Shashi Tharoor on Libya and Indian corruption
April 12th, 2011
09:36 AM ET

Shashi Tharoor on Libya and Indian corruption

With a growth rate of over 8% and a billion-plus population, India will undoubtedly play a critical role shaping this new century. But what kind of role will that be?

Last month, India joined Russia, China, Brazil and Germany in abstaining from the vote for United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, approving “all necessary measures” to protect civilians from attack in Libya.  What does this move suggest about India’s foreign policy, and about its role in the United Nations?

Shashi Tharoor, a member of the Indian Parliament and an experienced UN hand, explains how India's colonial history informed its decision to abstain. He also discusses why the corruption crises rocking India will be healthy in the long-run, and what India can do to stabilize Afghanistan.

Tharoor is a member of the Indian Parliament from Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.  In 2006, the Government of India nominated Tharoor for the post of UN Secretary-General and Tharoor came a close second behind Ban Ki-moon. Tharoor has served as United Nations Under-Secretary General for Communications and Public Information and as India’s Minister of State for External Affairs. He is also a prolific author.

Amar C. Bakshi: What does India’s abstention on Libya say about Indian foreign policy? How would you respond to those who say India is not willing to shoulder the responsibilities of global leadership, which plausibly include preventing mass atrocities?

Shashi Tharoor: India's abstention has been misunderstood in the West. It is not merely a reflexive assertion of non-interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign Member State of the United Nations, as critics have portrayed it. If that were the case, Indian would have voted against the resolution, not abstained.

India's concern appears to have been that the authorization to use “all necessary measures" could easily permit pro-active military intervention on one side of the conflict. That is indeed what happened.

India is indeed prepared to shoulder global responsibilities, but it considers among them to be the preservation of the rights of sovereign peoples to determine their own political destiny.

Any country that spent two hundred years under colonial rule, with imperial overlords deciding all issues for them, is bound to be acutely sensitive to the implications of foreigners imposing their will on another country.

That does not imply support for Gadhafi’s repressive measures against dissent in his own country - India remains strongly in favor of creating conditions for a peaceful, negotiated solution that takes into account the interests of all the people of Libya.

What does corruption mean for India’s global ambitions? How serious are the multiple corruption scandals rocking India today? Will they undermine India’s economic growth? And what is the solution for India going forward.

The corruption story has become big within India, particularly for a deeply disillusioned middle-class and the country's hyper-kinetic media.

Obviously, the existence of corruption makes a serious dent in India's global image, but the fact that the country is confronting the issue transparently, investigating and punishing wrongdoing, and going through a huge national catharsis over it, is bound to favor India's global ambitions in the longer term.

Corruption is only a negative if you don't deal with it effectively, and the signs are that India is indeed dealing with it (agreement on a new, powerful national Ombudsman, or Lokpal, is a further sign of this).

The irony is that the multiple corruption scandals we are reading about these days appear to have had little impact on India's remarkable growth story - far from "undermining India's economic growth," as you suggest, it hasn't prevented that growth from hitting 9%.

Are extremists on a roll and moderates in retreat in Pakistan? What should India's role be in stabilizing Afghanistan and Pakistan?

It certainly seems as if extremism is running rampant in Pakistan, particularly with the assassinations of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti for seeking to reform the blasphemy law - and even worse, the widespread applause across Pakistani society for their murderers.

It's difficult to see India playing much of role in stabilizing that country, though, since it is unlikely to be a welcome player in that process.

In Afghanistan, India and Afghanistan share a strategic and development partnership based on historical, cultural and economic ties. We have an abiding interest in the stability of Afghanistan, in ensuring social and economic progress for its people, getting them on the track of self-sustained growth and thus enabling them to take their own decisions without outside interference.

The binding factor in our relationship is that the interests of Afghanistan and India converge. In our efforts towards the stabilization of Afghanistan, our focus has been on development. Our U.S. $1.2 billion assistance program, modest from the standpoint of Afghan needs, is large for a non-traditional donor like India.

We've revived girls' schools and maternal and child hospitals, built a road across south-western Afghanistan, brought electricity to Kabul by stringing cables across a height of 3000 meters, and are now constructing the Afghan parliament building - all symbols of our determination to help that country stand on its own feet.

Should Ban Ki-moon receive another five-year term as UN Secretary-General? How would you rate his first term?

I've been too far away from the centre of action over the last four years to "rate" his first term, but the Secretary-Generalship is a tough and thankless job and Ban Ki-Moon's been doing the best he can with it.

There's now a gathering consensus that he should be re-elected and I see no plausible challengers on the horizon, so I'd say the second five-year term is a done deal.

The perspectives expressed in this interview are solely those of Shashi Tharoor.

Click here to read Fareed's 2009 interview with Shashi Tharoor.

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Topics: Economy • Humanitarian intervention • India • Libya • Perspectives • Politics

soundoff (46 Responses)
  1. NH790

    Here is an idea: Get out of Afghanistan. They have nothing in common. They don't even share a border. They have 800 million hungry, dirt poor people. Feed them first.

    April 12, 2011 at 12:02 pm | Reply
    • Eoin

      tru that

      April 12, 2011 at 12:24 pm | Reply
    • Ahmed Johnson

      Allah be praised! Hindi Go Home! They take and take and take again...kashmir, Rann of Kutch, Afghanistan – all muslim lands – hindus dirty turbans want to take from good muslim.

      April 13, 2011 at 1:03 am | Reply
      • Assaad

        Stupid... There'a great tool called Wikipedia, learn history

        April 13, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
    • John Denver's ghost

      China business man out Afghanistan! Stop mining their wealth!

      April 13, 2011 at 2:11 am | Reply
    • Mahatma of Great Britain

      India-Afghanistan may not share the border, but terrorists in India comes from the training camp in Afghanistan (26/11 terrorists were Pakistani trained in camps in Afghanistan). Besides, if USA can wage an illegal war all the way to Afghanistan or Iraq, it's only fair India do its bits for the stability of the region that's in close proximity to them. Don't worry, India would do lot better a job than waging an illegal war & then making a complete hash of it, like USA/UK.

      April 13, 2011 at 8:19 am | Reply
    • Xiang

      So how come there were Buddha statues over there? Of course they have things in common moron...

      April 13, 2011 at 5:12 pm | Reply
    • Xiang

      So how come there were Buddha statues over there? Of course they have things in common moron... They even watch indian films moron (x2)...

      April 13, 2011 at 5:17 pm | Reply
    • peace

      India & Pakistan alway helped Afghanistan in many ways during the Afghan War with Russian. Still India helping Afghanistan. However, most Talibans are trained in Pakistan and sent to Afghanistan to kill innocent people. However, the government of Pakistan never take this seriously until Talibans attacked Islamabad and killed prime master of pakistan. Pakistan government must try to stop talbians growing up in pakistan because if Talibans grow up in pakistan, it will disadvanage to pakistan, Afghanistan and India.

      April 14, 2011 at 1:00 pm | Reply
  2. Juan

    India should help Afghanistan by making peace with Pakistan. This will allow Pakistan to free up half a million well armed and trained troops to be moved to the western border. I am sorry Mr. Tharoor but India does not have anything in common with Afghanistan. Not the religion, not the economy, not even a shared border or water.

    April 12, 2011 at 12:05 pm | Reply
    • Morgan

      I agree! The only reason I can think of, is that it annoys Pakistan so India wants to be in Afghanistan. If it were too concerned about feeding the poor and building infrastructure, start with your own, you have poverty more than whole of Africa – start with that.

      April 12, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Reply
      • Andy

        Read the history. Then come and coment.

        April 14, 2011 at 2:09 am |
    • Oodoodanoo

      Pakistan is run by its army. Its elected politicians have power to the extent that the army lets them. The army has had a pretty profitable existence putting itself at the front of Pakistan's reason for existence.

      So, if India made peace with Pakistan (how - giving up Kashmir?), would you expect the Pakistani army to suddenly de-fund itself, give up all the key real estate, and forego a huge slice of the Pakistani budget? No, they need a reason to exist, and it's India. There would find another reason to fight.

      April 12, 2011 at 12:29 pm | Reply
    • Abhishek

      Peace with Pakistan? LOL! They would want us to lay down all our arms, hand over Kashmir in it's entirety to them. Sure, those seem like very reasonable demands. /s
      The country itself is mired in confusion as to it's creation. The language they speak Urdu, is spoken with mostly Hindi influence but in Nastaliq script and some Iranian words. The school books claim India was partitioned from Pakistan. They claim India instigated the 1971 war with Bangladesh and Pakistan apparently had come to aid their Bengali brothers against the marauding Hindu's. See anywhere for the true history on all these things, and you'll see what I'm talking about when I say they're all mired in confusion. Very rarely do I come across a Pakistani now who believes their country will rise back up. Pakistan means Land of the Pure. Yeah, pure bullsh*t.

      April 12, 2011 at 12:37 pm | Reply
      • Rehman Nazir

        although (and of course) I disagree with your opinion about Pakistan and I would love to malign your country in response to that but where is that going to take us?
        Anyhow I do agree with you laugh at the prospect of peace with Pakistan. India and Pakistan can never trust each other and time has proven that. It's high time that Both the governments should start using their resources for the betterment of their people. Shinning India has over 6 million people who earn their living by cleaning human feces from dry open air toilets with their bare hands. Last thing they need to do is help Afghanistan.
        PS. Best wishes for your next missile test. I hope your next one travels beyond the compound.

        April 14, 2011 at 9:45 am |
    • Oodoodanoo

      Also, a hostile Pakistan is very useful to China. It keeps half the Indian army tied up on its western border, when the much more dangerous threat lies to the east. Even if Pakistan's economy were to collapse, China would still find it useful to fund the Pakistani army enough to keep it running.

      It's not surprising that China helped Pakistan develop nuclear weapons and jet fighters. It's also not surprising that the US remains in the AfPak region, given that they fear growing Chinese influence if they were to leave.

      April 12, 2011 at 12:39 pm | Reply
      • Vaz

        Finally someone who is debating well! Thank you, Oodoodanoo. I am more worried about China than Pakistan. We know how to deal with Pakistan, thanks to our 60+ years of meaningless wars, but what do we have to defend ourselves from China? Nothing. They are shrouded in secrecy. And right now they are upset with India as we support the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan fight for freedom.

        April 13, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • Ron

      No one can make peace with Pakistan, it is not in their interest or intellect to make peace with Kafirs or non-believers. America has tried for decades with every kind of financial bait, Pakistan sees it as a stupid cash cow only. It's in China's interest to foster this volatile terrorist nation to offset peace and prosperity in the region. America can spend it's last dollar on it's peace efforts in Pakistan – it will continue to be a sheer waste of time and effort.

      April 12, 2011 at 4:08 pm | Reply
  3. Abhishek

    India sends possibly the largest number of soldiers to assist in the UN Peacekeeping force, and also accounts for the most soldiers casualties. From Africa to Middle East, Indian peacekeeping forces are spread out.
    With that said, I don't buy for one minute, Shashi Tharoor's reasoning on India abstaining from voting on Resolution 1973. I sense it's something else, a political ploy at work maybe.
    Regarding Afghanistan, India needs to spread it's influence and help that country be stable. A stable and friendly Afghanistan will be a small step in neutralizing the threat of Pakistan and China.

    April 12, 2011 at 12:21 pm | Reply
  4. Jerry

    Comments like these make me blush as an American.

    Yeah, NH790 – they do have a lot of poor people. But not 800 million, and here is a shocker for you – they also have the second highest number of billionaires on the planet. Before the Brits took over India, it was the richest nation in the world.

    Juan, I do not think anyone can make peace between India and Pakistan. From what I can tell, they have nothing to start with in a negotiation since Pakistan seeks India's dismemberment as the price of peace. In the Civil war, we fought for 5 years to keep our country together. It is stupid of us to think that Indians have any lesser love of their country.

    As to Afghanistan, you may not be aware but India and Russia kept the Northern Alliance alive for about 10 years before 9-11. The Northern Alliance was the only credible opposition to Pakistani and Saudi backed Taliban. They share almost 1000 years of trade. India has the world's second largest Muslim population (so your comment about no shared religion is kind of stupid).

    April 12, 2011 at 12:24 pm | Reply
    • Arya

      @Jerry: Fantastic facts. Helping Afghan achieve a stability will somehow give India a bipolar grip-hold on Pakistan. But it's also true that Paki army will never cease to wage the nonsensical war over land that's not theirs simply because it a) is profitable for them, b) is stemmed by some corrupt politicians in India and c) is heavily funded and sponsored by the Dubai mafia. Religion is the least of an issue and India and widespread and huge Muslim population too, it's the underworld powerhouse and survival of existence at work here.

      April 12, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Reply
    • Ahmed Johnson

      yes yes yes – the american and the blushing face. we all know yoo bigshot blushing white face. go home yankee! why the american say anything at all – afghan is muslim land – not the rug for decadent non muslim to walk upon. the american want all muslim lands so they can make muslim girls the whores like american girls – make up, planning the parenthood, snooki !.

      so what if the american can blush in the face – we good muslims never need blushing – you are guilty perhaps? hahaha allah be praised

      April 13, 2011 at 1:11 am | Reply
    • John Denver's ghost

      Ahmed Johnson is reporting live from a Chinese labor camp for Muslims.

      April 13, 2011 at 1:49 am | Reply
  5. Bala

    Historically Afghanistan was in India....and rest......,for real solution. check with retired USSR KGB..their experience may give some solutions.....

    April 12, 2011 at 12:28 pm | Reply
  6. outawork

    I'm sure when Pakistan implodes and the same type of resolution is proposed in the UN India will vote yes.

    April 12, 2011 at 12:43 pm | Reply
  7. Diwakar

    Its about time Pakistan gave up its sovereignity and begged India for unification, may be thats the only way Pakistan can equal the Indian might in both intellect and GDP growth. The only solution is the dissolution of Pakistan and re-unification. As the saying goes when you cant beat them join them.

    April 12, 2011 at 12:52 pm | Reply
    • Abhishek

      Wait way! I don't want any of those crazies coming in India. Maybe the Ahmedi's and the Christians and Hindu's because they're a victimized minority. But I don't want those crazy Punjabi's or Pashtun's or Balochi's here, creating havoc and destroying whatever India has built since the freedom.

      April 12, 2011 at 12:57 pm | Reply
      • Vaz

        Abhishek, let's be civil. We can't call ourselves Ghandians and then, resort to name calling. It's not funny any more. We've been divided enough for a long time.... too many people have died both in India and Pakistan. Meaningless name-calling is an insult to the dead... it's just bad karma. if there has to be a debate, let it be a civil one.

        April 13, 2011 at 11:17 am |
  8. Diwakar

    What India has been able to build since freedom is the ability to demonstrate tolerance for all people irrespective of their relegious subscriptions. India is the symphonic chorus of various languages and religions and provided the Pakistan pleads for forgiveness and begs for acceptance we Indians can find it within our hearts to accept this alienated and misguided part of India back in to midst.

    April 12, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Reply
  9. Bhasky

    Some comments here are devoid of basic knowledge of the region. There was no Afghanistan or pakistan 65 years ago. there was British India and the borders were till present day Iran. Americans just want to get the hell out of Afghanistan, but morally they are bound. Any retreat will equate them to the soviets. Pakistan on the other hand, run by the ISI and the military will always have issues with India. The reason why you dont see a popular elected government is because of the shadow government run parallel. Public disillusionment is at the peak. Do you think the ISI will do anything to change that game ? Americans just like 10 years ago are pretty much ignorant of the world in general. I have sheer contempt for the free remarks highlighting their stupidity and ignorance.

    April 12, 2011 at 1:12 pm | Reply
  10. j. von hettlingen

    The rise of the Indians on the international scene of politics has to do with its economic growth in the recent years. In the past it had been involved with border conflicts with mainly China and Pakistan. As India was still a third world state not long ago, it takes time for it to do grow politically and militarily. The Indians are shrewd people. Sofar their foreign poliicy has been very subtle, apllying the carrot and stick approach. Time will tell, how far India will go. I think as a regional power, it will certainly be an indispensible ally for the U.S.. I am afraid the antagonism and suspicion between India and Pakistan are so deeply rooted, that it will take generations for both sides to come together.

    April 12, 2011 at 1:23 pm | Reply
    • Vaz

      Beautifully put, Mr. Hettlingen. There is no easy solution, for now, at least. And, yes, India, is the only ally that the United States has in that conflicted region.

      April 13, 2011 at 11:13 am | Reply
  11. Sudhir

    Shashi Tharoor himself is a corrupt politician who has clinged on to power despite hue and cry. It is a shame that educated citizens like him did not see any issues with obviously corrupt goons like PJ Thomas. I regret that I convinced my parents to vote for him. What an embarassment.

    April 12, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Reply
    • Ahmed Johnson

      ahhhhh the good muslim sees! in india they dance with the little girl. but good muslims never dance with the woman before they have been given away. indian are corrupt and decadent – like the american. muslim lands the man dance with the man and no blushing, you see? yes? this is why the disgrace of the hindu politician. dances with little girls where the muslim dances with the boy as allah commands.

      April 13, 2011 at 1:17 am | Reply
  12. SayWhaaa

    I just love the very existence of Pakistan burns up these Indians. Indians are perhaps the biggest chest thumping patriots on the planet but sadly also blind to whats really going on. India should be concerned with only itself, they have 500 million people under the poverty line and population growth rate of 17%. When you calculate GDP per capita both countries are about the same. Open your eyes crazy indians, Pakistan will never be part of India and quit thinking of yourselves as the smartest sobs on the planet.

    April 12, 2011 at 4:12 pm | Reply
    • Arya

      Do you really have a point to make, apart from pointless mud slinging? Pak was a part of India before 1947 but it's never gonna be the same ever. Democratic solutions or trials for solutions will go in vein because Pak's govt is merely a puppet govt and can't take a decision on their own. Indian govt is NOT dealing with people who have power, ie the ISI. Again, that's a fact Pak will choose to hide. See the vicious circle here?

      April 12, 2011 at 4:45 pm | Reply
    • Raj

      Even Pakistan ("land of the pure ...converted") accepted help from Indian during the floods... Don't bite the hand that's feeding you.

      April 13, 2011 at 5:24 pm | Reply
  13. Ashvin Patel

    Shashi Tharoor for PM.

    April 12, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Reply
    • niran

      Good joke. Shashi Tharoor is a corrupt and cunning politician. This article conveniently forgot to mention why he was sacked from his minister post.

      April 12, 2011 at 10:59 pm | Reply
      • Vaz


        The people who sacked him are now under scrutiny for corruption.

        April 13, 2011 at 11:07 am |
  14. ThePlatoReport

    It's bizarre to pretend that India has a coherent foreign policy strategy, because it doesn't and can't have one. Too many poor people, too decentralized a country, and too many implementation issues when it comes with executing foreign policy plans and absorbing the benefits of an active foreign policy, such as Foreign Direct Investment.

    Mr. Tharoor speaks as an internationalist very involved with international issues. For that reason alone, he is a very rare Indian. I'm not saying India doesn't have brilliant strategists, but the 1.1billion large, often completely illiterate population has much more relevant issues to worry about.

    The issue with Libya vis a vis India isn't Libya's political posturing - it's its literal irrelevant to India.


    April 12, 2011 at 4:54 pm | Reply
  15. ThePlatoReport

    Correction: "The issue with Libya vis a vis India isn't Libya's political posturing – it's its literal irrelevant to India."

    That should read "...isn't India's political posturing- it's Libya's literal irrelevance to India."

    April 12, 2011 at 4:55 pm | Reply
  16. Raj

    As said my Mr. Tharoor, are we, the India "middle-class" really disillusioned ? Why are'nt we debating about that instead of arguing about India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

    April 13, 2011 at 9:05 am | Reply
  17. shilpy

    the only real issue this election is congressi corruption. pakistan, islam are not an issue. tharoor is part of that problem. for him to say congress is dealing with it is plain stupid because the loot of treasuries is so huge as to go unnoticed. congress has ruled india over 90pct of time since independence, and can not escape the truth that it is a party of rogues, thugs and corrupt who feel they own india. i agree with those who have said afghanistan is not india's problem when india has a huge poverty all its own. i certainly would not want my tax dollar to go to afghanistan which has delcared itself an islamic country officially despite the fact that nonmuslims are the ones who liberated it from taliban.

    April 13, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Reply
  18. Jester

    sure India and Afghanistan have some historical ties, but that India had a very different boundary and it was not sitting on Kashmiri,Mao ,Naxal and Tamil lands. Futhermore how can people refer to it as a freindly historic relation when India was actually conquered by Afghan Warriors storming in from the West and defeating Hindu lords one by one and then establishing Muslim rule in India that was eventually ended by the British in 1857. If India is so much loving towards Afghans it should try letting them enter its territory without any documentation and papers like they come into Pakistan and settle anywhere they want. This is all just hocus pocus and regional politics, history is very different. India should be thankful that there is buffer state in between called Pakistan.

    April 14, 2011 at 1:22 am | Reply
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    November 1, 2012 at 8:48 pm | Reply

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