February 21, 2020
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'No Favour If You Agree To Talk'

Pakistan foreign minister speaks to Outlook on his deep disappointment over Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh's decision not to visit Islamabad.

'No Favour If You Agree To Talk'
'No Favour If You Agree To Talk'

Earlier there was talk of Manmohan Singh coming to Pakistan. But there is a belief that a journey to Pakistan can be perilous or of great political value for an Indian leader...

All I can is that President Musharaff takes great risks, I take great risks. Otherwise, we wouldn't open our mouths. The easiest course is not to do anything. Don't move, don't talk. When you talk you can make a mistake. When you walk you can make a mistake. But I would much rather that I walked and talked. The president, prime minister and I have consistently tried to improve relations between Pakistan and India. And we would want that on the other side there should be somebody. We were looking forward to Manmohan Singh's visit. But why he's not coming is not for me to comment. That concerns the internal politics of India..

Is there any point in his coming without anything concrete?

Yes certainly. It helps improve atmospherics. I think the very idea of the interaction is useful, particularly after the Mumbai blasts.

There seems to be a great sense of disappointment, almost bitterness, in Pakistan after India postponed the talks after the Mumbai blasts.

It's definitely a negative development. Specially since President Musharaff and PM Manmohan Singh had spoken of making this process irreversible and had said that acts of terrorism would not impede the peace process. This was not a meaningless statement. It was put in by their staff (in the Indo-Pak joint statement of April 2005) because they had anticipated that forces who were not happy with the process would try to derail it. Are we playing into their hands?

And we have to change our mindset. Neither is India doing us a favour, nor is Pakistan doing a favour. It's not a favour to us that you agree to a dialogue. We are both big countries. Pakistan is the fifth largest country in the world. We talk to India out of conviction, not fear. I would like to tell the people of India not to fall into this trap.

I want to make a point about the Indian media. Although you have a free media, I get the impression that your media is not as open and free as ours in attacking the establishment. We can't spin a story here and get away with it. They tear us to bits everyday. But how is it that your media falls into this trap?. Thirty seconds after the Mumbai blasts, you all start going in a chorus: Pakistan. Why? I want you to please publish this. Why do you do it? We thought media would be a partner.

After the Mumbai tragedy, the statements from your home minister Shivraj Patil and your PM were very statesmanlike, very good. But what happens 48 hours later? We knew that you knew that it was internal. But it is India's political compulsion to always keep the option of blaming Pakistan. This question must be asked and answered by India. If within 30 seconds of the Mumbai blasts you say Pakistan, you mislead your own police

Who are the people who want to derail the peace process?

These are extremists on both sides. There is a big industry that thrives on hate and creating conditions of insecurity. There is also a tribe of writers who have built up their careers cursing each other. Getting into new mind-sets is not easy and sometimes almost looks like a loss of face. When I talk I talk with conviction, I am not just making little points. I mean every word I say.

But there is a belief, not just in India, that many terrorist groups are working out of Pakistan. India has given you names and lists: Hizbul Mujahideen, LeT, Dawood Ibrahim?

We also gave a list to India. I don't want to go into this. What good does it do? Nothing. You can go back to 1947. Let's look at today. The GDP of both countries cannot be sustained without peace. It is inter-related. There is a perception they create abroad that we will get into trouble but India will remain isolated. If you start looking at who did what to what, there will be no peace. We have banned so many organisations and those who are religious or extremists are under watch. If the world believed we were training people and unleashing them on India, we would not be trusted by the US, the EU.

There are suggestions that the Indian mind-set does not favour peace.

I attribute sanity to India. Nothing has changed on the ground after the Mumbai blasts unless India genuinely thinks that we have planned everything. Which would be a disaster. We were making progress on Siachin, on Kashmir. I hope the opportunity at Dhaka will not be wasted (foreign secretaries of SAARC nations meet on Jul 31-Aug 1, followed by foreign ministers meeting on Aug 1-2). It is not that we don't have pressure. Do you know that there have been some editorials in Pakistani papers saying let's thank the government of India for stopping the dialogue because this stupid Pakistani government does not understand that it is doing only favours towards India? I am sure there are many people on your side too who are thrilled that the peace process has ended.

Do you think the deepening friendship between India and the US is putting Pakistan on the back-foot?

I am glad you have asked this. Because I don't think so at all. The United States is very interested in Pakistan-India friendship. This I have from the horse's mouth. I have acted at the highest level in the United States and they are very interested in Pakistan and peace in the region. They say you can be in the same bed with different dreams. (laughs)

Let me address the issue of balance. How can the Indo-US deal affect us? We are strong today, in terms of defence and strategic balance. We cannot compete with India aircraft to aircraft, tank to tank but we have a minimum credible deterrence. It does not mean we have to rely on nuclear weapons. Since we are not under pressure, taking the initiative on peace is not considered weakness. We take so many initiatives because we have a confident leadership. It would be completely different if Pakistan was considered weak from the defence point of view.

So when you say to me that because of the Indo-US relationship Pakistan feels insecure, I will reply: we feel to the contrary. As someone in charge of foreign office, I will say that now a super-power has acquired vested interest in peace here. We may have other grouses -- Why are you doing this with India? Why not with Pakistan? -- but that's totally different. But the nuclear deal has nothing to do with peace. Because we are the only country in the world, which has strong strategic and tested relationships with both the US and China. It may be because of our geographical location, may be because of Pakistan's position in the Muslim world, and that we are the only Muslim nuclear power.

There is a buzz in Delhi that a foreign minister will be appointed.

That's very good because it adds another channel. I had very good relations with Mr Natwar Singh, Mr Yashwant Sinha. I began to trust them We knew we could be blunt and honest. And that helps relationships. I know we have to deal with whoever there is but it would be a help to have a foreign minister.

A shorter, edited version of this appears in print.
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