Former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral was in the United States when President Bill Clinton came on his India tour. However, he had detailed discussions with senior U.S. officials including U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott prior to Clinton 's visit. In fact, discussions with the former Indian Prime Minister were part of the preparatory exercise undertaken by the U.S. officialdom as part of the presidential visit.
Gujral assessed the visit in a positive light. Before the visit he maintained that the time had come for a white paper on the "strategic discussions" that have been going on between India and U.S. representatives for the last one and a half years. After the visit, he feels that bilateral issues between India and the U.S. have become much more transparent. In an interview given to Venkitesh Ramakrishnan, Gujral said that there is a new orientation in Indo-U.S. relations now and both countries have to build on this. Excerpts:
How would you assess the overall impact of the U.S. President's visit?
The visit was the culmination of a process started in 1997, when I, as Prime Minister, had met Clinton. At that time I had perceived a growing interest in the U.S. about India. Two things had contributed to this. One, of course, was the growing market in India. The second was the increasing clout of the 'Indian Americans'. In this context, I told President Clinton that the time had come to get away from the influence of the Cold War in our bilateral relations and evolve it in a holistic manner. I pointe d out that the relationship, in the past, had been confined to one issue or a couple of issues, such as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). I think this beginning was sustained. In fact, the President would have come earlier if the U.S. had not tak en a tough position on the Pokhran nuclear tests.
Before his visit I was in Washington and had detailed discussions with senior U.S. officials. I had also written to the President repeating the need to develop a holistic relationship. I am happy that this approach has been followed up, particularly in t he Vision Statement signed by Clinton and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. The Vision Statement examines our relationship holistically in terms of multi-dimensionalism, and it takes care of circumstances and viewpoints prevailing in India.
But does the visit represent a new beginning or a shift in the strategic balance in South Asia?
These are cliches which I do not use. But I do see the advantages or the signs of a post-Cold War era. It benefits and should benefit a new orientation to our bilateral relationship.
Do you think there has been any kind of appreciation of India's position on the CTBT and the minimum nuclear deterrent? Would pressure to accede to the CTBT still persist?
The Vision Statement itself makes it clear that the Indian position is appreciated. On CTBT, even the U.S. is yet to solve its internal problems. The Senate is yet to clear the U.S. Government's position. Nor has the Russian Duma or China done it. Hence, the question is far away. And secondly, India has made the commitment that we are not going to test anymore. I think this serves the purpose of the U.S. to a large extent.
There has been some controversy about President K.R. Narayanan's banquet speech. What is your perception on that?
I don't take a negative view of the President's speech. The propaganda on the Indian subcontinent being the "most dangerous place on earth" is part of a bogeyism that has existed for long. In 1989-90, the bogey was that India and Pakistan are going to ha ve a nuclear war. You would recall David Hurst's article that weapons were even loaded into planes. As Foreign Minister then, I had repeatedly said that this was not right. Yet the bogey was persisted with to an absurd level. Then the book, Critical Mass , advanced this further. This is part of the strategy to raise public sentiment to the level of panic. In fact, the Musharrafism that we see now in Pakistan coincides with this strategy. I am glad that President K.R. Narayanan, with the consent of the go vernment or otherwise, punctured this bogey. This should not be analysed simplistically, as some sections of the Indian media have done, by debating whether these were harsh words or discourteous words. What President Narayanan did simply was to state wh at effect the "dangerous place" statement had and whom it helps. It clearly spelt out one part of the Indian perception of foreign policy. And I do not think that the Americans have taken it amiss.
After the Clinton visit, there are conceptions about possible steps from Pakistan. One projection is that they would curtail artillery cover for infiltrations across the Line of Control and cordon off the terrorist training camps on their territory. Do you think some such actions will be taken in the near future?
Training camps have always been there. Only their operations have been varying in intensity. Now it has acquired more dangerous proportions because Afghanistan has stepped in. Even Musharraf admits that there are camps in Afghanistan. The U.S. is also al ive to this situation now. They have come a long way from the position that there is no conclusive evidence for the training camps. I suppose statements from President Clinton such as the one pointing out that the borders cannot be redrawn with blood, wo uld have a positive effect; though it is too early to say whether Pakistan would take positive action.
What kind of impact do you expect from the agreements on economics, trade, and science and technology?
The Vision Statement and President Clinton's speech in Parliament indicate that cooperation in these areas will improve.