Thursday, Sep 29, 2022

'We Did Not Detect Any False Note'

Full text of the transcript of the special MEA briefing of Sunday, July 28 on the Powell visit.

You were briefed last evening on the discussions that Secretary of State Colin Powell had with the External Affairs Minister Shri Yashwant Sinha and besides that this morning Secretary Powell held a press conference in which he had answered a number of questions that you have raised. 

Subsequent to that Secretary Powell had meetings with the Deputy Prime Minister Shri L.K. Advani, National Security Adviser Mr. Brajesh Mishra and Prime Minister Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee. All these discussions were positive and fruitful and

I will start with giving you some of the highlights of the meetings with Prime Minister. This meeting lasted a little over half an hour and we took the opportunity during that meeting to reiterate at the highest level that our feeling is that infiltration has not stopped from the Pakistani side and no action has been taken to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism and that of course India would expect the steps to be taken before we can take any consequential measures. 

Secondly, it was conveyed that we are committed to free and fair elections in Jammu and Kashmir but if there is necessity to bring down the levels of violence and that efforts to sabotage the elections must not succeed. The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State paid considerable attention to bilateral relations recognizing that the strategic content of these
relations goes far beyond the present context and far beyond a merely sub-continental focus. 

They agreed that specific discussions on bilateral relations should be stepped up significantly in the next few months. Prime Minister also told Secretary Powell that we looked forward very much to President Bush visiting India and that we hope that the visit would materialize as soon as possible.

Let me also quickly go over the highlights of the discussions held today during the other meetings that Secretary Powell held. There was a considerable degree of similarity in thinking with reference to the issues of infiltration and terrorism. Secretary Powell repeatedly made the point that his visit here is not in the context of India-Pakistan relations and that there should not be an impression that he visits the region to deal with crises. 

He stressed the broader perspective that informs India-US relations and he listed the various visits which will take place and which will discuss a whole range of bilateral issues. He referred to that at his press conference this morning also, for instance Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca will visit in September for discussions on regional issues and this is outside India-Pakistan relations when I refer to regional issues and there is a desire on both sides to expand the scope and the content of bilateral discussions on a wide range of issues.

 Let me say that on the specific issue of independent observers, which was, the word used by Secretary Powell in his press conference today, it would be inaccurate to draw the inference or the conclusion from what he stated that he made a pitch for independent international observers. He did not call for formal observers and in discussions it was clear that he fully understood our views in the matter that we have said very clearly that we do not object to diplomatic representatives or representatives of the media or visitors in an individual capacity wishing to come to the State during the elections but not to investigate or certify them. 

There was no ambiguity on this score. We pointed out that whosoever obtains visas for India is free to travel to any part of the country including Jammu and Kashmir although NGOs and other groups which may seek formal status as observers will not be permitted. This position has been clarified to all our interlocutors including the Americans.

On India-Pakistan relations it also came out clearly that Secretary Powell fully recognised the need for a permanent end to infiltration as well as the tackling of the issue of terrorist camps and dealing with the entire infrastructure of terrorism whether it be communication links, networks of terrorists groups, terrorist launching pads, funding arrangements and training establishments. 

Secondly it was clear that there would be a message, a direct message that Pakistan cannot and should not disrupt the forthcoming Jammu and Kashmir elections through violence and there was ample recognition of India’s position that what Pakistan does or does not do in the run up of the Jammu and Kashmir elections will be the litmus test of their intentions. 

We were also able to clearly convey the message and the validity of this message was recognized may I add that any
dialogue with Pakistan by India will be dependent on the policies that Pakistan pursues in regard to permanently ending infiltration and cross border terrorism and dismantling the infrastructure of terrorism and that we would also be closely monitoring Pakistan’s approach to the Jammu and Kashmir elections especially in terms of any attempts by Pakistan to disrupt the conduct of these elections and to foment violence and terrorism in the run up to the elections.

To sum up, let me say that there has been a clear effort not to allow India-US relations and dialogue to be circumscribed by India-Pakistan issues and let me also add that our two countries India and the United States have expressed a clear intention to engage in a broad based dialogue covering regional and global issues thus translating into action on the ground what was agreed to between President Bush and Prime Minister Vajpayee when they met in Washington last November. 

They stressed the renewed focus on bilateralism. Let me also say that we did not detect any false note during the visit. The atmosphere was constructive and positive. The United States clearly understood our concerns with cross border terrorism and it is our impression and understanding that they would convey these concerns clearly to Pakistan. On the key issue of infiltration and training camps and the infrastructure of terrorism and violence in the run up to the elections J&K again there was a clear understanding of our concerns and this will also be raised with Pakistan. This is our understanding.

These were some of the highlights. I can take your questions.

Question: Colin Powell in his press conference said that Kashmir is an international agenda. Do you any comments on that?

Answer: Well, there is always the effort being made by our friends in the international community to talk about the reduction of tensions and for the growth of peace and stability in areas that have seen violence and terrorism. We would see in that context. I think the Government of the United States have also made it perfectly clear that this issue as well as the other outstanding issues between India and Pakistan have to be discussed bilaterally between India and Pakistan within the framework of the understandings enshrined in the 1972 Simla Agreement.

Question: So far the consistent stand of the Government of India has been that no outside prescription. But don’t you think Secretary Powell’s comments today fall under that?

Answer: No, I don’t think so. I watched the press conference and I don’t think there was any attempt...I did not detect any attempt to be prescriptive. I am sorry, I looked very hard. But I did not see any attempt to be prescriptive. I think there is a clear focus here on the crucial issue of the agenda, the war against terrorism and the fact that we have to rid our region of terrorism and that it is only when we are rid of that evil scourge that peace and development can be consolidated. I think that was a clear message.

Question: You said that you did not detect any prescription in Secretary Powell’s comments. But he mentioned about the political prisoners…

Answer: Well, let me say that this issue was not raised in the bilateral discussion first of all. Neither was the issue of political prisoners raised during the discussion at any level. So that’s what I mean. I am looking at the whole picture here and the stress was on the elections in Jammu and Kashmir being free and fair and their being held in an atmosphere free of violence. Of course holding free and fair elections it was naturally recognized would be the responsibility of the Government of India. But the elections to be free of violence, the responsibility for ensuring that they are free of violence and terrorism is Pakistan’s.

Question: By saying that freeing of political prisoners would help ensure free and fair elections in Jammu and Kashmir don’t you think that Secretary Powell is prescribing us?

Answer: No, I don’t think so. He has expressed a certain point of view. All members of the international community are entitled to expressing their point on the given situation and specific issues. The United States is fully aware in its dialogue with India of the fact that we are a democracy, we are a vibrant democracy, that we have allowed a full play of different voices in any democratic process in this country. Let me also mention that people who act against the law, people who violate the laws of this country, people who act against the national interest of this country, the arm of the law will reach out to them and action will be taken against them and the United States just as India is a law abiding country. It fully recognizes how laws work and the fact that offenders against the law will be brought to justice.

Question: He mentioned about the political prisoners issue in his press conference. Did we seek any clarifications from him in the subsequent discussions?

Answer: Well, the discussions were wide ranging. We were able to discuss as I mentioned a whole gamut of issues and I think at the end of today’s discussions, today’s meetings the impression that both sides gave was positive, there was a constructive mood, a willingness to understand India’s legitimate concerns, our position that violence and terrorism and infiltration must end and above all let me also place this in a wider context, in a larger picture, both sides were clearly determined to expand the range and content of India-US relations, the dialogue on various issues, whether it is strategic dialogue, whether it is discussions to promote economic and commercial and business interactions, whether it is a dialogue on energy, whether it is a dialogue on counter terrorism, whether it is on military to military cooperation. So please look at the
whole picture here.

Question: Do you accept the formulation that there are political prisoners?

Answer: I would not like to stray into that area first of all. I don’t believe we recognise or accept the term political prisoners in the way you are using it, you are using it in the sense that this is a regime or this is a country that some how curbs ...

Question: (interruption) I am not using it…

Answer: NO, no. You are asking me to recognize whether there is.. I don’t think that is a fair question at all. You are referring to what Mr. Powell said in his press conference. I am saying that this issue was not at all raised in our discussions. That’s what I am saying.

Question: In spite of that do you accept his comments made in a press conference during a visit?

Answer: Well, our effort has been, our focus has been on making United States get a fully composite picture of the efforts being made to restore peace and normalcy in Jammu and Kashmir, of the great threat that we face from Pakistani aided forces and Pakistani policies to foment violence and terrorism in our region, the fact that Pakistan has aided and abetted forces within Jammu and Kashmir that have an anti-national agenda, that are on the sides of the forces of terrorism, that have indulged in activities that clearly contravene internationally accepted conventions about not accepting terrorist funds, not indulging in business or contacts with terrorist organizations. So when you talk of political prisoners you are talking of people who have attracted the adverse attention of our laws for the very reason that they have indulged in these activities against the Indian state, against the Indian people and who are complicit in
involvement in terrorism and terrorist activity.

Question: President Musharraf has said that infiltration has stopped. It is not taking place. What India is saying is baseless and I don’t have anything to do because I have done it already. What is your comment?

Answer: Well, I would not like to be un-diplomatic in my reaction to that. Let me say that it’s a terminological inexactitude and the fact is that infiltration continues, that we are concerned about spurts in infiltration over the last few weeks. We have conveyed this in our discussions with Secretary Powell and apart from that our friends in the international community also recognize the fact that infiltration has not ended.

Question: How do you assess Secretary Powell’s visit?

Answer: I told you that his visit was extremely positive and constructive and it was a very good visit.

Question: Government itself has said, some Ministers have said that all the elections in Jammu and Kashmir so far has been rigged. Now the ruling Government is saying that it
will be free and fair elections. ….

Answer: Look the focus is now on holding elections in Jammu and Kashmir. The approach of the Indian Government and the Jammu and Kashmir Government to these elections is to ensure that they are free and fair, that every effort is made to set the stage for free and fair elections, to ensure the participation of the widest possible spectrum of
opinion within Jammu and Kashmir, to create an atmosphere free of fear and intimidation so that the people of Jammu and Kashmir can come out and exercise their franchise. This is the focus. I am not going to dwell on the past. We have had a long tradition of expression of democratic choice in Jammu and Kashmir from the early 1950s onwards and if you are asking me to go into a dissection of each and every electoral campaign or election that has taken place in Jammu and Kashmir I don’t think that can the subject of my briefing today.

Question: There is a clear understanding between India and the US that India-Pakistan issue should not come between India-US relations. Don’t you think some difference on this issue could affect India-US relations?

Answer: No, and may I address all of you in the media, you tend to look at these issues through the prism of India-Pakistan relations. Let me say that India-US relations exist independently and are not circumscribed by India-Pakistan relations and that is the central message and the central focus of what we have sought convey today.

Question:Powell did not raise the issue of political prisoners publicly, are you suggesting that?

Answer: No, I am not suggesting that. He did make the statement in the press conference. But what I am saying is that the issue did not figure in the discussions between our leaders.

Question: Do you think we will raise this issue later,..

Answer: The remark on political prisoners was made in the context of the overall situation about creating an atmosphere that would be conducive for the holding of free and fair elections He expressed a certain point of view. Now countries like individuals have certain points of view. We can agree to or disagree on certain issues. That is the benchmark of maturity in a relationship. We do not agree or we may not agree with his definitions of certain factors in the Jammu and Kashmir issue. We can agree to disagree. But that does not mean that we would not conduct a mature dialogue as equals, as partners, between our two countries as two democracies.

Question: But normally visitors do not interfere in internal affairs. It could set precedence?

Answer: Well, on every occasion as we have said before we are prepared to discuss these issues on a one on one basis with the countries concerned. We will convey to them our point of view, our legitimate point of view on these issues and every effort is made to ensure and to persuade our interlocutors about the genuineness of our position on these issues and if he had raised this issue with us during the discussion there would have been very frank dialogue, there would be a very forthright approach to informing the US side about where we stood on this issue and why certain persons have attracted action under our laws because they have gone against the laws of this country, they have acted against the national interest and they have traffic with terrorist forces.

Question: Did he talk about a new formula to monitor infiltration?

Answer: No, not at all.

Question: Cross border terrorism has been the center of India-Pakistan, India-US relations. But today Colin Powell stressed that dialogue between India and Pakistan and free and fair elections in Jammu and Kashmir were two things, which will help reduce the tensions and normalize India-Pakistan relations at this point. Any comments?

Answer: We have never said or never abjured the possibility of dialogue between India and Pakistan. We have always said it is only through dialogue that we can resolve the outstanding issues between our two countries. But not in the current situation where we face the threat of cross border terrorism, when we are faced with continuing infiltration, when we face the daily threat of violence fomented, aided and assisted by Pakistan. It is necessary for Pakistan to take permanent action to end this violence and infiltration before we can consider the possibility of resuming dialogue with them.