Ambassador Pradeep Kumar Kapur has represented India in Tanzania, France, Nepal, Cambodia, and Chile since beginning his career in the Indian Foreign Service in 1979. He currently serves as the acting director of the Indian Council of World Affairs, the joint secretary of the Foreign Service Institute, and a visiting professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy.
What challenges did you face as an ambassador in Cambodia and Chile?
One of the most important challenges in the Kingdom of Cambodia was the state at the time [of] Cambodia and the difficulties in those relations. I needed to find a strategy I could have used to impact those relations. Cambodia had relations with India for more than 2,000 years. The entire Indo-China region had relations, which were very strong and linked to India for many years, culturally and otherwise. Now, what happened was after the colonial period, those relationships were diminished or ruptured. Each of these countries went in their own separate ways. Because the British were ruling over India and the French were ruling over Cambodia, the paths they took to development were different. So when these countries got their freedom, they no longer had close relationships. So when I joined in Cambodia, what I saw that the visits by the elites of Cambodia to India were very few and had happened decades back.
In what ways do you believe the power of diplomacy has transformed in the last 30 years?
In 1991 and 1992, I was at Georgetown University as a faculty professor in the School of Foreign Service. And we worked together with the State Department to write a paper on the future of diplomacy. In 1991 and 1992, you could use the Internet to communicate with other people and the Soviet Union had collapsed. So the question was: Now that the leaders and bureaucrats were able to communicate more easily and directly, will we need the same number of diplomats and embassies?
These were the challenges that we had to write about. And most of us ultimately came around to the opinion that the power of diplomacy in the future is not going to decrease. The more possible scenario was that it would increase. Our team went contrary to the assumption that the power of diplomacy would decrease, and that shocked people.
India has practiced soft power diplomacy for hundreds of years. A lot of scholars have mentioned that the best example of soft power diplomacy is India. Without any guns being fired or military force, India has done many things. Now, other countries are allocating more [of] their budgets… to enact soft power diplomacy. Therefore, the power of diplomacy is continually increasing.
What advice would you give to students?
You have seen, for example, between the US and the Arab world and between India and China, how diplomacy has played a really important role. It is essential to have diplomats on the ground that have a better understanding of the other country and who have better communication with the other country in order to have better relations with the country. Without these diplomats being on the ground, the effort would not be successful. More and more students from universities like Brown University need to give very serious thought to building careers where they can contribute significantly to their country and diplomacy.
Do you see the relationship between the United States and India changing?
The United States is the most powerful country in the world. It has great ideas for the world in terms of fostering democracy, peace, and freedom. They have been a leader in technology and so many other areas. Now, the times are changing. Many of those other countries are catching up, although at different paces economically, militarily, and strategically.
However there are many security problems facing the world. So, for the United States to cope with the challenges by itself is quite difficult or rather impossible. The United States needs more and more partners, especially strong ones. It has partnerships with many countries in the world with strong support such as Europe, Japan, South Korea, Australia, etc. But there are also a large number of problems for the US in the Islamic world and with China and Russia as well as with Pakistan. These countries are challenging the future and goals of the US in the world.
India traditionally has been a very strong country but not a very proactive country. The outlook of India is that we do not want to interfere with the internal affairs of other countries; we will help other countries but only if they ask us to help them. We contribute a lot to peacekeeping activities for the UN. For India, the relationship with any other country has to be an equal partnership.
The defining partnership that I see in the world today and of the 21st century will be the US-India partnership. Culturally and linguistically, there are a lot of challenges. How do we foster that communication and understanding? India has a lot to learn from the US in terms of technology and sustainable development to bring up the standard of living and to meet the sustainable development goals of the United Nations. But similarly, the US has a lot to learn from India, to understand why India is so influential in many other countries. U.S. diplomacy is about 14,000 strong…India, with its massive global footprint only has 600 diplomats. There is a lot of goodwill for the US from India. The question is: How can India and the US work together, as equal partners, so that the world’s security and development issues improve in a positive way?
In what ways should the world pay more attention to India politically and economically?
If you see the last 70 years of development in India, many experts thought that India would break up into two countries. Some thought that it would break up into 50 countries! Now India has become so strong democratically, politically, and strategically, and these experts question that. India is a strong entity. It has become the driver of the political economy in a very big way with a GDP [that is] stable or increasing, whereas the growth rate of GDP of other countries [has] been decreasing. India has a young demographic and is the force of the political economy both as producers and consumers.
Do you see any solution to the India and Pakistan equation in regards to the Kashmir territorial conflict?
Yes, I do see a bright future for India. The India and Pakistan situation is very serious to the extent that it impacts the world. For India, we have managed to go ahead with development and to treat the situation that we have with Pakistan as a very important distraction, but not as our mainstream existence. My upper-most thoughts are never about Pakistan. It is not something with which I am consumed. Whereas unfortunately, many Pakistanis are consumed with the idea of India, and they support the efforts of terrorism and any disruption of India in any capacity.
The Kashmir fight today has protests and disruption, but the democratic situation of Indian Kashmir and the number of people who vote in elections and bring in democratic parties to govern themselves are far better than Pakistani-occupied Kashmir. Once this understanding [reaches] young Kashmiris who sometimes come out on the streets to protest against India, that protest will start decreasing.
The situation of Kashmiris under Pakistani control is far, far worse. Over time, these protests will become less and less. Then the pressure on Pakistan to resolve the issues with its border with India will be higher and it will also get less support from countries like the US and China. The US and China will soon understand that Pakistan has an increasing network and [ability to] spread terrorism around the world, including in their own countries, and that continuing to support Pakistan will result in a negative-sum game for them [that] will backfire. Many scholars and experts are labeling Pakistan not as a failing state, but as a failed state.