April 05, 2020
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"War Hysteria Is No Good. Both Nations Must Act Coolly."

After Pakistan's nuclear tests, I.K. Gujral, former prime minister whose Gujral Doctrine stressed on good neighbourliness, says leaders of both countries should act sensibly. He spoke to Sunil Narula. Excerpts:

"War Hysteria Is No Good. Both Nations Must Act Coolly."
What is your reaction to Pakistan's N-tests?

The tests were foreseeable—especially after the type of pressure on the Pakistan government after Pokhran. Now, the leadership of both India and Pakistan must apply their heads coolly to the fate of their countries. N-weapons are weapons of mass destruction. Those who have not seen the film on Hiroshima and Nagasaki should see it now, rather than be taken in by chauvinistic slogans. Now both the countries have a credible nuclear deterrence and must convey to each other in a sensible way that a war is ruled out either with conventional or nuclear weapons. They must work towards peace and friendly neighbourliness, undertake a shared view of SAARC rather than waste resources on building nuclear weapons that can never be used.

What will be the impact on Indo-Pak ties?

It's too early to say but both must be sensible.

How should India respond?

We should respond with a message of friendship and cooperation, and not jingoism.

On the political level, what is the government trying to do post-Pokhran?

I wrote two letters to Vajpayee where I emphasised that the government should not make it a partisan issue. For, then other parties would have to take a position. The basic point is that on security issues we must have national consensus, otherwise India's foreign and security policies will be under strain. Any impression of jingoism and war-mongering will do us immense harm. Thus, jingoistic rhetoric, which has been witnessed during the last two weeks, causes me great anxiety.

The BJP has been jingoistic?

In the prevailing din, some sort of sanity must prevail. We have done ourselves a great deal of harm. We have given the impression that we have a weapon of offence. Even in the worst circumstances, nuclear weapons are not weapons of war. Everywhere in the world it is meant for deterrence. Our projection should have been on that basis—that we have a situation in the world today when deter rence was called for, perhaps rightly. And that is what the government and the PM should have projected. This wasn't done, but it is not too late to correct it.

What about the reasons India gave for the tests, particularly in the letter to Clinton?

I have only seen the media leak, not the original letter. The letter was drafted in a very unfortunate language. We have to commit ourselves to non-proliferation. Without joining the NPT, we had abided by its provisions in that we never transferred our knowledge about nuclear sciences to any other country. There have been some tempting offers which the Indian government always rejected. That commitment must continue. NPT talks of non-proliferation in the sense of not giving to other nations but it does not talk in terms of horizontal expansion. Those who have the weapons can go ahead with the weapons and that is one of our objections. Second, in the projection about our own reasons for the test, one dimension which may have been accepted by the world was that we have some security concepts. Indian security concerns have to be looked at in the broader framework—not in terms of Pakistan and China alone.

How have ties with China, Pakistan suffered?

The damage has been done—this was avoidable. China must be assured that statements by our responsible people should not be taken as policy. As for Pakistan, the situation is more complex. When I was PM I met Sharif four times. The progress was slow but we were slowing the process of animosity. I took a policy decision that Indian foreign policy should not be Pakistan-centric. That is not to oblige Pakistan but to satisfy India's own compulsions.

But now a war hysteria is being created.

I say with a great deal of sadness that it will not do Pakistan so much of harm as it will be a setback to India's foreign policy, because India cannot afford to be Pakistan-centric. Unfortunately, a mistake has been done primarily because the ruling party spokesmen have their own mindset and they look at the world through myopic eyes.

A lot of people, not the PM who looks after external affairs, are talking on foreign policy.

Diplomacy suffers its biggest setback if foreign policy is being spelt out by different people. I have taken serious exception to the defence minister's statements on China. The PM owes it to the people to make our foreign policy credible and I suggested to him that if he wanted somebody to speak, they must get a clearance. We have an MEA which comprises professionals. All major pitfalls would have been avoided if the MEA had been kept in the picture. I don't know whether it is true, but the media says the letter written by the PM to Clinton was neither drafted nor cleared by the MEA. If this is true, we are slipping—and these slippages will be costly.

Shouldn't the PM have spoken to the nation?

The PM didn't speak—and he should have done so much earlier. He should have told the country about various things.

What are the BJP's compulsions for an aggressive foreign policy?

The difficulty is not with the BJP but the RSS' philosophy, which has always been aggressive, internally and externally. One can be aggressive without doing any harm when you are not in power. But if you are in power and that ideology prevails, the cost is very high.

Can India back up its tough posturing?

We are in the post-cold war era where the first compulsion of every country which intends to play a role is economic. Fortunately, successive governments since '91 have tried to give us economic hope. The rate of growth has not been spectacular but satisfactory. Unless in the next two Plans we target a 10 per cent growth rate, whether you have a bomb or not makes no difference. China's growth has been spectacular. If a foreign policy gives your economic policy a setback, then nuclear weapons will never measure up to the demands of the time. In the region many countries—I won't name them—think that defence is more important than social expenditure. You can see their fate. It is important for us that social transformation based on economic growth is given priority.

It is being said that our chances of getting into the Security Council have brightened.

In my last address to the Security Council I had said that we are one billion people and therefore any Council which ignores such a large number of people is not going to be very credible. But world powers don't seem to be in a mood to accommodate India.

What's the damage vis-a-vis ties with the US?

The damage hasn't been so much by the test as by the way we projected our policies. We should now tell the world of our basic commitment to peace, friendship and good neighbourliness. India should assure the world that though it hasn't signed multilateral treaties like CTBT, it is willing to see it. India should emphasise that it will not use the nuclear weapons first against anybody. And under no circumstances will India use the nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear weapon power.

What about Advani's hot pursuit theory?

I have great respect for Advani, he is a very senior person and a public man of eminence. I don't know if I am talking out of turn, but I would like to advise him that consistent with his image and the office he occupies, his words must be chosen very carefully.

Is this war-mongering part of BJP agenda?

Statements of party spokesmen and VHP activists and this talk of temples at Pokhran make me feel it is part of a Hindutva approach. Those who talk of temples do not realise that if anybody can be given credit, if a nuclear explosion is creditable, it is Kalam. And Kalam's a Muslim. If they want to eternalise the moment, let them build a monument to Kalam—that will symbolise Indian unity and secularism. When I gave the Bharat Ratna to Kalam, apart from the fact that he richly deserves it, there was a message—that any political party or individual who doesn't have a secular outlook can never project India as a country of peace.

So, if you are communal inside, you will project the same viewpoint outside?

If you are communal, it means you are divisive. If you are communal it means you are selective and then you cannot project India as a united entity.

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