A recognition of India's 'new status'

Print edition : February 05, 2000

Former diplomat N.N. Jha has since early 1998 been the convener of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Bharatiya Janata Party. He sees no scope in the current situation for any sort of engagement with Pakistan and believes that a visit by the U.S . President would imply a new recognition for India's emerging global status. Excerpts from an interview he gave Sukumar Muralidharan:

SANDEEP SAXENA

The "security dialogue" between India and the U.S. recently produced something tangible, in the form of a Joint Working Group (JWG) on terrorism. Does this go beyond the original agenda of the negotiations? And how do you view its implications?

In the last two years, we have had two main items on the agenda. First, to bring the sequence of events inaugurated by the nuclear tests of May 1998 to a successful and satisfactory end. The second one is of slightly more recent origin so far as our gove rnment is concerned, though in a manner of speaking it predates May 1998. That is terrorism. Now we have had this Joint Working Group on terrorism, and let us hope that its efforts are positive, even if somewhat delayed in terms of application. It does m ark quite a departure from the earlier U.S. stand.

But the U.S. is being a bit ambivalent about characterising Pakistan as a terrorist state.

Frankly, I do not think it matters very much. There is already much speculation in the American media about Pakistan being put back on the terrorism watch-list before long. I would say that this Joint Working Group is more important than Pakistan being b randed a terrorist state.

The security dialogue with the U.S. has been rather open-ended and the specific objectives have never been spelt out at any stage. But there is informed conjecture that from India's point of view the objectives essentially are two-fold: to obtain fav ourable conditions for accession to the CTBT and then to secure the waiver of all the sanctions and technology denial regimes that have been in application since 1974. Do you think this is a fair bargain?

That would be a fair assessment of some of the main objectives of the dialogue. From India's point of view, to be accepted as a nuclear weapons state would be the best bargain. If that cannot be done directly because of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Trea ty, then indirectly we could have a de facto recognition. Don't forget, the Americans have said that the earlier objective of capping, roll-back and elimination of India's nuclear capability is no longer there. That being so, the overall impressio n here is that the Americans are seeking a commitment from India on the size of the deterrent that this country will maintain. That, we have told them earlier, is not possible, since it is something that is subject to change from time to time.

Recent remarks by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott indicate that though India has adopted a doctrine of minimum nuclear deterrence, the U.S. would like assurances that "minimum" will remain so. The U.S. knows from experience that this is a slippery doctrine which does not really admit of any defined limits on nuclear arsenals. It would like a commitment on the size of the nuclear deterrent that India will maintain. Does this provide a basis for further negotiations?

I don't think that should hold up the dialogue at all. They have been aware of this stand of ours, right from day one. The nuclear doctrine that was presented last August has stuck to this stand - it is predicated on the pillars of minimum credible deter rence and "no first strike".

Pakistan has begun to interpret this as a licence for it too to maintain a "minimum credible deterrent".

As far as Pakistan is concerned, frankly, it is really impossible for us to say much. I get the impression that they are only looking for excuses. But in the quest of parity with India, they will certainly go very far.

We are just about a month away from the first anniversary of the Lahore Declaration and 1999 has perhaps been the worst in all of 50 years in neighbourhood relations. Are we taking the right approach in seeking the international ostracism of Pakistan rather than engage with it in a dialogue of sorts?

Trying to engage in a dialogue with Pakistan would be a tacit acceptance of all the policies they have pursued in relation to India, which have been almost exclusively based on an intensification of low-intensity conflict. Don't forget that the Lahore pr ocess - quite apart from the fact that it was a bold measure - was initiated with a civilian government in Pakistan. And nobody knew at that stage that the events that would be unleashed from May onwards would, first, indicate the dominance of the milita ry and, secondly, the coup d'etat of October would totally reaffirm the fact. So one should take the Lahore process only in the manner in which it was intended. It was meant to be a very sincere effort to bury the past once and for all.

There is no scope for engagement at this stage.

I would say none at all.

The consequences could be very destabilising for Pakistan and for the region.

Well, we have to think of our interests first. Kargil was bad enough but the hijacking made it worse.

U.S. President Bill Clinton is likely to visit India in the next couple of months. Is it really prudent to display a degree of anxiety to ensure that he does not touch down in Islamabad?

Touching down in Pakistan involves bestowing a kind of recognition to the military regime there. So from our point of view it is better that he does not go there at all. But the ultimate decision is his and he will have to take various other factors into account.

With Clinton having entered his last year in office, what do you expect the visit to yield?

If you interpret his visit as something that indicates a certain recognition (after over 20 years we have an American presidential visit), if this indicates a certain recognition of India's new status, it would have served a purpose. I think it would be a very important visit and even if the Americans do not proclaim it from the housetops, it would mean a new recognition of India's emerging status.

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