For a new orientation

Print edition : February 05, 2000

Former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral feels that it is time a white paper was brought out on the ongoing "strategic discussions" between India and the United States in order to evolve a consensus on and provide clarity to diplomatic and strategic init iatives. He said that the context of President Bill Clinton's visit to India should be used to evolve this clarity and to develop a new orientation for Indo-U.S. relations. Excerpts from an interview he gave Venkitesh Ramakrishnan:


Recent events, including the hijacking and India's request to the U.S. to declare Pakistan a terrorist state, have thrown up a new dimension to the strategic equations between India, Pakistan and the U.S. In the context of President Clinton's visit t o India, how do you look at these developments?

The point to be kept in mind in respect of bilateral relations today is that there is no such thing as exclusivism. And no nation decides its relations with a third party on the basis of the advice of the second party. It is a well-known fact that the U. S. and Pakistan have been enjoying good relations for a long time. At no stage have they shown any sign of reversing this. From our point of view, the difficulty is that while ten rounds of talks have been held with the U.S., except for a few statements made by some officials the Clinton administration has not exactly spelt out what it is looking for. What are the issues that it wants to address? What is the direction? And what are the parameters specified? There is no clarity on these.

I also do not know how far India has progressed in devising a new orientation to the relationship. When I met President Clinton I urged him to look at the Indo-U.S. relationship in a holistic fashion. The difficulty about the Indo-U.S. relationship in th e recent past has been that it is dominated by one issue: the nuclear arms dimension. If the present discussions can give a new orientation to the dialogue and go beyond the singular dimension, that would be welcome. The point is not whether President Cl inton comes to India or goes to Pakistan. I think we are placing unnecessary emphasis on this aspect. For 20 years no U.S. President has come here. Still we have survived in the international arena.

During the last round of their talks in London in January, External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott agreed to set up a Joint Working Group (JWG) on terrorism. What qualitative difference do you think i t will make to the present discussions?

Terrorism is a scourge that worries everybody, including America. If India and the U.S. can work together to contain terrorism, it would be a good thing.

On the lack of clarity in the dialogue between India and the U.S., there are well-informed conjectures that point to two possible outcomes. One, India's accession to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and, two, the waiver of all U.S. sanctions, including technology denial regimes, against India. How do you react to this possibility?

It would be unfair on my part to take sides on hypothetical premises. It would be a mistake to assume that we can persist with the mindset of the Cold War. New world realities are such that any improvement in Indo-U.S. relations will prove useful to both countries. The desirability in improving relations is definitely there.

So the CTBT issue should not be addressed now?

On the CTBT, there are many questions to be looked into, such as whether it would come out of the U.S. Senate in its original form or in an amended form. A proper response can be made only after looking at all these aspects.

On India's request to the U.S. to declare Pakistan a terrorist state, there is one opinion that this is a departure from the principle of bilateralism that we have adopted with Pakistan in the past. What is your view?

In the contemporary era it is difficult to be one-line-oriented on a particular formation. After all, terrorism is something that is bothering the world. And if we have enough evidence to prove Pakistan's complicity in terrorist activities, there is noth ing wrong in making this demand. At the same time we should also strive to evolve an international consensus in combating terrorism, especially in the subcontinent. India and Sri Lanka have for long been disturbed by terrorism and now Nepal is getting in to the same league.

But during your prime ministerial tenure you advocated the Gujral Doctrine, which emphasised good neighbourly relations.

The Gujral Doctrine emphasised on good neighbourly relations with all our neighbours. Even the Lahore Declaration was a logical conclusion of the process initiated by the Gujral Doctrine. But Pakistan's polity is a complex one. In that complexity one ele ment thought of Kargil and the same element thought of a coup. This shows that there are elements within Pakistan's polity that do not want to move in a direction that is in the larger interests of that country too.

The U.S. has certain interests in securing access to the Central Asian republics, which are rich in mineral resources. This is one of the reasons why it backed the Taliban militia in its early days. Do you think that this factor has ceased to operate in American geopolitical calculations so that the U.S. may swing to India's side in neighbourhood confrontations?

At one stage the U.S. needed the Taliban to pursue its economic and other operations in Central Asia. But the information available now is that it is evolving other options in the region in order to protect and advance its interests. Whether this would b e sufficient to make it swing to India's side is a question that would have no definite answer at the moment.

How do you respond to the doctrine of a limited war, propounded by Defence Minister George Fernandes?

A war is a plague whose size cannot be specified. I hope that the Defence Minister's viewpoint is not the viewpoint of the Government as a whole. India has always stood for peace and I am of the opinion that this Government is also generally pursuing tha t time-tested line.

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