For de-escalation and dialogue

Published : Aug 03, 2002 00:00 IST

Interview with Pakistan's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Inam ul Haque.

Indian lawyer-scholar and commentator A.G. Noorani met him first last January as Foreign Secretary during a visit to Islamabad. The senior official had at that point of time declined to give any interviews on record. However, he spoke to the visitor in absolute candour and without any trace of bitterness, even as the situation along the Line of Control and the international border remained extremely tense.

The following interview Inam ul Haque gave A.G. Noorani on July 24 in Islamabad is perhaps the first of its kind on the record since he became Minister of State for Foreign Affairs on June 22. The Minister speaks clearly, candidly, and to the point; never evades questions. However, this practised diplomat speaks nuances that are meaningful.

Three points emerged very clearly from the interview. There is a clear and sensible proposal for talks aimed at de-escalation of tensions between India and Pakistan. There is a precedent for this in the agreement concluded between India and Pakistan in February 1987 in the wake of Operation Brasstacks. Secondly, Pakistan has absolutely no intention of disrupting the elections scheduled to be held in Jammu and Kashmir later this year. For one thing, it is simply not possible for Pakistan to do so. For another, as the Minister indicates, if Pakistan could live with elections in Kashmir in the past, it can very well do so in 2002. Talk of a Pakistani project to disrupt the elections is therefore a sure bogey by Defence Minister George Fernandes and others to avoid de-escalation before the elections. The last point is equally clear. The absence of an Indian response to a very significant reduction, if not cessation, of infiltration, is causing frustration in Pakistan. The situation clearly demands a diplomatic initiative on the part of India. It would be sensible for it to do so on its own rather than at America's behest.

Without the underpinning of dialogue the situation will remain inherently unstable. It would be unwise to bank on American support and patience for long especially if India is perceived to be intransigent by the world community.

The text of the interview:

How do you foresee the end of this impasse in Indo-Pakistan relations? What are the initial steps towards de-escalation that you would recommend?

Well, Mr. Noorani, the basic thing that both the countries have to do is to begin to talk to each other. You have said that the first step is de-escalation. Yes, that is correct. But the first step could also be to start a dialogue which could lead to de-escalation. Unless we talk to each other, there is no way to resolve the problems. We cannot deny the fact that there are certain problems between us like Jammu and Kashmir which need a resolution. There are a number of other problems also.

Pakistan has always been ready to discuss all issues with India across the table. The first step, in fact, has already been taken. As you know, the President has stated on record that there is no movement across the Line of Control. He has banned a number of extremist organisations. Their finances have been frozen. Their offices have been closed. Their leaders are under arrest. Pakistan is not sponsoring anybody to go across the Line of Control. It is not encouraging anyone to go across the Line of Control and it is not allowing anyone to go across the LoC. This has in fact been certified by both the United States and the United Kingdom. People in both these countries have made statements to the effect that there has been a significant downturn in the so-called infiltration.

We have also said that it is, in practical terms, impossible to seal the line. You cannot seal this LoC. The terrain is extremely difficult. It is mountainous. I saw recently an interview by the British High Commissioner to India that there are perhaps mavericks, renegades and other people who will always continue to cross the LoC and neither side will be able to stop it. So, to continue to argue that until such time that the LoC is completely sealed India will not take de-escalatory measures is, I think, basically an unreasonable demand. The Indians know it. What we have to see is that, after the assurance by the President of Pakistan that there is no activity across the LoC, whether India has responded in any substantive measures, either to start a process of dialogue or to start any substantive de-escalatory measure. And the answer on both counts is 'No'. It has been stated by Indian leaders publicly that nothing is likely to happen till October anyway. They are probably waiting for elections in Indian-occupied Kashmir to be held and then they will see and decide whether India can take any de-escalatory measures or not.

I find this to be a policy which is not conducive to an early return of normalcy between the two countries. India has conducted elections in Indian-occupied Kashmir previously also. It can, if it wishes to, undertake that exercise once again. These elections, in our opinion, are not a solution to the problem. The United Nations did not recognise the validity of the earlier elections. Pakistan certainly believes that the territory of Jammu and Kashmir is a disputed territory. It is under the illegal control of India and elections by India do not really resolve the problem. The Kashmiri people are not very keen to participate in the elections. The APHC [All Parties Hurriyat Conference] has announced a boycott of the elections. We do not really know what purpose these elections will serve. But, if India wishes to undertake that exercise, it has done this before, it can do so again.

My feeling is that what the Indian leadership has to do is to start thinking seriously of entering into a dialogue with Pakistan. We have never set any limits. All issues should be on the table. All issues should be discussed and there should be a desire on both sides to resolve this problem.

The suggestion from the Indian side is that the closure of infiltration should be permanent and there was a statement by the President that Pakistan never assured permanence. Would you like to comment on that?

The President did not say that in so many words. He said that there is no movement but that this situation cannot continue for years. Basically, I believe this statement jells with reality. The sustainability of any action, particularly if it is a unilateral action, can only be ensured if there is a reciprocal response from the other side. When the President spoke to the interlocutors, particularly from the U.S., it was quite clear that the President said 'yes, there is no activity across the LoC' but he also said that there has to be some substantive reciprocal gesture from India also, otherwise this may not be a sustainable idea. But, that does not mean either that this is not permanent or that this cannot become permanent. Because if a dialogue starts between the two countries and the two countries are talking to each other, if the Kashmiri people feel that their voice is also being heard, that there is a sincerity to find a solution to this problem, we do not see why this should not be a sustainable decision. There has to be action by both sides.

Did your interlocutors, the American interlocutors in particular, give you the assurance that at some point they will arrange a dialogue between India and Pakistan once the infiltration stops by a significant degree?

I think that that is the objective of any step that is taken by either country. The ultimate objective, of course, is dialogue. If you look at the events, particularly since December 13, the situation has constantly been changing. In the sense that India has in a way been changing the goal post. We were under the impression - we are under the impression - that once the activity across the LoC has come to an end, there is no reason why India should not start a dialogue with Pakistan.

Immediately what are the meaningful steps that you would like India to take in reciprocity?

Immediately I think there are only two things to be done. One is de-escalation; the withdrawal of forces to peace-time locations and the start of a dialogue. We have never put any precondition on the level of the dialogue. It could be at the level of Foreign Secretary. It could be at the level of Ministers and certainly we are ready for a dialogue at the highest level also. But, again, what I would like to underline is that no problem between any two countries has ever been resolved without a dialogue. We do not think that a conflict, whether limited or extensive, is a solution to any problem. It creates more problems. We are ready to sit across the table with the Indian leadership and discuss every issue threadbare. Both sides should put their cards on the table and see where we go from there.

Given the state-of-play, I do not want to use the word "mediation" but intercession by the U.S. and the U.K., do you feel we are somehow inching towards resumption of a dialogue or does it remain frozen? Is it as bad as it was, say, in April or December 2001?

Let me put it this way. Tensions which were very high in recent months appear to be going down. But the fact is that the forces remain on the borders and there is no dialogue. Until such time as there is a physical movement of the forces back to their peace-time locations and a dialogue starts between the two countries, the possibility of an accident as a spark somewhere starting a small conflict, which could become a larger conflict, cannot be ruled out. Pakistan certainly does not wish to start a conflict. The President of Pakistan has publicly stated that Pakistan will not initiate a conflict with India. We are bound by that.

There is, candidly, an apprehension in Indian minds that Pakistan will disrupt the elections in Kashmir and, therefore, the troops will have to be kept deployed till then.

It is the people of Kashmir who have to decide whether they are going to participate in the elections or not. The APHC has already announced a boycott of the elections. The APHC is the representative of the people of Kashmir. The Kashmiris' struggle is an indigenous struggle. Pakistan has always held that. There is no way that Pakistan can influence - nor would we like to influence - the Kashmiri people one way or the other. They have to make this decision themselves. But the onus of elections being held in a totally peaceful atmosphere cannot be laid at the door of Pakistan. India is in occupation of that territory. The law and order situation in that territory is the responsibility of India. India has probably the heaviest presence of forces anywhere in the world in Kashmir today and it should accept the responsibility and not try to shift it to Pakistan.

Pakistan has no intention of disrupting the elections?

As I have said earlier, it is for the people of Kashmir to decide whether to participate in the elections or not and we have given a commitment that there is no movement across the LoC. Across the Line of Control whatever happens is under Indian occupation and is the responsibility of India.

If the dialogue is resumed, do you contemplate a revival of the aborted Agra process? Is the draft Agra Declaration still on the table?

As far as Pakistan is concerned, we have never renounced nor reneged on any agreement. We believe that progress was made in Agra. A draft was more or less ready. There was disagreement on one article of the draft and we believe that we can pick up the threads from where we left at Agra whenever the dialogue is resumed. But that does not mean that we are in any way renouncing or reneging on the previous agreements, including the Simla Agreement and the Lahore process.

Is this the reason why you have not published the Agra drafts? Because you wish them to remain confidential so that the negotiations can proceed therefrom?

Pakistan has always respected the confidentiality of exchanges between the two countries. We believe that confidentiality is a prerequisite to making progress. You are right. We have not published the documents because we believe that these are very useful documents which could be used in the future and they could be built upon.

Is there anything else you wish to convey to Indian readers?

India and Pakistan are both developing countries. Both of us live in South Asia. Geography cannot be changed. We have to learn to live with each other in peace, in security and in harmony. A large number of the people of our countries live below the poverty line and we have to use our resources to the best of our ability to make sure that the social, economic well-being of the poorest sections of our society is looked after. We should not be wasting resources on acquiring huge and massive weapons. I read, I think in a SIPRI [Stockholm International Peace Research Institute] publication, that India is the third largest importer of weapons in the world; that in the year 2001 India imported more than $4.5 billion worth of weapons and it is likely to become the second largest importer of weapons. This is apart from the very large indigenous capacity which India already has. The natural concern which comes to every Pakistani mind is - why is India accumulating such huge amounts of sophisticated weapons? Against which country are these weapons going to be used? That, apart from being, in our view, a very wasteful expenditure, also causes concern to India's neighbours. India as the largest country in this region, has to make sure that it does not make its neighbours in South Asia insecure; that its neighbours do not think that India is either trying to dominate them or impose its will on them. In today's world, all nations large or small have to live on the basis of sovereign equality. Once that principle is conceded in discussions on how to resolve all outstanding problems, I do not see why our two countries cannot live in peace and in security and free from fear.

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