Draft transcript as provided by the ministry of external affairs
Manmohan Singh: We just had a very successful SAARC Summit. SAARC has still miles to go before its full potential is realized. But there is a growing awareness among all countries of the region about the importance of regional cooperation.
The fact that the global economy is not doing too well is a further incentive for countries of the SAARC region to learn to cooperate with one another. And there is a growing realization that a country like India, with its vast market, with its strong growth rate performance, can help other countries in the region to raise their sights for economic development. That’s a hopeful development
As you know, four agreements were signed at the Summit: SAARC Agreement on Rapid Responses to Natural Disaster; SAARC Agreement on Multilateral Arrangements on Recognition of Conformity Assessment; SAARC Agreement on Implementation of Regional Standards; and SAARC Seed Bank Agreement.
Already the South Asian University is now a functioning entity. SAARC Development Fund is a functioning entity. So, bit by bit SAARC is moving forward to promote the cause of regional integration and regional cooperation. The number of meetings that are taking place at various Ministers’ level, I think creates a climate where there is growing mutual awareness of each other’s potential, of each other’s limitation, and that itself is conducive to the promotion of regional cooperation.
Apart from SAARC Summit, I had good meetings with all the leaders of SAARC countries. I should begin by mentioning my discussions with Prime Minster Gilani. We reviewed the whole gamut of our relationship. We agreed that the resumed round of dialogue should continue. We took note of the encouraging developments in the area of trade, the changing attitude of Pakistan to giving India the benefit of Most Favoured Nation Treatment, and the willingness of Pakistan to discuss all matters including that of terrorism. So, I come back with the expectation that the second round of resumed dialogue, which will begin very shortly, will have the advantage of a more informed dialogue.
What will be the outcome of that dialogue, I am optimistic. But India Pakistan relations are subject to accident. Therefore, we both recognize that if there is another incident like the Mumbai terror attack that could give a big setback to the process of normalization. I think that is fully understood by Prime Minister Gilani.
With regard to my meeting with Sri Lanka, we reviewed with President Rajapaksa the problems of Indian fishermen who stray into Sri Lankan waters and then are arrested by Sri Lankan authorities. We explained this to President Rajapaksa and he agreed that the use of force to deal with Indian fishermen is totally unacceptable, that it is a human problem and it must be dealt in a humane manner. And we explored various options like growing involvement of the fishermen from the two countries in discussing their mutual problems. Also, there is a bilateral working group to discuss these issues. We agreed that the working group should accelerate its work.
Principally, my concern was with regard to resettlement of internally displaced Tamil refugees, and the treatment of fishermen. President Rajapaksa gave me assurances that on both these issues Sri Lanka will and has been moving forward. How far that satisfies the common public opinion, there is now a structured dialogue between the Sri Lankan Government and the Tamil National Alliance, and also there is a Parliamentary Select Committee which has been appointed to go into this question of what can be done to find a permanent political acceptable solution to the Tamil problem.
With regard to other countries also, I had very useful talks. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and I reviewed the roadmap for the implementation of the Agreement on Settlement of Boundaries. As you know, we have reached an agreement but it requires Constitutional amendment. We will work to that end. There was also other discussion about providing electricity to Bangladesh from India and we said within the limits of our capabilities we will certainly be helpful. There was also a brief discussion of the Teesta problem, and I mentioned to the Prime Minister that we will work to build a national consensus so that an agreement can become a realistic proposition.
With Maldives our relations are very good. We have signed many agreements, but the most important agreement is the framework agreement on cooperation which sets out a roadmap for cooperation in a large number of areas covering economy, trade, investment and security related issues in the context of security of sea lanes in the Indian Ocean.
With regard to Nepal, I had a very good meeting with Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai. We reviewed the progress made with regard to peace-keeping and peace initiative, and on that the Prime Minister was true to his word, what he had told me, that he would work hard within this month to see the peace process moving forward and parties in Nepal have reached an agreement with regard to the rehabilitation and resettlement of Maoist combatants. That is a very helpful development. Now they are moving forward to prepare a draft of the Constitution.
Prime Minister Bhattarai also told me that the avoidance of double taxation agreement has now been cleared by the Cabinet of Nepal and that we can now go ahead to sign it. You recall there were some problems with regard to our being not able to sign the Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreement when Prime Minister Bhattarai visited. But now he has got his Cabinet approval, and we will then proceed to sign the agreement.
With regard to Afghanistan, both President Karzai and I expressed our happiness at the signing of the Strategic Partnership Agreement between our two countries. And President Karzai mentioned to me that this agreement is universally popular in Afghanistan, unlike the agreement which they are proposing with the United States, where they would require ratification only after the Loya Jirga has met and approved the draft. He said that it is a matter of great satisfaction for India-Afghanistan relations that there is no such demand for ratification of the Strategic Partnership Agreement that he has signed with India. We also discussed the security situation, the challenges that Afghanistan faces. On the whole, our relations with Afghanistan are in a very good shape, and there is enormous scope for expanding areas of cooperation between our two countries.
President Karzai also mentioned to me that in the changed situation he would like Indian investments in Afghanistan. In this connection he mentioned the iron ore mines which will soon be available for participation by foreign investment.
With regard to Bhutan, I complimented Prime Minister Thinley on excellent conduct of the SAARC during the last one year of his Chairmanship. We reviewed our bilateral relations which are in exceedingly good shape. And, therefore, on the whole I can say that other than the regional issues, my dialogue with the SAARC leaders on bilateral issues has helped in both settings enabled me and other leaders to get a better idea of each other’s point of view.
I have often said the SAARC process is an essay in persuasion because of the fact that we cannot change our neighbours. We can change our friends, we cannot change our neighbours. We have to learn to live together in peace and amity. We have to learn to cooperate with each other. And I do feel that at long last SAARC is getting on to that process, even though I still believe that there is a long arduous journey ahead of us.
On what inspired PM to remark that PM Gilani was a man of peace
It is not a question of inspiration. I have now met Prime Minister Gilani four to five times. Every time I have discussed our bilateral issues, he has agreed with me that there is no way except to find a peaceful resolution of all our outstanding issues; that terrorism is not helping that process. And he has never had any hesitation in admitting that terrorism is the common enemy; that it is not helping to advance the cause of Pakistan. I, therefore, believe that Pakistan has a democratic Government; we would like to strengthen the hands of democratic government. And it is in this context that I have come away with the feeling that the desire for normalizing our relations, trade relations, terror-related issues, and all other issues, that in Prime Minister Gilani we have a Prime Minister who is willing to work with us.
On agenda of forthcoming meeting with President Obama and if USA was satisfied with our nuclear liability regime
I think I would not like to anticipate what I will discuss with President Obama. But certainly the state of Indo-American relations will figure very importantly. Also, we will both be taking part in the East Asia Summit. Therefore, the agenda of the East Asia Summit will also be the subject matter of discussion. With regard to the nuclear issues, I think we will place before the Parliament the rules and regulations arising out of the Nuclear Civil Liability Act. And it is only then that we will know whether what is there in these rules and regulations is acceptable to the Americans or not.
On whether Pak establishment was agreeable to peace process with India
I would not like to go in detail into this matter. But I did discuss with Prime Minister Gilani whether the Pakistan armed forces are fully onboard in carrying forward the peace process. And the feeling I got was that after a long time Pakistan’s armed forces are onboard.
On lifting of lifting of AFSPA in certain areas in Jammu and Kashmir
I think this is very much a function of the security situation. Therefore, all those who are in charge of security, and those who are dealing with the political processes, they have to sit back and objectively review the situation. I do not think that process has been completed.
On whether 26/11 issue was raised with Pak PM
Let me say I did raise the issue of the terror attack in Mumbai and that all those who are responsible for this barbaric act must be brought to book. You would have heard what the Interior Minister of Pakistan said. I do not want to deal with this in depth. I left Prime Minister Gilani in no doubt that if the Indian public opinion is not satisfied that justice is being done to those who are responsible for the barbaric act of Mumbai, the peace process cannot move forward. There has been some movement. Pakistan has now agreed to send a Judicial Commission; India has agreed to accept them; modalities are being worked out. And, therefore, I expect some progress in that area as well.
On possible areas of forward movement with Pakistan
I think trade and economic relationship is one area where progress is possible, where I believe thinking elements in Pakistan themselves realize that trade liberalization can be a win-win situation. There is also recognition that the confidence building measures across the Line of Control offer an opportunity to make the life of ordinary residents of Jammu and Kashmir on both sides of the Line of Control more livable. And I certainly would hope that Pakistan would recognize that terror as an instrument of state policy today has no takers in the world; it does not solve any country’s problem; it has given rise to Pakistani terrorism; and that terror, therefore, has to be dealt with firmly. I do get that this is another area where our two countries can find some move forwards. But I have also said it before that our approach to Pakistan is trust, but verify. Therefore, it is not that we are putting blind faith in any one individual, howsoever well meaning that may be. It is our hope that what Prime Minister Gilani and I discussed would genuinely lead to a move towards normalization of relations. But our attitude in all these matters will be trust and verify.
On Mr. Rahul Gandhi becoming acting President of Congress or Cabinet Minister
Dekhiye, yeh party ka matter hai. Jahan tak Cabinet ka sawaal hai, main ne kayi baar pehle bhi kaha hai ki main ne unse kayi baar request ki hai, lekin voh maane nahin hain. Party ke baare mein main kuchh keh nahin sakta. Lekin agar Rahulji ko aur koi bhi responsibility di gayi, uska main swagat karunga.
[This is a party matter. As far as the cabinet is concerned, I have many times asked him before, have requested him many times, but he has not agreed. I cannot say anything about the party. But if Rahulji is given any additional responsibility, I will welcome it]
On progress on Teesta accord
It is too early. We have had some preliminary discussion. But I think we are still some distance away from saying that we have a broad national consensus.
On unrest in Andhra Pradesh about Telangana
Telangana is a complicated matter, and we are trying to evolve a consensus where all shades of public opinion would agree that what is being done is in the interest of each and every one. We cannot solve the problem of Telangana by agreeing to Telangana being given while there is disquiet and unrest in other regions of Andhra Pradesh. From the frying pan to the fire is not an appropriate solution to national problem. We are still working to find pragmatic, practical ways and means that all stakeholders can be brought together to agree to a solution which all would accept.
On bailout of Kingfisher Airlines
Private sector airlines have to be managed efficiently. But if they do get into difficulties, we have to find ways and means to help them to get out of the process. But I have not applied my mind to the Kingfisher’s problems. When I get back, I will talk with Mr. Vayalar Ravi and we will explore ways and means in which the airlines can be helped.
On tackling the challenge of inflation
Prime Minister: Inflation is a worrisome problem and I do not deny that, particularly with regard to food inflation. Some amount of inflation is a result of the fact that the economy today is growing at the rate of 7.5 – 8% per annum. If the economy grows at the rate of eight per cent per annum, the per capita income would be increasing at the rate of about 6.5 per cent per annum. Among the various items of food inflation, it is not so much the food grains which are a problem. Food grains prices are relatively stable but prices of eggs, prices of fish, prices of vegetables, prices of other tertiary goods in the agricultural sector are going up. There the demand is increasing at a rate which is much faster than the supply curve. And there are supply bottlenecks which have to be attended but which will take time. But I do feel that the very fact that the price signals now point to growing profitability of milk, growing profitability of fish, growing profitability of fruits, will in due course of time produce remedial measures.
On fuel price hike
One reason why inflation has become a problem that is concerning everybody is the rise in prices of fuel products. There, 75 per cent of our total requirements of petroleum products are imported. If the prices go up, we have to either raise domestic prices or absorb the increased cost in asking the oil marketing companies to subsidize other elements of the petroleum sector, or from the budget we give additional subsidies. Already the budgetary subsidies amount to Rs.150,000 crore. And quite frankly that is an unsustainable burden. Therefore, I would like all our countrymen to recognize that when international prices are rising, and we have no control over international prices beyond a point, further subsidies can only aggravate the budgetary problem; and if the budgetary problem gets aggravated, inflation will again raise its ugly head.
On invitation to visit Pakistan
Prime Minister Gilani has invited me to visit Pakistan on almost every occasion that I met him. I have accepted that invitation but I have also said that the right moment for my going to Pakistan would be, if we could do some solid business together. As and when that stage is reached, I would be happy to consider visiting Pakistan. But I have not made up my mind as yet.
On what could hamper or spur normalization of ties with Pak
If for example our government gets again solid evidence that Pakistan establishment is involved in promoting acts of terror, that would be strongly a negative factor. And if trade relations normalization process moves forward smoothly that would be a positive factor.
On Secretary Rice’s memoirs about nuclear deal with India
I do not know what Condoleezza Rice has written. I think the reference is to my first visit to the United States, what happened at night, and what happened during the next morning. I do not remember, frankly speaking, the sequence of what things happened. But I was not prepared for a deal which I felt would not be acceptable to the people of India. And when I became convinced that what we have got is a deal which is acceptable, I went along. These are various stages in discussion. From one moment to another, things do change. But I do not know, I have not read Condoleezza Rice’s book, nor I have seen the article in detail.