger rejected the much-debated assumption, both in India and the US, that a rising China, which implicitly threatens American dominance, had pushed Washington to negotiate the nuclear deal with Delhi.
The former US national security adviser, who remains a household name in India because of his perceived pro-Pakistan tilt during the 1971 war, is travelling to Calcutta on Saturday to meet the senior CPM leadership, led by Jyoti Basu and chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.
“I have always gotten along well with communists. I have no message for them, I only want to have a discussion, to listen to their views. I’m not here to convert them…. I cannot see why the US cannot cooperate with a communist government,’’ Kissinger said.
He admitted it had been different in 1971. At the time Richard Nixon, the US President, according to recently declassified papers, had referred to Indira Gandhi as an “old witch’’ and sent the Seventh Fleet to the Bay of Bengal. Kissinger himself, furious that Indira had won over the Soviets in a defence pact, noted: “The Indians are bastards, anyway.’’
But Kissinger is a changed man. Over the last few days he has been the toast of Delhi, meeting everyone who matters — from Rahul Gandhi to Brajesh Mishra — and speaking on “India’s role in the Asian century’’. He will deliver a similar speech in Calcutta on Saturday.
Asked whether he defended his 1971 remarks, Kissinger said: “In the circumstances of the time, yes.’’
He pointed out that the comments came at a time “when we needed Pakistan to complete our opening to China’’ but that soon after the war, he had constituted a commission to promote Indo-US cooperation.
“I had great regard for Mrs Gandhi. The Indian leadership knew, Mrs Gandhi knew, that as soon as the war got over, we were promoting the autonomy of Bangladesh,’’ Kissinger said.
The arch-pragmatist, who was responsible for the US opening to China in the early 1970s so as to build a counterweight to the Soviet Union, has for the last many years openly lobbied on behalf of a number of Chinese companies.
Asked whether the wooing of India over the last few years, which had recently culminated in the Indo-US nuclear deal, had been founded on the common premise of hostility against China, Kissinger flatly rejected the suggestion.
“As someone who undertook the opening to China,’’ Kissinger said, “I am opposed to any policy which establishes China as a principal American adversary. For me that is not the real reason (behind the nuclear deal),’’ he added.
Kissinger said the real threat came from the radical Islamists, especially after September 11, 2001.
“We are not trying to woo India but trying to create a basis for co-operative action, much of which has to do with the Islamic world but has nothing to do with China directly.”
Asked, then, if the Islamic world, instead of China, was the common threat for India and the US, Kissinger said, “At this moment, it is the Islamic world, not because it is Islamic but because of radical, jihadist Islam.”
“We have common interests,” he added, “which is to enable Islamic societies to participate in the international system in the way India and other societies are (doing), without trying to overthrow (existing) institutions.”
Asked why India would join the US in such a venture, especially when the Bush administration had invaded Iraq without any real reason, Kissinger said, “We may have no choice… because India is in the Islamic world.”
“Of course,’’ he added, “nobody is forcing India to do anything.’’
During the interview, Kissinger spoke at length about the Indo-US nuclear deal, saying India should approve of the deal only if it believed it was good for the country.
However, he said, Delhi should also realise that according to the US, the deal would lapse if it was not completed during a particular administration. A new Congress would then need to negotiate a brand new agreement, he said.
Kissinger felt that the deadline for the deal to be passed by the US Congress could be pushed back as far as July 2008.
“If India can complete its internal processes in such a way that our Congress can still act on it by July next year, it can still be done. July is the outer limit, because after that the Congress goes into recess and by September, the election campaign would begin in earnest,’’ he said.
On China’s refusal to openly support the nuclear deal, Kissinger admitted that China “was probably not eager to see such an agreement’’. But he insisted that Beijing was not actively working against India.
“Both India and China are big countries, sometimes they will rub against each other… but I don’t believe it is desirable for India and China to be adversaries.”
Kissinger discounted the fact that India’s inability to domestically clear the nuclear deal would damage its international stature. Ever the pragmatic thinker, he said India’s friends abroad would understand while those who have doubts would have their misgivings reinforced.
Deal or no deal, Kissinger said, India was a growing power to reckon with. Of course, the process would be faster if India did clear the agreement.