India’s Defense Minister Pranab Mukherjee spoke before a large crowd about his country’s role in the global economy, its nuclear weapons, and its conflicted relationship with Pakistan last night at the Institute of Politics.
Mukherjee—who has served in Indian politics since the late 1960s—spoke bluntly about his feeling that Pakistan, India’s neighbor, has not done enough to stop terrorism in the region.
“Post-9/11 Pakistan has repeatedly helped the United States to fight terrorism on its western border with Afghanistan, but it has done precious little...along its eastern border” with India, he said. Pakistan “must do much more to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism.”
Murkherjee said that India, which is mostly Hindu, has had trouble dealing with “major influences from outside, like Islam and Christianity,” and that it is struggling with “mounting religious extremism in Bangladesh,” which is mostly Muslim. [CORRECTION APPENDED]
But he insisted that religion did not need to divide Indian society.
“India’s secular constitution entitles all of its citizens to religious freedoms,” Mukherjee said. “The tradition of religious tolerance...remains strong in Indian society.”
Economic growth could serve to heal the conflict between India’s religious groups, Mukherjee said.
“India’s major priority today is economic growth, which is inclusive and benefits all parts of Indian society,” he said.
Mukherjee also addressed India’s nuclear efforts; the nation has long possessed nuclear weapons, and it conducted nuclear tests in 1998 that drew criticism from many governments around the world.
“India’s nuclear deterrence is a measure of self defense...in a hostile environment,” he said, adding that India is committed to never using its nuclear weapons in a first-strike capacity.
Mukherjee mentioned a pact under which the United States will help India develop its civilian nuclear industry.
India’s agreement with President Bush shows that “India is now seen as a partner and not as a target” in efforts to fight the proliferation of nuclear weapons, Mukherjee said.
Although much of Mukherjee’s speech focused on security, he also addressed global trade.
“Southeast Asia and China are already two of our largest strategic partners,” he said, adding that “South Korea and Japan are among the largest investors in our country.”
—Staff writer Evan H. Jacobs can be reached at email@example.com.
A Sept. 26 news article misquoted Indian Defense Minister Pranab Mukherjee's remarks on religion. Mukherjee did not say that India has had trouble dealing with "major influences from outside, like Islam
and Christianity." In fact, according to a transcript of the speech provided by the Harvard South Asian Initiative, Mukherjee said, "Traditionally, India has been an open society. It has received and absorbed major influences from outside, like Islam and Christianity, and radiated its composite cultural influences outward." The defense minister added that Indian's Muslim population has "begun to embrace
modernity," and that "all the different segments of India's society remain wedded to the ideals of secularism."