Interview with S. Jaipal Reddy, Congress spokesperson.
S. Jaipal Reddy, Member of Parliament and spokesperson for the Congress, discusses the recent diplomatic initiatives in the neighbourhood. Excerpts from the interview he gave Sukumar Muralidharan:
How does the Congress view the prospect for a renewal of dialogue between India and Pakistan?
The Congress party is certainly for the restoration of normalcy between India and Pakistan. We welcome the steps that have been taken recently to upgrade the diplomatic status of our missions. We also welcome the move to restore air links. But we have cautioned both in Parliament and outside that we should be very careful while dealing with Pakistan because whenever such efforts were made earlier by the present government, some problems have been encountered. And a second problem is the constant double-talk that the National Democratic Alliance government indulges in.
Does this indicate a lack of consensus within the government?
I think there is no consensus within the NDA or even within the BJP and the larger Sangh Parivar. Neither is there any consistency in the posturing of the Prime Minister. The problem with Vajpayee is that he deliberately makes vague but positive statements. They are so framed as to leave an escape route. They are all generalised statements with built-in escape clauses.
Do you think he is preparing for an escape here or is he irrevocably committed to a resumption of dialogue?
Our understanding is that both the governments of India and Pakistan are under unremitting international pressure. We don't know how far the governments are ready to go. We don't know if there is much support for this initiative in Pakistan either. But we would rather favour some forward movement.
When you say international pressure, you mean U.S. pressure?
Well, it is a way of putting it. I think we should be able to talk on our own. Why should we be under any kind of pressure to talk with a neighbour?
Could we still have a dialogue if the security situation in Kashmir remains unchanged?
The Prime Minister indicated during the course of his address in the Lok Sabha that there is a significant reduction in cross-border terrorism. And the talks at all levels can be used to see that it stops completely.
The Lahore accord, it is said, was undermined because of the unstable civil-military dynamics in Pakistan. Is there any sense you get today that there is a little uncertainty within the political dynamics in India about this engagement with Pakistan?
You could look at the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister themselves, speaking in different voices. It could be a case of orchestrated double-speak. This is a strategic decision to enable a pull-out from the dialogue at any stage. So there is no clarity of approach, nor is there a focus.
There has been renewed talk about a strategic triad between India, Israel and the U.S. - particularly after Brajesh Mishra's visit to the U.S. How does the Congress view this?
In our view, there is no need for India to get involved with Israel at all. There is this outdated notion about Israel being a model anti-terrorist state. Israel as a state is more vulnerable to terrorism than any other state. In that sense, even in terms of a model, it doesn't work. The BJP has a strange obsession with Israel. It was Mr. Advani who said, following the September 11 strikes in the U.S., that there should be a "strategic trilateral partnership" between India, Israel and the U.S. Later Mr. Brajesh Mishra talked about it and he couldn't have spoken out of turn. It is this attitude towards Israel that undermines the foreign policy consensus we have in this country. Even Europe today is no longer in sympathy with the position of Israel. Never has Israel faced such extraordinary international pressure as now.
Do you think this talk of a partnership with Israel is an effort to get the U.S. onside in our engagement with Pakistan?
Our information is that the government of India is already drawing upon the inputs of Israel. Now they are trying to impart a strategic dimension to this, which we totally oppose.