Tuesday, Oct 04, 2022

'A Needless Hysteria Has Been Created'

Life here is perfectly safe, its perfectly secure ... and the major part of the responsibility lies with Pakistan, says the MEA spokesperson, on the recent travel advisories and exodus of foreigners.

Transcript of Press Briefing by the Official Spokesperson, June 06, 2002

Ms. Rao: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. It's good to be back. We've just returned, as you know, last night from Almaty and you have had a number of briefings coming out of Almaty on the developments during the Summit. So I don't have any announcements to make but I will take your questions.

Is Kulwant Singh really in a bad shape?

He is. He is in a bad shape. He has been tortured by the Pakistani authorities. You know the events surrounding his abduction, his return after a few hours of interrogation and physical maltreatment and torture by the Pakistani authorities. The refusal by the Pakistani establishment to allow him medical treatment and for doctors to attend to his condition and then what happened day before yesterday when he was returning to India and was stopped. He and his family were stopped, 50kms outside Lahore, prevented from going further, stranded on the highway for 3 hours. Our High Commission took up the matter repeatedly with the Pakistan Foreign Office to no avail and finally he was forced to return to Islamabad. This morning he came to Wagah by road and then to Amritsar and he has flown in from Amritsar this afternoon by a regular Indian Airlines flight and evacuated from the aircraft on a stretcher taken straight to All India Institute of Medical Sciences for treatment.

For those of you who must have been there at the airport to cover this arrival would have realised that he has been subjected to the worst form of maltreatment and torture in absolute defiance and contravention of the internationally accepted conventions, diplomatic conventions and the bilateral code of conduct for treatment of diplomatic personnel between India and Pakistan. We have, of course, lodged a very very strong protest with the Pakistan Foreign Office about this abominable and completely reprehensible incident.

When was the protest lodged?

Both at the time he was abducted over the weekend and also day before yesterday.

Any idea why he was prevented from coming to India yesterday? Is it because he was badly beaten...

I think that's a very intelligent guess. Yes.

Is the Indian Government going to take this issue to the International Court of Justice?

I would need to check on that. But I think the fact is that the world has been a spectator to this terrible treatment of our staff member in Islamabad and no code of civilized behaviour would allow such treatment and I think the world stands by India in our condemnation of this treatment and understands the grounds for our strong protest to the Pakistani authorities.

Has India brought this to the notice of international community?

Yes, I mean through the reports in the international media, through the fact that we have made a strong protest to the Pakistan Foreign Office and this has been made known to other friendly countries also. Yes the world knows about it and the world, I am sure condemns it.

What is the nature of his injuries?

I understand there has been some spinal injury and loss of sensation in the lower limbs. There are cuts and contusions over his body. Of course we need hardly emphasize the fact that the experience itself has left him extremely shaken and disoriented. So it has been a very very sad and unfortunate experience.

Pakistan has rejected the proposal of joint patrolling of the LoC saying it is undoable. Do you agree?

How do you expect me to agree with what Pakistan has said? My assessment is that this is a very serious, a very major, a significant initiative made by the Government of India and if Pakistan is serious about its commitment to stop terrorism, to control infiltration, to allow for a verification of the situation on the ground, then joint patrolling is the best, the most practical and the most doable way to handle this. So it is a serious initiative and it is a major initiative, it's a significant proposal.

You say it is serious, major and a significant and doable proposal. Then why is the Defence Minister against it? Is there a difference of opinion?

No, I think the Defence Minister agrees with what the Prime Minister has put forward and there is no difference of opinion on this issue. I think you should go back and read the statement made. There was nothing in that statement that indicated that he was against the proposal. I would request you to read that statement more carefully.

But he said it is not feasible?

No. That is not the issue here. The issue here is that there is a proposal on the table. It has been made to the Government of Pakistan. It is a doable proposal. Yes it depends on Pakistan's reaction and if Pakistan is serious as I mentioned then, it will work. Defence Minister did say when he made that statement that he would need to check on what the Prime Minister had said and that he had not had the chance to consult. Let's not debate on this. We are all on the same side on this. I have no doubt in my mind that the Defence Minister had no difference of opinion with what the Prime Minister said on this issue, that the Government of India is one on this proposal and that what action is required is action from Pakistan to respond to it.

Will this be discussed with Mr. Armitage?

Well, Mr. Armitage is arriving here tomorrow and he will have discussions with the External Affairs Minister. He is going to meet the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, he is going to meet the Home Minister and he will meet the Leader of the Opposition. No doubt the situation in the region will form a major part of the discussions between Deputy Secretary Armitage and our Government Ministers and we will inform him about our response to the current situation, our response to the statements that have been made by Pakistan about our continued insistence that infiltration must stop, that cross border terrorism must end and you will all agree that the statements made by the US Government in recent days by Secretary of State Powell, by President Bush, they would all indicate that the action to be taken by Pakistan to end cross border terrorism is what the world expects of Pakistan. Pakistan must take concrete action if we are to see a reduction of tensions in our region.

Is Armitage also meeting the Prime Minister?

I have just been informed that Prime Minister will also be meeting Mr. Armitage tomorrow evening.

Is there a Press Conference?

There is no press conference.

When was this proposal of joint patrolling first mooted?

There have been discussions previously on this subject going back to 1989 when the proposal for simultaneous and coordinated patrolling was discussed between the two countries. But that was basically in regard to the Punjab sector of the India-Pakistan boundary.

Do we have such an arrangement with China?

For joint patrolling, no we do not have. We have agreements to build confidence and maintain peace and tranquility. There are two agreements of 1993 and 1996 with the Government of the People's Republic of China. Those relate to confidence building in the areas along the line of actual control and for maintenance of peace and tranquility in those areas.

How seriously do we take the visits of Armitage and Rumsfeld and how would they impact if Pakistan continues to encourage infiltration?

You are asking me to speculate on what might happen. We are not in that business exactly you know. The relationship with the United States, our partnership with the United States is important to us. It is a fast developing relationship, the dialogue architecture with the United States has been strengthened. It is sustained by frequent high level contact and communication. In fact just yesterday, President Bush spoke to Prime Minister Vajpayee. They had a conversation for about 7-8 minutes and during that time the current situation in the region was discussed. So you see we have a constant channel of communication between the two governments in regard to a number of issues and the situation in the region has also figured in their discussions. Therefore the visits of Deputy Secretary Armitage and Defence Secretary Rumsfeld are part of this process of consultation and they enable us to sensitize the US Administration about our concerns, about our latest assessments of the situation whether it pertains to infiltration, whether it pertains to cross border terrorism, we are able to share information, share intelligence with the US Administration. So we look forward to this continuing exchange of views and certainly diplomatic efforts to reduce tension are something that we as a democracy have always pursued and we have not given up on.

What are your views on the evacuation of foreign nationals by their respective governments?

We are disappointed that people should choose to leave the country. Life here is perfectly safe, its perfectly secure and I think a needless hysteria has been created. I think the major part of the responsibility there lies with Pakistan.

Will this be taken up with Mr. Armitage and Mr. Rumsfeld?

Our views on that are known to the US administration and the other governments concerned.

Will we ask them to pressurize Pakistan to accept Prime Minister Vajpayee's proposal for joint patrolling?

Well, let us look at it this way - Pakistan must honour whatever commitments it seems to be articulating about ending infiltration, stopping terrorism, closing down terrorist camps and if we see action on the ground that corroborates these assurances, then obviously it is an indication that pressure is working on Pakistan and that pressure should be sustained. It should be continuously applied until Pakistan delivers on its promises.

There are reports saying that there will be a hearing in the US Congress about the events in Gujarat, on the basis of a report prepared by the Commission on Religious Freedom. Could you please give your reaction?

This is not at all a policy making body, the body that you have referred to just now. They are going to have a discussion according to this report on Gujarat. I think the Government of India has made it perfectly clear that we have never shied away from discussion on this issue or from talking to foreign interlocutors about the events in Gujarat. We have been open, we have been transparent and I think that the world is aware of the fact that recent events in Gujarat have been debated vigorously in this country and the levels of concern that have been expressed by different quarters of opinion here have helped in a way to sensitize opinion within the country , that the situation needs to be addressed and that the victims of the violence must be assisted, must be rehabilitated and through it all it is very clear that the Government of India, the government authorities are very very convinced about the fact that we continue to abide by our secular principles and that there is no quarter given to any body who discriminates against our minorities or in any way does injustice to them. So I think the world is aware of it and we have engaged in open debate with all those who have sought to discuss the issue with us.

What is the status of this Commission?

It is not a policy making body. It is probably, as he mentioned, a commission that provides the Congress and the administration with its reports or its findings. It is just one of the inputs perhaps that is circulated in any open democratic society and it happens in India also. There are groups that investigate incidents and provide their assessments. But to say that it will impact on the policy of the Government or this will be the governing influence on policy, on a certain issue, I think will be missing the mark.

Are we still pressing on our list of 20?

I have not forgotten about it. I think the Prime Minister was very clear in his Press Conference yesterday that he had been told by President Putin that what the Pakistani President said was that they were looking at the list and they were considering it and if there were people on that list that could be extradited to India, they would give it consideration. So let us see what the Pakistanis are prepared to do about that list. Of that list, 14 persons have interpol red corner notices against them and many of them are Indian citizens. So I don't see why there should be any hesitation or any unwillingness to consider our legitimate request to seek the return of the citizens of India, who have been involved in crimes and actions against the Indian State. Why is Pakistan continuing to harbour them?

When is the Sri Lankan PM arriving?

I'll have to get back to you on that. I don't have anything on that at the moment.

Will we take up Kulwant Singh incident with Armitage?

When we brief about the situation in the region and the continued expressions of hostility that we see emanating from Pakistan of which the incident involving the maltreatment and torture of Kulwant Singh is a graphic instance, naturally I don't rule it out. Whether it will actually be raised in that manner, I cannot at this moment, say with certitude that it will be. But it is logical that it would figure.