Former Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral is a man who is widely recognised to have a distinctive vision of Indian diplomacy, both in the neighbourhood and in the wider world. The "Gujral doctrine", which he crafted as Minister for External Affairs in the United Front government of 1996-97 and later carried forward as Prime Minister, is one of the most radical efforts made in recent decades to build a broader South Asian community, overcoming a legacy of sometimes bitter divisions. In an interview with Sukumar Muralidharan, he spoke of his perceptions of the current tensions in the region and the longer-term prospects for peace and stability. Excerpts:
With all the military and diplomatic pressure being exerted from this side, there has been some evidence of movement from Pakistan vis-a-vis their stand on terrorism and Kashmir. Does this vouch for the effectiveness of the strategy?
We must make the world understand that so far as India is concerned, the issue at the moment is terrorism and not Kashmir. Once Indian institutions have been attacked, I believe it is an attack on our sovereignty. Terrorism is always bad and always objectionable. But when it extends to the Indian Parliament, then the entire scenario undergoes a qualitative change. We have no complaint against Pakistan as such. We have a complaint in this particular context against terrorism - against its exporters and those who give them asylum. In this context, we are talking in terms of a U.N. Security Council resolution that has now been endorsed by the SAARC summit. Our focus is to tell the world that whatever maybe the differences between India and Pakistan - Kashmir or whatever else - can be separately attended to. But unless India is assured that we are safe, our institutions are safe, our democracy is safe - how can we possibly talk about anything else?
But do you see any forward movement from Pakistan, in terms of clamping down on the terrorist groups?
I see some movement, but these are diversionary tactics. I think he (General Musharraf) is primarily trying to justify his own somersault regarding Afghanistan. He cannot possibly tell his people that he changed his own stand with regard to Afghanistan - undertaking the task of slaying his own child, that is the Taliban - and also say at the same time that he has not changed his outlook about fundamentalists who are sitting right there. After all, a very high percentage of those fundamentalists and terrorists who were operating in Afghanistan also have operations in Pakistan.
The Taliban phenomenon was created during the tenure of Benazir Bhutto as Prime Minister.
It was created by the ISI, which has always been an autonomous institution. Therefore, whether the Prime Minister was A or B, they were only there in name. They have constructive responsibility all right, but in reality it was the Army all the time. It was Zia's (former military ruler Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq) policy in Afghanistan and Kashmir, it was his anti-India policy which the present gentleman has inherited. To an extent, only Nawaz Sharif (as Prime Minister) tried to change the policy. He had four rounds of discussions with me and three rounds with Atal Behari Vajpayee - and perhaps this is one reason why he was removed.
Was that dialogue making any progress? It became something of a ritual for representatives to meet and discuss the two issues plus the six other identified issues and restate known positions.
More important than the eight identified issues was the SAARC framework. And the Male Summit, when I was there and the Colombo Summit, when Shri Vajpayee was there, were both moving in the same direction. We were talking about the operationalisation of SAPTA (South Asian Preferential Trade Agreement) and SAFTA (South Asian Free Trade Area) and the Eminent Persons' Group gave a report trying to visualise a transition from free trade to a South Asian community. We were moving in that direction, since at the back of our minds was the vision that even the contentious issue of Kashmir and Pakistan's hang-up about it could possibly be resolved via SAARC - because once we reach the South Asian community, then these issues would fit in without disturbing national sovereignties. Now how much Nawaz Sharif knew about Kargil and how much he did not is a matter of speculation, because that gentleman has not been given a chance to explain. Even Benazir Bhutto tried to delink herself from this operation. So civilian Prime Ministers, whenever they came, never got a chance.
Is there a possibility of an infiltration of Taliban elements into Pakistan, which could destabilise the Musharraf regime?
When we talk of Pakistan, we should not talk of Punjab Pakistan alone. We must think more of the Frontier Province and of Baluchistan - these are very important segments of Pakistan and the internal stability of these two regions cannot be taken for granted. Another fact of history is that whatever happens in Afghanistan influences the subcontinent sooner rather than later. The ouster of the Taliban is not a minor incident which will remain confined only to Afghanistan. The government has been eliminated but not Talibanism. After all, the groups that attacked the Indian Parliament were also part of the same outlook.
Is it then wise to pressure Musharraf into taking strong action, knowing that this could destabilise him and his country?
The future of Musharraf will be decided by him more than anybody else. Because there is no other institution there - apart from the Army and the ISI - which can decide. I think the friends whom he listens to should make him understand that his survival depends upon giving up the path of Zia. The entire legacy has to be discarded in his own interests. It is not a question of pressure from India. Civil society in Pakistan, particularly in Punjab, is very much in favour of friendship with India. This major change has come because of the processes that I initiated - visas, travel, trade, people-to-people contacts. Even a few days back there was a big demonstration at the Wagah border saying "no terrorism; no war". That is the authentic voice of civil society in Pakistan, which is as seriously threatened by terrorism as we are. So if Musharraf sees this, then he can build very strong alliances within his country for bringing peace.
But isn't he a bit constrained since the Army in Pakistan has put down this touchstone of Kashmir by which all relations with India will be governed?
I would say that we should draw the line between terrorism and these other issues. There are several ways of building good relations - like the approach that Nawaz Sharif and I (and later Shri Vajpayee) had taken. The SAARC route, ultimately, is the way we have to take. This is the longer route and there is no short-cut.
There is now a strong sense that Musharraf may hand over authority to a civilian government.
Handing over power and democracy are two different things. Democracy is not a gift from anyone. As we have seen in this country, democracy is a self-perpetuating system. And unless the people are able to choose their own representatives, whose continuity for a certain period of time can be taken for granted, Pakistan will continue to suffer.
But are there no lessons here for our handling of the Kashmir situation?
I would look at the Kashmir situation in two parts. One, as the hangover of Partition, and the other as internal. I think the present government has to do a lot more to satisfy our own people. When Prime Minister Vajpayee declared a ceasefire and for six months there was no political movement, that was unfortunate. When the elected Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir passed a resolution on autonomy, it was dismissed out of hand. I think we need to give a credible assurance to the people of Jammu and Kashmir that the next elections will be free and fair. That does not mean that I am questioning the credibility of the previous elections - that would be used as propaganda and would also arouse tempers. All the same,we must take steps to ensure that we will help civil society in the State to invite impartial and credible observers from within the country - not from outside - to look into the elections and its conduct. Once we move in that direction, many things will settle down. It would then be more difficult for those who are against elections to stay away.
Secondly, we should now enter into a dialogue with various segments of the State about their concept of autonomy. Let this discussion begin before the elections.
The government recently cut off all long-distance telephone links and Internet access in Kashmir. How would that kind of a measure go down at this sensitive time?
These are knee-jerk reactions, which I do not support. I also did not support the stopping of train and bus services to Pakistan. These measures do not help. Ordinary people whose families are divided suffer. Why make the whole society suffer for the faults of a few?
Coming back to the broader picture, the Zia doctrine was crafted very much under the tutelage of the U.S. And Afghanistan and Kashmir were the two flanks on which the doctrine was applied. Does the U.S. have the credibility today to make Pakistan tear up the Zia doctrine?
The main objective of the U.S. at that time was to defeat the Soviet Union. And the Soviets unfortunately put their foot into it. I was Ambassador to Moscow in those days. Indira Gandhi was categorical in advising the Soviets that they had made a mistake and should get out of Afghanistan as soon as possible. The difficulty with the culture of the Cold War was that we could not take a public stand on this. At the same time, in private - I am privy to this - we were always advising them to get out of Afghanistan.
In the new context do you see the U.S. acting in the interests of peace and stability in Afghanistan or is the old calculus of the Great Game and the oil pipeline from Central Asia going to enter the picture?
Stability and the new version of the Great Game are not separable. When you have these new entrants in Afghanistan, with their armed forces present and there is a government of their choice in power, then it would be very strange to pretend that this is not a new version of the Great Game. What Pakistan did with the Taliban was also a part of the Great Game. They had this concept of "strategic depth". Sometimes in world politics the objectives remain but the words change. What is "strategic depth" - was it not the same thing that the British were trying to achieve in India? And what was the concept that Russia and later the Soviet Union was trying to achieve from the other side? It is the misfortune of the Afghan people that their country has been made the playground for everybody.