September 1, 2004

In India, Gratitude for U.S. Terror Policy

Doug McGill
The McGill Report

ROCHESTER, MN -- Ramesh Vinayak, a journalist with India Today magazine, told an audience at the Rochester Public Library on Wednesday that in his part of the world -- northwest India along the border with Kashmir and Pakistan -- the United States is not reviled as a grasping empire drunk with power, but rather is deeply respected and considered an absolute lynchpin of Indian peace and prosperity.

"The U.S. is the biggest hope for us," Vinayak said. "Prosperity in India is based on technology growth and peace with Pakistan, and the U.S. is keeping both of those on track."

A bureau chief based in Chandigarh, the capital of Punjab Province, Vinayak was in town as part of an annual visit to the United States by 10 foreign journalists, hosted by the World Press Institute at Macalester College.

A "shadow of the Cold War" still hangs over U.S.-India relations, Vinayak said, but is rapidly dissipating as the two economies draw closer, thanks to India's booming information technology sector. The Indian software industry grew from $150 million in 1991 to $5.7 billion in 2000, and is on track for $87 billion in sales (including $50 billion exports) by 2008, according to the global consulting firm McKinsey & Co.

Vinayak noted that India's growth in the information technology sector has been so enormous that the outsourcing of technology jobs to India has become a major issue in the present U.S. presidential election campaign.

Common Ground

Still, the total percentage of U.S. jobs outsourced to India is small, Vinayak said, and the heated political denunciations of outsourcing contain more than a hint of hypocrisy. "If you have free flow of capital you are going to have outsourcing," he said. "You can't have your cake and eat it, too."

Even more than increased economic ties between the two countries, Vinayak said in an interview before the library presentation, the war on terror has brought the United States and India closer together.

"We've found common ground on the war on terror," he said. "The U.S. is now close to the view that India has on terrorism, and it's helped to bring the peace process back on track" between India and Pakistan.

It is no coincidence that tensions between the two nuclear powers over Kashmir, a disputed territory between them, have eased substantially since 9/11, Vinayak said. That's because the United States since then has strongly supported Pakistan's efforts to suppress Islamic fundamentalists in the country who have increasingly infiltrated the Kashmir insurgency.

Free Society

"The only way India can survive is to trade with Pakistan," he said. "And not only with Pakistan, but through Pakistan to trade with Afghanistan and the Caucusus" region including Russia, Turkey, and Iran.

"We've got used to terrorism" in India after many years of experience with Kashmiri, Sikh, Tamil, and other terrorist groups, Vinayak said. "Now, the U.S. is just beginning to get used to it."

During the question-and-answer session, an audience member asked, "Why do they hate us?"

"The U.S. is not hated for being a tyrant," Vinayak said. "It's being hated because it is a free society, a liberal society, a democratic society. The way to fight back is at the level of ideas. You have to defeat the ideologies that are feeding terrorism whether it is in India, Pakistan, Iraq or wherever."

Although India and the United States have thus grown closer recently, many decades of mutual stereotyping have yet to be overcome, the journalist added.

"The picture Americans have of India is much the same as it was two decades ago, a country of snake charmers and photogenic images of poverty," he said. "Yet we are one of the most stable civil societies in the world. The U.S. is the world's oldest democracy, and India is the largest."

Materialistic Society

As for Indian stereotypes of America, Vinayak said he didn't expect to find that so many Americans are religious.

"We tend to think Americans are atheists," he said. "America is known as a very materialistic society, and in India materialism is taken as something not godly. If you are rich, that means you are not religious. So I was very surprised to find that a majority of Americans believe in God."

Was India, the birthplace of Hinduism and Buddhism, going to lose its spirituality as it becomes the economic powerhouse it seeks to be?

"No, I don't think so," Vinayak said. "The two aren't incompatible."

I wanted to argue with him on that, but time was up. Yet we need to get to the bottom of this important question. So I hope Ramesh visits again soon.

Copyright @ 2004 The McGill