'A window of diplomacy must be left open'

Print edition : January 19, 2002
Interview with Natwar Singh.

K. Natwar Singh, chairman of the Congress(I)'s foreign affairs cell, although appreciative of Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee's stern rebuff to Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf at the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit, feels that a window of diplomacy must be left open between the two countries. The increased diplomatic activity around India-Pakistan relations and the heightened resolve to tackle cross-border terrorism, he says, do not speak for the efficacy of the government's strategy, but is the result of the realisation in the West that India is united on the issues of national security, cross-border terrorism, nuclear policy and other defence-related matters.

Natwar Singh says the United States and Britain cannot be expected to play the role of a mediator, as the Simla Agreement, the bedrock of Indo-Pakistan relations, rules out any third-party intervention. Excerpts from the interview he gave Purnima S. Tripathi:

-SANDEEP SAXENA

Do you think the increased military and diplomatic pressure on Pakistan and the heightened resolve to tackle cross-border terrorism speak of the efficacy of the strategy followed by the government?

It has nothing to do with the efficacy of the strategy followed by the government. If there has been any increased international pressure on Pakistan to contain cross-border terrorism, it is because Europe and the United States have woken up to the reality of terrorism after September 11. This increased pressure is also because of the realisation that there are no differences of opinion in India on issues of security, cross-border terrorism and nuclear policy. On these issues there has been broad national consensus. When the leaders of the Opposition parties met the Prime Minister, the Congress party along with other parties gave support to the government to deal with cross-border terrorism and India-Pakistan relations. Pakistan should realise that there is a very strong feeling against cross-border terrorism in India, especially after December 13.

Is a military offensive a realistic option? Has this option receded to the background now?

Our troops are on full alert. At one stage the government looked very serious about exercising the military option. It cannot be ruled out. We feared that it would do something adventurous before the Uttar Pradesh elections. But we just hope that the government will not play with the lives of our brave jawans for a few electoral votes in U.P. That option now looks somewhat distant, especially in view of the facts that the Chinese Prime Minister is arriving on a visit, the government is sending a delegation of MPs to foreign countries and the Republic Day celebrations are approaching.

Do you think a dialogue with Pakistan could start in the near future?

We are of the opinion that although the atmosphere at the moment is not conducive to talks, the diplomatic door should not be shut completely and indefinitely. A little window should be left open for diplomacy, because eventually the two sides have to talk.

There has been a lot of diplomatic activity in the wake of December 13, and there is more to come. What will be the outcome of these exchanges?

There has been a lot of diplomatic activity, but it is for the simple reason that India and Pakistan are both nuclear powers. The BJP must realise that after May 1998 (the Pokhran nuclear test) it gave Pakistan defence parity with India for all times. Before that we were far superior, in conventional arms. As for the outcome of these exchanges, unless General Musharraf stops these activities (terrorist activities), normalisation of relations is out of the question. Everybody is speaking of restraint with regard to Pakistan and India, but the question is when New York gets hit the Americans come 8,000 miles away, to Afghanistan. Pakistan is next door. We have given them all proof. Musharraf has only to ask the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) chief who the terrorists are since they have been training them, feeding them, giving them money and shelter. In Kathmandu, Vajpayee conveyed to Musharraf the strong Indian feeling against terrorist activities. The outcome will depend on what he (Musharraf) says and does.

How crucial do you think has been the U.S.' role in this period of coercive diplomacy?

The United States has been helpful and we welcome that. But this does not mean that it is going to mediate or be a third party because the bedrock of India-Pakistan relations is the Simla Agreement, which does not provide for any third-party intervention. It was unfortunate that Mr. (Bill) Clinton, when he visited India (in 2000), referred to the Kashmir issue as a dispute. Mr.(Tony) Blair, while in Pakistan in January, also used the word 'dispute'. We appreciate the helpful role the U.K. and the U.S. are playing, but they cannot mediate.

What could be the implications of internal political stability and order in Pakistan?

India is in favour of stability in Pakistan because instability in Pakistan will have serious repercussions in the whole of the SAARC region and beyond.

What kind of message is conveyed by the decision to cut off long-distance telephone links in Kashmir and the cancellation of buses and trains to Pakistan?

These are temporary measures. Once the relations are normalised we can hope that these services will be resumed. What we must guard against, however, is the use of phrases like "strategic partner" or "natural allies" of the U.S. as (External Affairs Minister) Jaswant Singh did recently. Strategic partners against whom? Who is the enemy? How can we be natural allies of countries that are members of a military bloc (NATO)? We must not forget that we are a non-aligned country. We certainly want good relations with the U.S. and Britain, we welcome it, but we cannot be their strategic partners or natural allies.

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