Sunday, Sep 25, 2022

'No Room For Any Third Party Involvement'

On the knickers-in-a-twist over the Time article, PM's interview to Dainik Jagran and the continuing Indo-Pak stand-off.

Nirupama Rao: Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen. There are no announcements or press releases for today. I will just briefly give you information on the visit of H.E. the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh, Mr. M. Morshed Khan, who has held talks with the External Affairs Minister Shri Jaswant Singh today in New Delhi.

The Foreign Minister of Bangladesh was accompanied by H.E. the High Commissioner of Bangladesh in India, Mr. T.K. Haider, the Director General for South Asia, Mr. Mehmood Hassan and the Director in the Foreign Minister’s office, Mr. M.S. Rehman and other officials of the Bangladesh High Commission in New Delhi. Our External Affairs Minister was assisted by Foreign Secretary, Ms. Chokila Iyer, Secretary (West) Mr. K. Sibal and other senior officials.

The talks were held in a very cordial and constructive atmosphere followed by a working lunch hosted by the External Affairs Minister. During the discussions the whole gamut of India-Bangladesh relations were discussed and reviewed.

You will recall that this is the first visit of the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh, after the new Government took charge in Bangladesh last October and the occasion provided both sides with the opportunity to go over topical and important issues in their relationship, and to discuss the situation in the region.

In addition to the discussions between the two Foreign Ministers, the Bangladesh Foreign Minister also had a fairly lengthy meeting with the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, Mr. Brajesh Mishra. He is meeting the Leader of the Opposition this afternoon and Mr. I.K. Gujral, former Prime Minister and following that he calls on the Hon’ble Prime Minister, Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee and then returns to Dhaka.

That is the list of his meetings here. Rather than go over the whole details of what was discussed today, maybe I could take some questions from you which I think that will be a better way to address this issue.

Did the India-Pak tensions also figure in the talks?

The subject did figure and our Minister did inform the Bangladesh side of our concerns and about the focus being on the war against terrorism, our concerns in that regard and the fact that all issues pertaining to the India- Pakistan relationship should and can only be discussed bilaterally between India and Pakistan and that it is necessary for the world to understand that this is indeed the only manner in which issues can be discussed between India and Pakistan and that there is no room for any third party involvement.

This issue was recognized by the Government of Bangladesh. There is no difference of opinion in this issue. Both sides were also agreed that there was no room again for the involvement of any regional organisation for instance the SAARC, in such issues. So that matter was very clearly and unambiguously stated by our side and it was accepted by the Bangladesh Foreign Minister and his delegation.

Did the issue of terrorist camps in the North- East also figure in the talks?

It was discussed, not in very great detail but the Bangladesh Government was made aware of our concerns on this issue and they have assured us of the fact that from their side they will do everything necessary to ensure that the soil of Bangladesh is not used by elements, by groups, by individuals who are inimical to India and act against the interest of India. So again I think there was a meeting of minds on this issue.

Can we expect that tension in the India-Pakistan border will continue as such, till the elections in September, in Kashmir?

Our expectations are that Pakistan should take concrete action to end infiltration, dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism, to act on the basis of the demands that we have made. Pakistan, it is true, has made certain assurances in this regard, but we need to see, to verify, to ascertain how best Pakistan translates these assurances into action on the ground and it is still too early to form any definitive assessments in that regard. So I would not be led into providing any prognosis or giving you any sort of graph of what is expected or what might ensue or what could happen, except to say that we are vigilant and we continue to verify the situation on the ground and our focus continues to be on the struggle against terrorism. India is unflagging in its determination to fight terrorism.

Today the Foreign Minister of Pakistan has stated that Pakistan will reciprocate if India withdraws its troops from the border. What is our response?

I think you should address this question to the Defence Ministry as far as far as military de-escalation is concerned. All that really depends on how that situation unfolds, how it develops as far as the infiltration and cross-border terrorism is concerned. I mean you have a situation along the LoC and in areas adjoining the LoC in Jammu & Kashmir and in the valley of Kashmir, where there have been continuos attempts, efforts indeed over a period of time now, established over the years by elements supported, aided, abetted by the Pakistani State to violate the atmosphere of stability, law and order in Jammu & Kashmir, to interfere with the lives of ordinary citizens. So you will understand that until and unless we see an abatement, we see an end, we see a reduction and then definitely an end to such activity, it is too premature indeed to talk about military de-escalation.

After today’s acknowledgement by the Defence Minister about seeing perceptible change, do we still maintain the same position?

Perceptible change, but that does not as yet provide us with the comfort of coming to the conclusion that this is a permanent shift in position. We have of course acknowledged the fact that Pakistan has made certain assurances, we have welcomed that, we have said that we will respond to that appropriately and positively as indeed we did early last week when we announced the lifting of the ban on overflights. India will not be found wanting in terms of responding positively to concrete steps taken by Pakistan. But you will appreciate the fact that this is a sequence and this is based and dependent on the kind of action we see from Pakistan.

According to reports in today’s Dainik Jagran, PM said that we were prepared for a nuclear war…?

No infact I am aware of this article and I have read through it, I have gone through it with a fine toothed comb and I am afraid all of you are basing your assumptions on the introduction to that article or rather the title of that article, because if you read the text…(interruption), no what he said here is ‘Bharat andik yudh ke liye bhi tayar tha, kintu vishwas tha ki padosi aisa pagal pan nahi karega. Sansar ke desh Pak ke bare mein tho vishwas karne ke liye tayar nahin the, lekin Bharat par unka bharosa tha.’ You see the difference, please read it in context… 'antar rashtriya dabao me Pak ke pratinidhi ko sanyukt rashtra sang mein atomie hatyaron ke prayog karne kee dhamki ko khule aam wapas lena pada. Usse Pak ka akramak swarup duniya ke samne ujagar ho giya'.

Let us look at the context, let us look at the sequence of the statements that were made and let us read exactly what is here. It is very clear from this that it was Pakistan that indulged in irresponsible, wayward talk about the nuclear option, about the threat of use of nuclear weapons, about nuclear blackmail. It was India that had consistently been responsible, been mature, been balanced in its approach to this issue and indeed that it was Pakistan that had to eat its words, that had to withdraw from the stand it had taken once it sensed how dangerous this talk was, how irresponsible and immature the attitude it had adopted was. That is very clear from this.

Time Asia in its article had said that the nuclear button is in wrong hands. Please comment.

I have seen that article. I think it is completely without foundation, it is baseless, it is ill advised, it certainly doesn’t fall into the category of the kind of reporting that is expected from Time Magazine and our views in this regard have been made well known to the editors of Time. It is a completely biased and ill informed article.

Did any concrete trade talks figure between the two Foreign Ministers of India and Bangladesh?

We were not indulging in trade talks. These were talks between the Foreign Ministers. A general policy direction was provided and as I emphasized earlier, there was a political will, very clearly articulated from both sides that the two countries needed to move on with the business of building more bridges in terms of economic cooperation, in facilitating more trade, in building more confidence between the business communities of the two sides, in providing for easier transit and transportation
links. You are aware of the whole climate of opening up for instance to South-East Asia, the process of building better transportation links with Myanmar and other countries of South-East Asia. This was spoken about and it was felt from both sides that the obstacles, the kind of road blocks that you see from time to time in building better transit and transportation links between the two sides must be removed. Indeed the climate of the times demands that and it is very clear from the discussions that there is a clearly expressed political will to ensure that this is indeed implemented and that such ties are better facilitated.

From the Bangladesh side there were charges that some militants are working on the Indian soil…?

I don’t believe any charges were leveled in the sense of what you are saying now. We did talk, as I mentioned earlier about the reported activities of certain North-Eastern insurgent groups in Bangladesh. There was no real mention byBangladesh of any similar groups operating on our side, although it was very clear from the discussion that it was the intention of both governments not to stand in the way of the completion of investigations in the location of such persons and in ensuring that such elements do not use the porous border, we have a 4096 Km long border between India and Bangladesh, and both sides do their level best to ensure it is well policed and well guarded. But you find as a result of the porousness in some parts of the border that such elements are moving across and both sides were agreed that this sort of movement needs to be stemmed, needs to be stopped, needs to be guarded against and that was really what we discussed.

Demarcation of border…is there any obstruction in this regard?

There again the two Ministers were agreed that this should be completed as soon as possible. Any obstacles to that should be removed. The two sides have met recently and they have discussed the issue. No, these are more procedural difficulties, more a sort of reconciliation of certain minor differences between the two sides. I wouldn’t really put it down to any large or insuperable difficulties and I believe that both sides are clearly determined to come to a satisfactory settlement of this issue.

Is Bangladesh now abandoning its frequent offer for mediation?

During the discussions today there was no talk really of any offers for mediation and I think it was made quite clear from the point of view of India that these issues between India and Pakistan can best and indeed can only be discussed bilaterally between the two countries and that the issue, the question of the possibility of third party mediation does not arise at all and that view has been very unequivocally and unambiguously stated, as indeed India has done to other countries also. It was very clear that this where we stood on the matter and from the point of view of Bangladesh there was acceptance of this point of view.

Any further movement on any other demands made by India to Pakistan?

On the list of 20 I haven’t seen any further developments on what we have said earlier, there still has not been any indication from Pakistan that they are moving on that. But on the dismantling of terrorist camps, well we have received that indication through the discussions that we had when Deputy Secretary Armitage was here and also you have seen it in the public announcement made by Secretary of State Colin Powell at the Asia Society annual dinner in New York last week that Pakistan would take action to permanently quell and control and eliminate its capabilities for supporting terrorism which would mean the dismantling of the infrastructure of terrorism. If you are asking me "have you seen that happen on the ground as yet", I think it is too early to say that. We are obviously monitoring the situation, we are putting together our inputs, obviously we receive that from various sources. At this point of time we are not in a position to give you an answer on that in terms of saying whether we have a clear, concrete assessment on whether the infrastructure has indeed been dismantled.

Coming back to the interview on Dainik Jagran, is there any portion that you would say that Vajpayee has not been portrayed in the right light?

I would request you read the article itself and not go by the introduction. No, what are the issues? You tell me where you feel there are doubts. I will able to clarify that because it depends, your reading may be different from mine. Please let me know.

About the economic pressures? I quote " but in this economic pressures were also one of the pressures being contemplated and Pakistan was not in a position to confront this and before such measures could be undertaken Pakistan did act on certain demands made and so it was not far necessary to … "

Well, I don’t believe that this is a verbatim of what the Prime Minister would have said but the issue of pressures on Pakistan, the issue of controls, the kind of measures that may be called for, if Pakistan does not deliver on the demands made of it to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorists, I think the options are pretty much open still. Till now that (economic) issue had not really been sort of in a sense "kicked into operation".

But the fact is that the scenario is still developing and you cannot foreclose the use of any such options. I think that was the sense of what was being said. Similarly here I think there is a reference that there is no need to be hasty about removing the troops from the border and there is no possibility of a dialogue between the two sides until terrorism is stopped and until infiltration is not stopped completely the conditions really do not obtain and there would be no need to take such steps until infiltration is stopped.

Prime Minister has referred to the fact that there is going to be elections in Jammu and Kashmir and also elections in Pakistan, that the world is looking at these two forthcoming events. He has implied that some coordination at the army level may be required on the issue of joint patrolling. But again as far as dialogue between the two countries is concerned there can be a possibility of that only when there is end to cross border terrorism.