'Clinton has held out for the future'

Published : Apr 01, 2000 00:00 IST

Former Ambassador N.N. Jha, who heads the foreign affairs committee in the BJP, shared with Sukumar Muralidharan his perceptions of President Bill Clinton's visit. Excerpts from an interview conducted just before Clinton reached Pakistan at the end of his six-day tour of India and Bangladesh:

What is your broad assessment of the Clinton visit and its outcome?

I have broadly divided this entire exercise into three parts. There is, first of all, the CTBT and the nuclear dimension, where differences still persist. That was to be expected. Anyone who thought that the tremendous differences that exist would be nar rowed down just because the U.S. President came here, was proved wrong. Clinton has a domestic law to contend with and it is not open to him at all to waive sanctions at the stroke of a pen. His posture has been couched in a language which indicates, fir st of all, his own helplessness at the lack of ratification (of the CTBT) within his country. Secondly, he has also said that he appreciates India's security concerns. Further, he has held out for the future that we could have a continuing dialogue. My p ersonal assessment there is that over a period of time, the U.S. can adjust - not accommodate - but adjust to the de facto reality of India being a nuclear weapons power.

Does this mean being a part of the NPT regime?

We cannot possibly be a part of that regime. But our security concerns have been appreciated much better now. Strobe Talbott's remarks just before the visit began should also be understood in its context. He said that there is not much chance of India ca pping, rolling back or eliminating its nuclear weapons potential. So you must read the whole thing as one integrated whole.

What are the other important aspects of this visit in your assessment?

The second and perhaps more important part is the political and security dimension. A process that was inaugurated when the Kargil war was on, that is of ensuring some form of sanctity for the Line of Control, has now been taken forward at a very high le vel. The habit of equating India with Pakistan is perhaps coming to an end now.

Another thing is, of course, the dimension of terrorism. This again is a process that had already commenced; the first meeting of the Joint Working Group on terrorism took place last February.

You must also take into account a few other factors - one of Clinton's suggestions is the renewal of dialogue. I don't think he is likely to go back on that. Personally, I think he put it very well in his speech in Parliament, in as inoffensive a manner as possible. And then at his press conference he has said that he appreciates it is difficult to commence negotiations when a climate of violence exists and the LoC is being violated. That is as close as anybody can come to our standpoint. It is a kind o f tacit endorsement of a line we have taken all along.

Clinton has said a few other things in his interview to an American network, which, I think, are very significant. He has said words to the effect that Pakistan is very keen to drag the U.S. into a mediatory role, but how can the U.S. do this when India does not want it to?

He has also said that elements in the Pakistan Government are rendering assistance to terrorist activities. What is your view?

That and also (National Security Adviser) Sandy Berger's remarks, if quoted correctly, that Pakistan is going to be in serious trouble if it goes to war with India, constitute a very clear warning. Plus when you are on the subject of mediation, you shoul d note that the Vision Statement itself says somewhere in the first few paragraphs that India and the U.S. realise that tensions in South Asia can best be resolved by the countries of the region themselves. If you take it in their totality, then I would tend to be very optimistic about the future course of our relations.

Would there be some immediate practical consequences? General Pervez Musharraf has said that he can do nothing about violations of the LoC. There are others who say that by silencing the big guns which provide artillery cover to the infiltrators, and cracking down on the terrorist training camps on his territory, he can do much to bring the situation under control. But both these are likely to involve domestic political repercussions for him.

There may be a slight let-up because of what Clinton tells them - a few cosmetic changes here and there. But I personally think we should be prepared for an aggravation of the situation. If Clinton tells them all that he has told us, then the obvious rea ction would be - though not immediately - but in a few weeks, to aggravate it. The President of Pakistan says that his country cannot exist without Kashmir. My answer to that would be: so be it. This is the first time a remark like this has been made. An d the President's remark, we have to take it, has the endorsement of Musharraf.

Apart from these security-related aspects, do you see much coming out of the agreements on energy, environment and science and technology?

A great deal of activity is envisaged on the economic front, with a coordination committee being set up. Then we are going to have different committees on trade and commerce, there is going to be a science forum.

Is there a likelihood of India going along with the U.S. demand that a new round of trade negotiations be started in the WTO? The Americans have been very keen on this. The Indians are not.

The areas where our interests converge in the WTO will be explored first.

But there are substantial divergences - the labour clause, for instance, or investments - though on investment we are closer to the American viewpoint than the European one. Then there are differences on the services side - on the movement of natural per sons for instance.

There was a suggestion by U.S. Commerce Secretary William Daley that India should cooperate in getting the trade talks kickstarted. Is this a quid pro quo or are the security and trade agendas being kept separate?

There is no quid pro quo because even if they were to get us on their side, within the developed countries there are such tremendous differences that an early resumption of talks is unlikely.

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