'We must talk to Pakistan'a

Print edition : February 05, 2000

K. Natwar Singh, former diplomat and a member of the Congress(I) Working Committee, sees the current deterioration of relations with Pakistan as an alarming development and counsels a degree of caution in the headlong rush towards orchestrating th e international ostracism of the neighbouring state. He set out his views in an interview with Sukumar Muralidharan. Excerpts:

How do you view the formation of a Joint Working Group (JWG) on terrorism with the U.S. in the context of the ongoing strategic dialogue and also of neighbourhood relations in South Asia?

I welcome the establishment of the joint working group between the U.S. and India, but if this is the only concrete outcome after ten rounds of talks, then this is a case of a mountain producing a molehill. The substance of the discussions apparently rev olves around the nuclear question. The country is still in the dark as to what has been the content and nature of the discussions between the External Affairs Minister and the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State. It is incumbent on the Government to take the country into confidence, because I think there are some serious doubts about the CTBT within the country.

There is some informed conjecture that there are basically two objectives behind this. One would be India's accession to the CTBT and the other the waiver of the sanctions and the renewal of high-technology exports to India. Do you think that this wo uld be a fair and acceptable bargain?

The Congress party does not have a closed mind. But we certainly have doubts. This should be discussed in Parliament because leaders of this Government have said that there should be a national consensus, which can only be arrived at through discussions on the merits and demerits of the CTBT. The Government has, I am afraid, been avoiding this discussion.

The other striking thing is that the U.S. Senate has rejected the CTBT. Now if somebody were to ask me, I would say to sign it we should wait till the U.S. has ratified it. And the scientific community here is divided. Some are not sure that five tests a re enough for all time. There are various views on this and the Congress is looking at all of them very carefully.

The U.S. Treasury Secretary visited India and said that the sanctions could be lifted if the security dialogue was completed satisfactorily.

Another representative of that Government has said that we should sign the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) also. The point basically is, do these powers recognise India as a de jure nuclear weapons state?

The question of sanctions then is not critical. We can put up with them for some time longer?

Absolutely. The real sanctions have been in place since 1974. You see, this is important - the nuclear question has never been linked with economics or finance or aid. It transcends these matters. We should satisfy ourselves, after a full-fledged debate in Parliament, of the advantages and disadvantages of the CTBT.

There has been some sustained activity in recent weeks to have Pakistan branded a terrorist state. Do you think this is an appropriate attitude to take in neighbourhood relations?

With great respect to the Prime Minister, he should not have made this kind of a pronouncement in public without sounding out the Americans through diplomatic channels. The response to him came the next day, from an official of the U.S. Government, sayin g that Pakistan would not be declared a terrorist state. And as far as I understand the working of the U.S. Government, they are not likely to pronounce Pakistan a terrorist state. One day, Mr. Jaswant Singh escorts three known terrorists in his own airc raft to Kandahar. The next day, the Prime Minister makes this demand. I think the Government should make up its mind.

So the demand is not going to succeed...

We should set our own house in order. Why are we pleading with the Americans? There is a United Nations mechanism, which could be used. Call the Security Council to session - tell them this is what is happening, we are a victim of terrorism, and what are you doing about it?

You think the U.S. has strategic interests in Pakistan which would be endangered by branding that country a terrorist state?

If they did so, then whatever leverage they had with Pakistan would disappear. They have been strategic partners for a long time. The very fact that the U.S. President is weighing the pros and cons of going to Pakistan shows how deep this relationship is .

How do you view the new doctrine of "limited war" propounded by George Fernandes, again with a direct bearing on the neighbourhood context?

I think this is a drastic failure of our policy. I am not in any way condoning what Pakistan has been doing. They have been very unwise and very short-sighted. But we can give no credit to this government for the manner in which it has handled the relati ons with Pakistan or China.

Would it be a wise thing to secure international ostracism of the military regime in Pakistan and evade a dialogue?

Obviously, the climate is not right. But at some point we will have to talk to them. If not with (Pervez) Musharraf, then his successor, who could be from the Army. Who are we to choose the government of Pakistan? Either we should say we are breaking dip lomatic relations, or we must try to unfreeze the situation by talking to them.

Is this the end of bilateralism in the neighbourhood and the emergence of superpower tutelage?

The Americans still think Kashmir is disputed territory and Clinton wants to play a role. He has earlier said that he will take "personal interest" in this matter. What does this mean?

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