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"We'll Discuss All Issues Hampering Ties"

External Affairs Minister Inder Kumar Gujral is upbeat about ties with Pakistan despite it linking progress on Kashmir with progress in other fields. He spoke to Sunil Narula, immediately after Nawaz Sharif's response offer on talks and dwelt on his

INTERVIEWS I.K. Gujral | 12 March 1997
"We'll Discuss All Issues Hampering Ties"

What do you think of Nawaz Sharif’s response?

It has come in response to Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda’s letter offering talks in order to normalise relations. Our response is going to be positive and relevant.

But he has said that unless there is an advance on Kashmir, cultural and commercial ties can’t improve. The interpretation of this is ‘let us get back to Kashmir first before we settle other issues’.

That is not our interpretation.

That is not India’s interpretation?

No. Our interpretation is he has offered to talk and we will adequately respond to it. We have offered to discuss all issues that stand in the way of India and Pakistan becoming friends.

But Pakistan sees Kashmir as the core issue?

You see, I am not pre-judging anything since now it has to be sorted out by official-level meetings. We will then work out the agenda.

Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Jehangir Karamat, said what Pakistan really wants is the right of self-determination for Kashmiris. And as you know, the agenda on India is army-driven in Pakistan.

It will be a mistake to keep ourselves imprisoned in the past. This chapter opens with the exchange of these two letters. Therefore, I will begin from here. Secondly, it is not for the Government of India to take notice of every statement anybody makes for his own consideration or domestic compulsions.

Gowda recently said Kashmir is a closed chapter, and that India is willing to make minor adjustments on Kashmir.

More has been read into the statements than he meant. Basically, it means that we are going to talk to each other.

Will Kashmir figure prominently?

I don’t know. Forging a new relationship, naturally, has to be a prominent issue.

But Pakistan always returns to Kashmir. In 1993, talks were held after a similar exchange of letters. Then Pakistan gave non-papers calling for modalities for a plebiscite.

I go back to what I have said. The two sides are creating a helpful atmosphere. We will cross the bridge when we come to it.

US Ambassador Frank Wisner saidrecently that there is no point in indulging in sterile historical debates on Kashmir and that the Simla Agreement has become irrelevant.

Well, I don’t go by what the ambassador says. It’s not a matter between us and the US. It’s between us and Pakistan. The Simla Agreement emphasises two things. One, all issues have to be sorted out bilaterally and secondly, it is a comprehensive charter of good neighbourliness. Kashmir is one of the items mentioned there. Therefore, the Simla Agreement is not irrelevant.

In Sharif’s statements before the polls, just after and later, the nuances change progressively. Isn’t there a certain hardening of the position?

I think it’s a softening of their position. We are all confronted with the realities of today and these demand that in the SAARC region we work out a cooperative relationship on trade, travel, everything. Once the dialogue opens, I think both sides will address these and other vital issues.

But Pakistan constantly takes us back to Kashmir...

See, you want me to defeat the talks before they begin. I do not want to defeat the talks. I am approaching the entire prospect of talks in a positive and helpful manner.

What’s the Gujral doctrine?

It’s not for me to define my own doctrine.

Your basic philosophy?

The basic question is that in the post-Cold War era how should neighbours live? We have decided on four-five bases. India is a large country, a large economy. Our borders touch every SAARC country. Basically, we will go more than half-way to accommodate our neighbours’ interests, not demand quid pro quo on every issue. We have proved that with Nepal and Bangladesh.

How about Pakistan?

I’m willing to go with Pakistan also on that basis.

But can unilateral generosity be the basis for peace? In Pakistan this is often seen as India’s weakness.

I can’t change what they think. I think it’s helping us to build a new atmosphere in South Asia. In the last six months, the situation is totally different. Look at our relationship with Bangladesh or Sri Lanka. There is a qualitative change.

Bangladesh does not want to renew the 25-year-old friendship treaty?

I have no such indication.

You mean they may sign it?

I have no indication either way. It has not been discussed and has not been raised by anybody. Why should I pre-judge it?

But in international relations, there has to be a reciprocal response.

This is the Cold War mindset. It’s time to change relationships on the basis of India’s strength and role in this region. India is keen to release itself from the smaller preoccupations, to play a world role.

Is Bangladesh helping India tackle insurgency in the North-east?

Our major preoccupation in Bangladesh was the ISI-sponsored insurgency in the North-east. For the first time, the Bangladesh government is cooperating.

What do you think of Gohar Ayub Khan’s appointment as foreign minister of Pakistan?

It is for the government of Pakistan to appoint a foreign minister. I will be very happy to work and cooperate with him on bilateral relations.

The high points of your tenure?

We have been able to sort out our differences with all our neighbours, except Pakistan. We have built a new type of relationship with the ASEAN countries. We have opened a new chapter in our ties with Central Asian countries and Iran. Now I am going to Mauritius to participate in the conference of Indian Ocean Rim countries.

What about the Security Council debacle (voting for the non-permanent seat)?

To be defeated once is not a debacle. As (German foreign minister)Klaus Kinkel told the press himself, this the price India paid for not signing the CTBT. And I am not sorry for that.

On the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), you came in rather late. But there is a general feeling that we handled it quite badly.

What is this general feeling? I do not see in any newspaper or any serious writer saying our policy on CTBT was wrong. Only an odd person here and there, and in a democratic society it is inevitable. All the political parties supported this policy.

In the end we had no choice...we had got into that situation.

The negotiations were going on for more than three to four years. I came at the end.

What will be our policy on the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT)?

It has to conform to our policy on CTBT. So at the moment we are trying to see what the big powers want to do. They have piles and piles of material. They are not bothered about that. They are more worried about what we people may have.

The Prime Minister recently saidIndia is willing to allow 100 per cent equity in nuclear power plants to foreign firms. What is the message?

Some power plants in India are covered by the IAEA safeguards, some are not. Some which we build ourselves and are outside their purview. The demand is that we should have all covered. That we are not accepting. But even the Russian agreement we have and the two nuclear reactors we might import here, they will be covered by these safeguards. Therefore, if anybody sets up a plant here and if that plant is covered, we have no objection.

But will you allow 100 per cent foreign ownership?

We are allowing 100 per cent in so many other things. If energy is generated here, and we need the energy, then why not?

But nuclear energy is a sacred cow.

I don’t think it’s so sacred. After all, our first plant was built with the help of the Canadians.

But it was not owned by them.

No, maybe not. That time the policies were different. Now after globalisation we are allowing 100 per cent ownership even to Coca Cola.

But Coca Cola is not a nuclear plant.

What is the difference? We need energy. Thermal or nuclear is not the issue.

Are we going to get the Russian nuclear reactors? Despite US pressure?

When I was in Russia, I was told under no circumstances will they yield to US pressure.

It won’t go the cryogenic deal way?

I don’t think Russia backed out of it also.

We didn’t get the full thing.

Yes, we did get the full thing.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban are fast making gains. You discussed this issue in Iran last week, but India is behaving as if it’s not a player there.

Let us keep in mind that India is not involved in Afghanistan. But we are concerned about what’s happening there. Our policy is in conformity with the UN policy. We believe it’s their own problem and there should be no outside intervention. And the Taliban are an outside intervention—the support to the Taliban, I mean.

How will you tackle that?

That’s the concern. That’s why other countries met first in Tehran and in the UN.

Should the Taliban be resisted?

It is not for me to say so. We are neither a party in the war in Afghanistan, nor would we like to be.

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