The first aspect that I must comment upon is that Kargil is both a military and a diplomatic success. I say this as essentially a military man that the challenge the armed forces were confronted with was formidable. It redounds to the great credit of the armed forces who evicted them from 90 per cent of the area before they began withdrawing. We at the MEA had set ourselves a task right in the beginning: to win this war without having to fight it. Secondly, the MEA must so protect the defence ministry's international flank that our armed forces can operate with the greatest flexibility and freedom.
On internationalisation, let's be clear that in this day of instant televised news from any part of the world, international interest will get focused on however localised a conflict. Second, if the two sides involved have nuclear weapons capability, the world will sit up and take note. But if we equate this interest to internationalising, by which I mean restrictions upon India's freedom of action, then perhaps we are making an error. Internationalising is not a synonym for international concern. The way we look at internationalising is that it amounts to so constricting India's freedom of action that we are thereafter not able to subserve our national interests. But that is not the case here. We've made our positions very clear to the world that in the context of J&K, of which Kargil is another manifestation of a totally different variety, there is no place for mediators, intermediaries, for facilitators or whatever, because Pakistan and India speak the same language, because we know this matter better than anyone else. We do not need interpreters. Besides, I am clear in my mind that when you have a situation of any third country involving itself, then that third country comes to the situation with its own set of prefixed agendas.
There's no place for that here.
But the US has acted as a sort of a facilitator this time. I think that would be a simplistic way of reading it. The red line has been clearly drawn and accepted by the US. Besides, if you reflect on the sentence that was used in the bilateral statement issued by President Clinton and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, it runs something like that President Clinton shall take personal interest in facilitating the resumption of dialogue on all outstanding issues, including Kashmir. So you see, it is about resumption of dialogue.
So the US has got no special opening.
Absolutely not. This is something that we have reaffirmed repeatedly, even in Singapore in my meeting with Madeleine Albright.
Do you think going nuclear encouraged Pakistan to go in for the Kargil misadventure?
No. Our nuclear programme is neither country-specific nor threat-specific. It is aimed at enhancing our strategic space and autonomy. In any event, our doctrine enunciates no first use. So the question of the nuclear option to resolve a highly localised conflict is just not there. Pakistan did assume they could use their capability to raise the antennae of concern of the world community. But the world community promptly dubbed it nuclear blackmail.
But do you think it encouraged Pakistan to undertake Kargil?
This Kargil misadventure is not exactly of yesterday's vintage. This plan has been lying in the top secret cupboards of the Pakistan military at least since Zia's time. It is the resurrection of an old plan by the present Pakistan army chief.
But should we not have been more alert?
I think the generalities of being more alert presupposes that there was a lack of alertness. I do not think alertness is linked to one individual or another. That maximum alertness ought to have been exercised is self-evident. That the Pakistani military, and this was a military action, took us initially by localised tactical surprise is also self-evident. But given the fact that this is an area of high blizzards, avalanches, is non-operable... I am not finding a rationale for not being sufficiently attentive. But let us wait. There is after all a committee that is going into it, and everything will be shortly made public.
But it lacks statutory powers and its critics say it may not be impartial.
The second part, about impartiality, is a very unfair comment on the experience and merit of the three gentlemen concerned. The committee has been given a broad range of terms of reference. All three are patriots and they have the interest of the nation and the armed forces in their minds.
Statutory powers are really a matter of detail. It neither enables nor disables them.
But George Fernandes said it would not look into the intelligence aspect. That perhaps created the doubts. I know. Perhaps that might have created a misimpression. But the terms of reference really refer to the totality of the situation.
Is there any possibility of talks with Pakistan taking place before the elections?
We ought to be very clear in our minds that we are the initiators of the dialogue. We took the Lahore initiative. We remain committed to the dialogue and the moment Pakistan is able to turn this bus from Kargil back to Lahore, it can resume. But for it to be really a dialogue, it's an essential requirement that occupation of territory be vacated. There has been a simultaneous transgression upon the territory of trust. How do you set that right? There is a requirement that if you are to talk, at least the basics of the inviolability and the fundamentality of the LoC be reaffirmed. How do you do that? If you continue to encourage, abet and incite cross-border terrorism, then in fact you are saying I recognise nothing, but come and talk to me.
But given the setup in Pakistan, it's impossible that cross-border terrorism will stop. You have put your finger on an important aspect. I have explained to the world that the problem is not really in the valley of Srinagar, but it's with what has become of the state of Pakistan. Pakistan has to come to terms with its own history and geography. The PM has said that one can change one's friends but one can't change one's neighbours and you can't alter geography.
Then with the situation there talks can't be held?
After all, when you say it won't happen, Lahore did. Yes, they betrayed the inherent trust, and it is my hope they learnt something from it. We have to keep moving.
Then what's the timeframe for the talks?
Being in election mode places a great deal of obstacles in the path of any major new initiative... but we are open to it at the official level, provided the proper climate is created for the composite dialogue process.
What can be done by Pakistan to restore trust?
The critical test really lies in abjuring the path of violence of which cross-border terrorism is one manifestation...
Did we naively trust Pakistan after Lahore?
No, I would not use the word naive. We had an accurate assessment of the approach that Pakistan brings to the issue. Our hope was and continues to be that Pakistan will see the reality and shed the ways of the past.
Kargil is being presented as a great victory domestically. More than 400 soldiers died and 500 were injured to regain our own territory.
Oh yes, don't minimise the victory because we cleared our own territory of aggression. If this is not victory, what is? Let us not engage in such empty semantics, which really in effect is a comment much more on the valour and the dedication of the armed forces than anything else. And it is born of sterile political point-scoring.
No one doubts that the soldiers fought well. But politically, it is being projected as a victory...
I don't wish to engage in the praise of the MEA, but it is not simply a military victory. The professionalism with which the MEA conducted itself and the manner in which it met the challenge, if that is not victory, and the isolation of Pakistan in the international community is not a victory in political, diplomatic terms, then what is it?
Diplomatically, is there going to be a paradigm shift in the way we handle Kashmir henceforth?
It is self-evident if you observe the emphasis we placed from the very beginning that Kargil was not an extension of the difficulties we faced in the Valley. It was the overspill of the Afghan variety of disorder. The emphasis that the MEA has placed on international terrorism, on cross-border terrorism, which is at the heart of what really has taken place in Kashmir... that's a new emphasis.
Ram Jethmalani on CNN proposed making the LoC into the international border. Perhaps, but after all it is not an individual opinion that counts. There is a Parliament resolution and we are all creatures of Parliament. He might have voiced an individual opinion.