Transcript of the interview with the minister for external affairs on
BBC World’s HARDTALK INDIA. The interview was telecast on BBC World on Friday, 17th October at 2200 IST.
Karan Thapar: In April when the Indian Prime Minister extended his hand of friendship to Pakistan there was a worldwide acclaim and a feeling that history was about to be made. Six months later when nothing much has happened there is a sense of disappointment and a belief that a turning point could have been missed. So what’s gone wrong? That’s one of the subjects that I should tackle today with my guest, the Foreign Minister of India, Yashwant Sinha.
Mr. Sinha almost six months have passed since 18th April when Prime Minister Vajpayee extended his hand of friendship to Pakistan and apart from few cosmetic changes people say not much has happened. And in fact today a question is being asked; was this a genuine gesture of friendship or was it a tactical ploy to deflect attention from international pressure to start talk or a way from previous failed policy?
Yashwant Sinha: I think it will be a grievous error of judgment to think that it was a tactical ploy. The Prime Minster of India Mr.Vajpayee was very sincere when he extended his hand of friendship and the circumstances in which that hand of friendship was extended to Pakistan on the 18th of April in Srinagar, in Jammu and Kashmir is something which is already well known.
Karan Thapar: Then can I ask you this; explain to me how on the 2nd, 6th and the 9th of April, on three separate occasions, you as foreign Minister said that Pakistan is more fitting case for pre-emptive action than Iraq?
You must be able to understand the circumstances in which this statement was made. I was asked a question
about the American action in Iraq. And in that context I said that if cross-border terrorism, if proliferation
of weapons of mass destruction, their possession, if these were the criteria, then Pakistan fulfills all those
criteria much much better than Iraq did.
Karan Thapar: You were responding to a question in the Hindustan Times interview on the 6th of April, but on the 2nd of April, four days earlier to AFP you said ‘ I think all the people in the international community realise that India has a much better case to go for preemptive action against Pakistan than US has in Iraq’; that wasn’t an answer to a question, that was a statement by you.
No, I was talking to a journalist.
Karan Thapar: What about Parliament on the 9th of April, ‘let me remove certain misunderstanding, particularly about the right to preemptive strike against Pakistan. I’m quite sure nobody in this house would disagree with me, when I say that no country deserves more than Pakistan to be tackled in this way.’
Yashwant Sinha: No, so what is the question?
Karan Thapar: In other words, clearly this is not the sentiment of a country that is extending a hand of friendship.
No these are two different things, because even after the Prime Minister extended a hand of friendship on the
18th of April he came out quite forthrightly and clearly that cross border-terrorism has to stop. So on that
there’s no change in India’s position.
Karan Thapar: Okay let me put…
(intervenes) No, but I must go back to the question that you asked, the first question.
Karan Thapar: Was it genuine or was it tactical?
No that’s not… whether it was genuine yes, and whether it was tactical. And I said it was a genuine offer
and that it will be a grievous error for anyone to think that we have not made progress. We have made a lot of
progress since April 18th. And…
Karan Thapar: (Intervenes) And as Foreign Minister you’ve exchanged high commissioners, you’ve raised the level of representation in your high commissions by seven or ten people and now you have in fact a bus plying. You haven’t even got planes and trains between the two countries. What progress have you made?
Yashwant Sinha: No the real progress Karan will come when the two countries will sit down and start talking. That will be the real progress. This is…all this process that you are talking about, is the process of normalisation of the relationship between the two countries. And the steps that we have taken are very important steps.
Karan Thapar: I very much want to talk about when the two countries will sit down and start talking. That’s the big question that no one seems to have an answer to, but go back to the reasons why people suspect that the gesture may not in fact be sincere. Three weeks before Mr. Vajpayee extended his hand of friendship, The United States state department after the Nadimarg massacre publicly called upon India and Pakistan to resume dialogue. Were you responding to that international pressure?
No there is no international pressure what ever…
Karan Thapar: None?
This is something, which we must be able to get out of our minds. I don’t know why we Indians must always
rush to this conclusion that we are always acting under some pressure or the other.
Karan Thapar: Because on the 18th of April the Prime Minister took…
No I’d like to absolutely vehemently deny it that India acts under pressure, except some spokesperson
somewhere is making a statement and you take that as acting under pressure.
Karan Thapar: Except on 18th of April when he was extending his hand of friendship…
(intervenes) The Prime Minister of India Mr. Karan Thapar does not act under any pressure.
Karan Thapar: Except on the 18th of April when he was extending his hand of friendship, on two occasions he said that events in Iraq were a warning to India and Pakistan. You may deny the pressure but the Prime Minister is acknowledging that there was pressure.
Yashwant Sinha: No so you mean to say that if our Prime Minister had not made that offer then Iraq…U.S would have intervened in India-Pakistan…
Karan Thapar: Then what does it mean that Iraq is a warning to India-Pakistan?
Because what he was telling was that India and Pakistan must sit together and resolve all the issues between
them. It was a message more to Pakistan. All right that was the meaning of what the Prime Minister said.
Karan Thapar: Let’s just assume that you are absolutely right, that the Prime Minister wasn’t then responding to international pressure…
(intervenes) No let me go back to the first question, because it is very important that I clarify that issue.
How old is the…are the issues between India and Pakistan, Jammu and Kashmir 1947,1948. And you are talking
in terms of a six-month time frame and you’re saying you’re disappointed. What we need in dealing with
Pakistan is patience. If we do not have patience, then no effort of dialogue between India and Pakistan will
Karan Thapar: Let’s come back…
Yashwant Sinha: So this is the most important thing.
Karan Thapar: Let’s come back Foreign Minister to why people believe that the hand of friendship, which they acclaimed when they extended in April in now being seen as tactical ploy. One reason is the circumstances in which it was extended. You say that in fact the Prime Minister wasn’t acting under pressure, let’s accept that. Another reason given were that the Prime Minister deflecting attention from the recognition that India had carried out a nine month long, one million strong mobilization on its borders with Pakistan, which today even the Deputy Prime Minister doesn’t deny fail to stop terror. Were you deflecting attention from your failed policies by opening a new campaign?
Yashwant Sinha: This shows very inadequate understanding of that mobilization, that mobilization took place after our parliament, the seat of our sovereignty…
Karan Thapar: And continued…
Yashwant Sinha: The seat of our democracy was attacked by terrorists.
Karan Thapar: And continued till October the next year …
…and continued till the next year. In the mean while we had the historic elections in Jammu and Kashmir and
it was a build up which was defensive, it was a build up which was supposed to send the signal to Pakistan and
I think in both we succeeded very well. In sending a signal to Pakistan, in holding free and fair election in
Jammu and Kashmir, we achieved our purpose.
Karan Thapar: But you failed to stop terror.
Yashwant Sinha: Because the mobilization, sir, was on the international border. The mobilization…there are already the troops on line of control; there was hardly any change as far the line of control is concerned.
Karan Thapar: All right Minister lets accept that…
Yashwant Sinha: It was the international border where the mobilization was unacceptable.
Karan Thapar: All right let’s accept that your gesture was genuine, it wasn’t tactical and those who are doubting are being unfair, then answer this to me. Six months have passed, if this is the genuine gesture of friendship, why haven’t substantiated talks between India and Pakistan started on the differences over Kashmir.
Yashwant Sinha: For the very simple reason that Pakistan has done nothing, nothing at all to stop cross- border terrorism. By offering that hand of friendship and giving a chance to Pakistan to come clean on cross-border terrorism, Prime Minister Vajpayee was giving Pakistan another opportunity, a third opportunity…
Karan Thapar: Except…
Which Pakistan has not done as they…
Karan Thapar: Except in May 2001’ when you invited General Musharraf to Agra and terrorism at that point was at least as bad as it is today, no such condition was applied. Why is that condition being applied now?
Because you can’t go on repeating the same thing over and over again. You know…
Karan Thapar: Can’t you?
No you can’t.
Karan Thapar: Remember what you said to the Financial Times and fairly you seem to be under the impression that in fact it wasn’t the case. You said to Financial Times in May just three weeks after the Prime Minister offered his hand of friendship that the cessation of cross-border terrorism wasn’t a pre-condition for starting talks. It was perhaps you said a condition for their successful outcome. Were you contradicting your government?
Yashwant Sinha: No I was not and that is one point that I would like to make to you is that you must give me time when you are quoting my extracts from what I’ve said earlier to explain to you. You know you just can’t jump from one question to another and leave the whole thing in a lurch. That statement was made in the context of the fact that the Prime Minister did not wait for the cross-border terrorism to stop to offer his hand of friendship. But we have clearly said, both the Prime Minister and I’ve said clearly that you…that what we need with Pakistan is not one round of dialogue, what we need with Pakistan is sustained dialogue over a period of time.
Karan Thapar: Except it hasn’t started. It shows no sign of starting.
No again, again. Let me complete. Don’t interrupt me when I’m…because it disturbs my chain of thoughts.
The sustained dialogue over a period of time cannot take place and cannot be meaningful and productive if
cross-border terrorism is going on. So what we are saying is therefore in order to make a successful outcome
of sustained dialogue, cross-border terrorism has to end. But in making his intentions clear the Prime
Minister of India did not wait for cross border terrorism to end. That is what I was telling the Financial
Karan Thapar: Except for the fact Foreign Minister that the problem with your condition is that the whole world knows that Pakistan uses cross-border terrorism as a lever to bring India to the table. Surely you can’t expect them to give it up before the talks begin.
So…I mean you’re being worse than a devil’s advocate; you are saying that poor chap! Poor Pakistanis…
you know what is the lever that they have against India except to carry on with cross-border terrorism…
Karan Thapar: (intervenes) It wasn’t your condition in May 2001’, why are you making it a condition today?
Yashwant Sinha: Because after the May 2001’ it has become worse. And it cannot be allowed to become worse.
Karan Thapar: In other words you’ve been boxed into a corner?
Yashwant Sinha: No we’ve not been boxed into a corner. We have all our options open and we’ve also…I’ve also said the Prime Minister has said and I would like to reiterate that as far as the process is concerned, we are going ahead with it, we will continue to go ahead with it. We are encouraging a lot of things, we are taking a number of steps. We’ll carry on…
Karan Thapar: This is very interesting. You say as far as the process is concerned we are going ahead, we are going to continue with it, and yet the reasons why people doubt that the gesture is genuine is not just to do with the circumstances in which it was made, not just to do with the conditions which were attached with it, its also to do with the language which you and your foreign ministry has been using. Let me give you an example. When Khursheed Kasuri, the Pakistan Foreign Minister said that he wanted to come to India to personally invite our Prime Minister for the SAARC summit, you made it very clear that he wasn’t welcome. Your spokesman actually went on to the extent of suggesting that he would be barging in. People regard that as extreme discourtesy.
Did Kasuri speak to you about coming to India?
Karan Thapar: But Kasuri made it pretty clear in the newspaper from his response.
Yashwant Sinha: (intervenes) No. Is this how diplomacy is conducted, through newspapers, through the media? If Mr. Kasuri wanted to come to India, who should he have approached or contacted? He should have got in touch with us, he should have got in touch with our high commissioner in Islamabad and said I want to come to India.
Karan Thapar: In other words just because he didn’t chose the direction correctly you’re responding in this way?
Yashwant Sinha: No, let me stop you. The statement of the spokesperson about barging in was made when they talked about sub-continent’s great tradition of hospitality and how India was violating that. It was in response to a very unwelcome statement from Pakistani side that our spokesperson responded in that manner.
Karan Thapar: The Pakistani Foreign Minister…
Yashwant Sinha: But, but let me tell you, you’re not quoting anything that the Pakistan spokesperson said.
Karan Thapar: Foreign Minister, the Pakistan foreign minister was simply following the footsteps of Mahesh Aacharya, the Nepalese Agriculture Minister who came to India for 2002 summit and Lakshman Kadirgama, the Srilankan Foreign Minister who came to India before for the 1998 summit. In other words he was doing what previous foreign minister had done.
Yashwant Sinha: No he was not doing what previous foreign ministers have done.
Karan Thapar: But they did it.
Yashwant Sinha: (continues) He was trying to be one up. There have been…
Karan Thapar: How do you know this?
Because I know because I know that in all the summits which have been held so far, twelve thirteen of them,
there have been only two or three occasions that some minister or other has travelled.
Karan Thapar: The last two?
No, not the last two.
Karan Thapar: Nepal 2002, Sri Lanka 1998?
(intervenes) And who came? Did the foreign minister of Nepal came?
Karan Thapar: Mahesh Aacharya, the Agriculture Minister
Yashwant Sinha: (intervenes) Agriculture Minister. They could have sent their Sports Minister
Karan Thapar: Lakshman Kadirgamar, the Srilankan Foreign Minister came in 1998.