Question: You have spoken about a strategic partnership between India and the United States. Is there a sufficient overlap of viewpoints to allow such a partnership, especially on two of the most pressing issues: Iran and Afghanistan?
The US believes it would be unacceptable for Iran to develop or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons. Do you share that view? Would India support sanctions to discourage Iran going down that path?
Manmohan Singh: We do not support the nuclear weapons ambitions of Iran. Iran is a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. It thus has all the rights that go with that treaty, including pursuit of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
At the same time it has obligations that go with this membership. This rules out nuclear weapons. There is no ambiguity in India's position on this.
If the United Nations Security Council passes any resolution [on sanctions], we have in the past abided by what the Security Council says.
President Obama's approach has opened up the new possibility of engagement with Iran without preconditions. Our hope is that this yields results.
Just before I left New Delhi two days ago, I had the privilege of meeting with Iran's foreign minister, who studied in India for many years. He mentioned that Iran is encouraged by the messages it is receiving from the Obama administration, and that he was hopeful that would lead to productive results.
Question: You have also said that the world should "put its weight" behind the government of Afghanistan. Should more US and international troops be a part of the policy?
Singh: I am not a military expert and so don't claim to know the right size of troop levels that should be deployed in Afghanistan. But I'm quite clear in my mind that Afghanistan requires the sustained support of the global community if it is to return to the path of peace, freedom, and an environment in which fundamentalist terrorist elements do not have the sway they had some years ago before 9/11.
Question: Is what happens in Afghanistan decisive for Pakistan's future?
Singh: There is no doubt in my mind that if the Taliban and Al Qaeda group of people succeed in Afghanistan, it would have catastrophic results for the security and stability not only of Pakistan, but for all of South Asia, where 1.8 billion people live.
Question: Do you harbor concerns that Pakistan could fail? If so, what would that mean for the success of India?
Singh: We don't want Pakistan to fail. The emergence of democracy in Pakistan is something we welcome. But, at the same time, we have to recognize that if the terrorist groups – that until now were only active in the federally administered areas along the border of Afghanistan but are now active elsewhere in the country – are not controlled, there will be consequences for the stability and security of Pakistan. And for our own security.
Question: The terrible events in Mumbai [Bombay] happened a year ago. India exercised what most observers would say is remarkable restraint. As you look back on that decision not to retaliate militarily, do you believe it was the right decision? If future terrorist attacks against India were to occur, would that restraint have come at a cost?
Singh: There was enormous pressure on me at that time. I resisted that pressure. On balance, I believe now it was the right decision.
As for the future, I hate to speculate. I sincerely hope that sort of eventuality does not materialize. That is why the world community has an obligation to impress upon Pakistan that it must do more. It has done some things to control the activities of these Taliban-type terrorist groups in the FATA. But it is our sincere belief that it has not acted as it should have acted in dealing with terrorist elements who are using their energies to target our country.
Nor has Pakistan brought to book all those who perpetrated the horrible crime in Mumbai, where 2,000 Indian citizens, six Americans, and many others died. There is now impeccable evidence the conspiracy was planned in Pakistan. It was executed with the active connivance of people who are still roaming around freely in Pakistan.
Therefore, I respectfully request the world community to use all its influence on Pakistan to desist from that sort of behavior.
Question: There is a debate today over whether India or China has found the best path of development. Given that China has grown at a higher rate for more years, do you believe that the Indian path is preferable?
Singh: There is no doubt that China's growth performance has been superior to India's. But there are other measures beside the growth of gross domestic product. There is respect for fundamental human rights; respect for the rule of law; respect for multicultural, multiethnic, and multireligious rights. There are many other dimensions of freedom not measured by GDP.
I do believe that India's performance in GDP might not be as good as China's, certainly, [but] I would not like to choose the Chinese path but stick to India's.
India may appear an indecisive democracy at times. Like many democracies, it appears at times to be a short-term maximizer unable to take a long-term view. But once a democracy decides to undertake reforms based on consensus, these reforms will be far more durable and effective than those induced by the writ of a nondemocratic ruling group.
The full transcript of the interview is available here.