October 25, 1999
Volume 52, No. 9
Halle Institute brings speaker in Cohen for timely lecture
Forces conspired to make the Halle Institute for Global Learning's latest speaker especially appropriate, as India scholar Steven Cohen's Oct. 14 lecture, "The Emergence of India as a Great Power," came on the heels of a military coup in India's not-so-friendly neighbor, Pakistan.
"Our program tonight could not have been more timely," said Marion Creekmore, vice provost for International Affairs, in introducing Cohen. A senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution and the author of several books on India and South Asia, Cohen had just returned recently from a month-long stay in the subcontinent, "so his perspectives are very fresh," Creekmore added.
Speaking in Winship Ballroom, Cohen said the recent coup in Pakistan will certainly provoke new debate in India about the two countries' relationship. He said some Indian strategists have long debated whether the best thing for India would be a Pakistan that is weak but stable, or no Pakistan at all. Neither, he said, seems likely to happen in view of recent events.
He added that he was not surprised by the coup because former Prime Minster Nawaz Sharif presided over a series of problems, including a struggling economy, violence in many parts of the country and a sorely corrupt administration. Cohen said he expected coup leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf to attempt to make the military takeover "not inconsistent" with the Pakistani Constitution, primarily to keep U.S. foreign aid flowing; American policy is to cut off support to countries in which the military has ousted a democratically elected government.
But Cohen spent most of his lecture discussing the changes India is undergoing socially, politically and economically, describing them as a series of "revolutions." "Today we see an India that is emerging from the lethargy and backwardness of the past," Cohen said. "We see an India that is fulfilling the promise those of us who journeyed there in the 1950s saw."
The downhill slide to which Cohen referred began following the 1962 war in which China defeated India. The former "has moved on to new business," he added, but India is still smarting from the defeat and views the dispute as unresolved.
Cohen assessed the recent progress of India on many fronts as "a mixed bag." Domestically, he said, the country has done better at maintaining its own internal statehood than most people expected when the British ceded power following World War II. By human rights standards, however, the results have been spotty; most Indians live under democratic rule, but some pockets are under authoritarian or even military rule.
"India can't be characterized as the world's largest democracy without that qualification, but that's true of any democracy," Cohen said. "I think you'd have a hard time finding any democracy where all its citizens enjoy all its freedoms all the time--certainly not the United States or the European states."
Several of India's domestic and foreign policy issues can be likened to situations in the United States, Cohen said. For example, India's relationship to smaller South Asian countries is "uneven," much like America's ties to Latin American states. And a cultural debate over "what it means to be an Indian" is analogous to the ongoing tensions between the U.S. "Christian Right" and more liberal segments of society.
One of the most important developments for India recently, he added, is the recovery of international relevance. "Indians believe incorrectly that American strategists are trying to figure out ways to undercut Indian predominance in South Asia," Cohen said. "The truth is worse; many American diplomats and strategists simply don't care about India, and it hurts more to be ignored than to be an enemy."
This played a key role in the country's recent nuclear tests, he said. He characterized the tests as partly "a call for attention, particularly from the United States," and added that it worked. "Those tests were like a two-by-four to the forehead of the U.S. government."