Hello and welcome to Walk the Talk. Im at the US embassy in Delhi and my guest is Ambassador David Mulford,completing what should be the diplomatic equivalent of a home run,isnt it?
And what kind of five years,incredible five years?
Its been an incredible five years. Quite beyond any expectations I had when I arrived,although it has been a very,very satisfying period of time
You know,when you came in,a lot of us said that India and US and their relationship had had forty lost years…..these five years have made up for some of that.
Well,I think it has,and I think a lot of the credit goes to George Bush who,early in his first administration had identified the US-India strategic relationship as a key objective,and he has followed through on that. That was the direction under which I came,and that has been the priority during these past five years.
Its very interesting,its also been 50 years of this building I believe,thats why you had this exhibition,and you can see the difference in mood and time…from Nehru to Mrs. Gandhi and then on to Dr Manmohan Singh. But,Ambassador,many things have been achieved,some have not been achieved,during these five years the nuclear deal for example,a remarkable thing that happened. But would you agree that the biggest achievement (is) the complete de-hyphenating of USs relationships in South Asia?
Well I think thats a very big accomplishment,as much for India as for the United States because I think the automatic hyphenation was holding India back,and when I got here I made the point that we have a freestanding bilateral relationship with India with its own vision,its a world vision,and that is what the future holds.
You know because of the kind of tenure youve had,you would have had a state farewell while concluding your term but for this 26th November business. Does it disappoint you?
Not at all,no. It disappoints me that they had the event,its very tragic. But the one area where I think we had not developed as much cooperation as we should,is counter-terrorism. And I think thats happening now,partly as a result of the post-Mumbai developments,where theres been a focus in this country on internal security,and on the business of preventing and interdicting terrorist attacks. We have been successful in that field since 9/11,and I think we can work together very effectively,and this has already begun.
Theres been some time lost there.
Well,I suppose you could say time lost but when things come right,they come right quickly and I think that is happening because I think there is clear understanding that India faces an internal security problem thats very much within its power to ultimately solve,improve and solve,and I think that weve done a lot there by virtue of our own investment in people,technology,reorganising government,breaking down the cultural divisions between different units of government and security,and getting to the point where we are focused now,on counterterrorism activity,and this is really an area where weve made huge progress.
And youre happy to share your expertise with India
The old hesitations are now gone
I think thats right,yes
Because weve had the Indian home minister on this show saying that the way India has opened up everything to FBI,in this particular case,is almost unprecedented in the history of Indo-US relations.
Its not only,I mean theres been remarkable cooperation,a very gracious access given,but the FBI has also performed extremely well,proved to be very useful. And I think the relationship has amazed people. First of all that there wasnt more adverse comment in the media,and now theres a sort of acceptance that this is the way to go in the future,that will help us both.
There also wasnt so much adverse comment because this incident has been such a shock that it has immediately settled the debate on internal security in India,at least for now,you know,that laws which had been debated and politicised for five years,got passed like this (finger-click)
Terrorism is a global problem,and it is by definition a cross-border issue,so it cries out for cooperative approaches on the part of major nations,to come together
Global problem,but with one nuance you know,to quote Gordon Brown,85 per cent of these problems or attacks get traced back to one geographical or political entity.
Well,thats true for the British but Im not sure wed make the same judgment,obviously its an important centre,but there is a broad global problem and we see,in the Middle-East,evidence of the nature of the problem there,in a different context. So working together to apprehend,prevent,is a different game than fighting any kind of conventional war. Its utterly different.
You know,Im very interested in your saying that FBI is now coming and operating,and FBI and Indian counterparts are now working together,and theres no adverse comment in the media,right? Or in the political system,which is very sceptical and suspicious of America,large parts of it. At the same time,you dont find the same warmth in Pakistan any longer.
Well I cant comment on that because Im not there,so.
Well you know a complete reversal … of FBI people not being able to go to Pakistan yet,or not getting access to….
Well,theyve got visas,and they are going to go…So theyre finishing some things here and then theyre going to go.
Theyve got the visas,they will be going?
Yes,they will. And theyll be going because the United States has a duty under its own law to follow these kinds of things to their source and get to the bottom of it and thats really what were going to do.
And investigations that have come so far,Im not just referring to the evidence that India has put forward,do they convince you that the root of this,the source of this,was in Pakistan?
Well,I think weve said that this was an attack that was managed from Pakistani soil. Weve said that,the Secretary of State has said that when she was here,other senior officials have indicated that in the United States. And thats one of our concerns,that thats the way it seems to have happened.
You know what causes great disappointment in India is that after the first four or five days,the first Pakistani responses were not unhealthy,they were not unhelpful. Theres been a complete reversal there,you know,either the system is in denial,or its a tactical approach to deny everything,thats caused great disappointment here.
Well,I think its something that has to be worked on,and I get the impression that the Indian government is effectively working on the issue,conducting successful diplomacy at the moment,because this is a global problem after all,and thats where the focus has to come from. On the FBI,Id like to make a point though,because whats remarkable about this cooperation is,first of all,access was given,and its only for this (in India) for this event,this challenge,but the work thats been done its very much on the ground work with local police officials. It is not a sort of government-to-government high-level affair,like the kinds of things that are debated sometimes in the media. This is a very practical cooperation on a…
…nuts and bolts level?
Nuts and bolts,and its very effective because both sides are sort of working-level people who are finding it remarkably productive to work together and are producing results between them that are regarded as very credible.
So do we see this continuing as a long-term process or just limited to this one incident?
I think itll only continue if and when the government of India wants to repeat it,if it wants to. I dont see it institutionalised.
Because the home minister of India did acknowledge,on Walk the Talk,that FBI has certain technologies that we didnt have,and theyve been happy to share it with us,and he seemed pleased about it.
Share them with you,work out problems with your people and immediately give you the material.
You know,no US ambassador completes a tenure in India without passing a test,which is a test of a warlike situation. I think our predecessor had about three,maybe,youve got one now…. were you worried?
I never came to the point where I thought there was going to be a war,nor do I think so now,I think India has been restrained. Its rhetoric I think has been appropriately insistent and tough,on its comments about needing to get to the bottom of the thing with Pakistan,because its a terrorist issue. But war I think has not been something thats been threatened by India in any sort of major way,you know..
But theres been some ratcheting up from the Pakistani side.
Well,yes but that was a temporary phenomenon and it had apparently some benefit to them in the short term,but it hasnt over the longer term had a benefit and I dont think its there at the moment.
So it did look like a tactical ploy from that side
It did,to some extent,I have to admit.
It did seem to succeed for a while.
For a few days it seemed to get a lot of attention and stir people up,but I myself didnt think that we were on the brink of a war there,no.
Were you woken up a few times at night?
Oh yeah,but not so much on that front. The reason is that theres been very close work between the mission here and the White House and other entities that are involved in Washington. Because of the time changes involved a lot of backwards and forwards,not panic or emergency stuff but constructive work on how to approach different kinds of problems,and thats been very very important.
There was one night of hoax calls,that kept everybody awake. First a call from some number to President Zardari,then a call from him to your secretary of state,which wasnt a hoax,and then a call from your secretary of state to our foreign minister around 3 am. Did it seem at any point that there was something to it?
No it never did to me,because it seemed like a hoax call. But afterwards I think people reflected about those calls and said,well,those could have been serious problems. I think they raised questions in peoples minds about how easy they seemed to be to do.
Coming back to the nuclear deal in that marathon,was there any moment when you thought it wasnt going to happen?
No. I thought that it was a deal that was meant to be. But it came very close a few times to meeting that test of failure but it never quite got there.
Because there were moments when anything you said hit the headlines,you almost became a rock star.
Yes,well,you may notice that for about ten months I said almost nothing except on maybe one or two occasions when I made a comment only about timetable matters. But I made no comment or interfered with the process.
And you found a new pen friend in Buddhadeb Bhattacharya…..exchanging letters.
(laughs) Yes,well,that too.
But what were the most worrying moments,when you thought things werent falling in place,we may run out of time?
I think the most worrying moment was in the spring of 2008 when it seemed as if we were finally going to run out of any time that would make it possible for the United States Congress to complete its work. And that became an urgent,urgent problem by the middle of June 2008,which we addressed,and the response was at that time,at that point,to move forward.
Were there times when you doubted whether the Indian political system or Dr. Manmohan Singh had the time,energy,momentum to carry it through?
Well,I didnt doubt the prime minister but there is a political system here and there is a democracy functioning,there is a democratic process,theres a party political process. And there were times when it seemed as if that process would ultimately make it impossible to meet the deadline. And my feeling was that if we didnt meet the deadline and get this done in this administration,the chances of that particular deal,its content being maintained in the present format,were very minimal,and there would be a long delay. And I think thats correct so the decision to go forward,and press unto the conclusion was very wise.
Because what this deal also does is,we always maintained,my paper and I in my writings that this deal was not just about nuclear energy,that this deal was about redefining a worldview for India as well as the US,bringing in one thing that was missing in our relationship faith.
Yes,I think youre right. I think this deal was good for India because it returns India as a full player in the world and this moment in history where this particular technology is absolutely vital.
So what did the US see in it? What did President Bush see in it?
First of all,one-sixth of humanity,living in a democracy,is regarded by the president,and certainly by me,as a group that cannot be left outside the global nonproliferation system. Because bringing them in strengthens that system,and they have proven to be positive players,playing by the rules,often better than the people who signed the treaty. To leave them out would be a historic mistake.
Thats a significant point because the two countries that are now giving problems are signatories to the treaty.
Thats right. And secondly,its very important for the United States that India find alternative sources of energy so that it can grow. Were partners,we want India to be successful .
Because one bunch of people who also invested capital and time in this were the NRIs.
In a big way
In a big way. And you opened out to the other end of the NRI population,which is Indians who want to travel to the US,want to work in the US,with the whole visa system… who used to come to your missions and go back cursing. It used to be a half-year project.
We had a major project here,in the middle of 2006. Indian citizens were being required to wait 187 days for an appointment for an interview for a visa to America. I took that view that is unacceptable to a friendly democracy; that we should make it so difficult to gain access. So we made a special campaign,we called it the visa blitz,at the backlog. And within a period of about three months,we reduced that waiting period for Indian citizens from 187 days to six days,anywhere in India and since then,the autumn of 2006,the waiting period has not been longer than 12 or 14 days. Everywhere in India,most of the time. So its a major accomplishment,and very popular with people in India.
Tell me something,before we conclude one worry that democracies have about other democracies is: what will change when a government changes? Were heading for a change in the US,I dont know if well have a change in India or not do we worry about something changing in the US?
I personally dont,for the simple reason that I believe India and America have found each other at last,and they have found each other at a time when we have not only our common values,which weve always had,but common interests all kinds of common interests that are generating,driving us together and I think America has now awakened to the grand potential of India,to the importance of India to the United States. India has become very popular,the NRI effort on behalf of the civil nuclear deal was a sort of coming of age for that community and I think that this relationship is now well-established,its here to stay and I think itll move forward.
Have you been talking to the new team?
Well,I was,up until recently,but I will as soon as I get a chance to,again. Theyve been rather busy.
Well,youve been busy too,but tell me,when your successor meets you,over lunch or a drink,what will your advice be to him?
My advice will be first of all to tell him he has the best assignment in the world,and secondly,give him the benefit of my five years of experience here,as positively as I can.
And some dos and dont?
Dont get back into the hyphenation business.
Thats a good one. And some dos?
Some dos would be to continue to press for better access on investment,for trade,for assistance to help India with its own transformation,its real agricultural transformation,this requires large-scale private investment,and we can help.
And can I add one more thing? Which has been your strength dont lecture Indians,because Indians can out-lecture anybody.
They dont need it,they dont need it. Sometimes they are very receptive to evidence about how to do something,which is different from lecturing them.
But they are not equally happy with advice on how to do something.
Well theyll say you know,its a governance issue,how do you do this,and you can share notes and pretty soon you find that okay,some people are anxious to try something new.
And one more note of caution dont worry about the occasional midnight call: (laughs)…wars about to break out..
I wont do that. And Ill be back,by the way,to see you.
Well,Ambassador,looking forward to seeing you,and this time at IPL I believe you wanted to see a match but missed it. We all know that youve acquired reasonable expertise in cricket.
Transcript prepared by Amulya Gopalakrishnan