Recent diplomatic engagement between Pakistan and India have raised hopes that there may be a real chance for better relations -- While we have seen a slew of paranoid Pakistan and China and how India is fearful - lets hear directly from an Indian official and see if there is cause for optimism and whether official India is as paranoid as a section of it's media would have us believe it is:
Text of Indian foreign secretary’s interview
Q: Foreign Secretary, let us start with Pakistan. There is a view that the resumption of dialogue with Pakistan has been more to Islamabad’s interest than Delhi. One, it has lessened the pressure on Pakistan in terms of terror; it has allowed that country to raise Kashmir; it has raised the domestic profile of the government; and it has helped internationally. What has this process done for India?
A: The process is of benefit to both countries. I do not think you can seek to create a profit and loss statement when it comes to relations between India and Pakistan in the current context. The fact is that the commitment to engagement is based on our shared geography, as Prime Minister said the other day in his conversation with the newspaper editors. And given the shared geography and the fact that there are enormous complexities in the relationship and there are problems to be resolved, it makes sense to engage, it makes sense to resume the dialogue, it makes sense to discuss the complex issues.
Q: In other words you are saying that talking to Pakistan is a necessity even if there are not immediate gains from the talks from India’s standpoint.
A: I definitely believe that this is a process that is going to take time. I think it would be impractical and unrealistic to expect dramatic breakthroughs just in one round of talks or two rounds of talks.
Q: Let me put to you what critics of this talks process say. They say that the 26/11 trial is stalled in Rawalpindi; the judge has been changed four times; you have been repeatedly asking for voice samples; you have not got them and you have no idea when you will get them; and most importantly, even the permission given by the Home Secretary in March for an investigative commission has not been taken up by the Pakistanis. So, all you have got is verbal assurances but nothing substantive and concrete.
A: The point to ponder over in this context is the approach you take to these matters. There is no doubt that on the 26/11 trial we need satisfactory closure, as I mentioned in Islamabad the other day. We need progress in the trial and we need concrete results. There is no doubt about that. And those concerns have been adequately and more than adequately communicated to the Pakistanis even in this round. And let me tell you what kind of ...
Q: Can I interrupt? You are not getting any progress. Former Home Secretary GK Pillai to Rediff.com just a couple of days ago has said that the process has not moved an inch.
A: Well, it depends on how you look at it. From one angle certainly it has not moved an inch. I am not denying that. There has been a very glacial pace to this whole process as far as the 26/11 trials are concerned. But let me tell you what kind of feedback we got from the Pakistanis at this round. And they spoke of the need to discuss all the serious and substantive issues between the two countries and that terrorism was at the forefront of this.
Q: In other words, you see a change in Pakistan’s attitude.
A: I think the prism through which they see this issue has definitely been altered.
Q: And you see that as a positive outcome.
A: I see that as an outcome that we must take note of, that we must take cognisance of.
Q: In other words this was a window of opportunity that we need to take advantage of.
A: I think when they speak of the fact that non-state elements in this relationship need to be tackled, that we must look at safe havens and sanctuaries that we must look at fake currency, we must look at all the aspects that are concerned with the business of terror, I think that is a concrete development.
Q: You are putting a positive gloss on what you heard from Islamabad when you visited recently. But let me put this to you, in May and June there was enormous evidence ...(Inaudible)... Headley ...(Inaudible)... how Rana trial ...(Inaudible)... in America which suggested conclusively ISI involvement in 26/11. He provided proof of ISI funding, of ISI training, of ISI instructions, he even named Major Iqbal as an ISI handler. Home Minister Chidambaram said that this was prima facie proof of ISI involvement. But Rehman Malik, the Pakistan Minister of Interior has gone on record to dismiss everything Headley said. He says the man is not trustworthy. So, what you are getting is not positive outcomes, it is not positive responses, you are getting denials.
A: Let me say that we should not read literal outcomes into all this. The fact is that we are engaging each other, India and Pakistan, on all issues including the 26/11 trial. And when I met my counterpart Salman Bashir in Islamabad a few days ago, these are the very issues that I raised with him.
Q: You raised with him what Headley had said.
A: I did raise that and I said we need to get satisfactory answers on these linkages.
Q: Does Salman Bashir accept what Headley said?
A: Let me tell you, the aim here, and it is not just the aim of India I think it applies to the whole global community, the strategic link between the Pakistani state and militancy and terror needs to be broken.
Q: But to begin with, does Salman Bashir accept that there is a strategic link?
A: Well, he is not going to say that in so many words to me. I think it would be unrealistic for me to expect that the Foreign Secretary of Pakistan is going to say that. But let me say that the fact that we are discussing the threat, the scourge, the evil of terrorism and the fact that it has ramifications that extend into the entire region, I think is a development we must take note of. I am not being Pollyanna, I am not trying to sound over-optimistic about this.
Q: You sound very generous towards the Pakistanis.
A: I think that is again your interpretation, Karan. That is not my interpretation and I do not believe that is the way diplomatic negotiations are transacted. I think we have to be realistic. We have to understand the difficulties in the terrain.
Q: When you raised Headley, did he accept that Headley has provided proof of ISI involvement? The former Foreign Secretary Shahryar Khan was willing to accept it when he came to India. Does the present incumbent accept that what Headley said is trustworthy or does he take the Rehman Malik line on this visit?
A: First of all I think you are approaching this from the angle as if to suggest that the only focus of my discussions with Salman Bashir in Islamabad last week was the 26/11 trial. There is a Home Secretary-Interior Secretary process which is under way. They have had a good round of talks. There are outcomes from those talks. There is follow-up actually in process at the moment. So, I did allude to all this in my discussions but we also discussed peace and security, we discussed the issue of Kashmir which has always formed a part of the dialogue, let me say that. Somehow the impression is being created that we have given away the store by discussing Kashmir. I completely refute that allegation.
Q: I totally accept that, Madam. Very happy that you are talking so openly and fully about the discussions you have had with Salman Bashir. Let me put to you what once again critics might say. They say, on the one hand there is David Headley revealing in detail the nature of the ISI involvement in 26/11, on the other hand Pakistan government investigations make no mention whatsoever of any connection between Lashkar and intelligence agencies and officers. Critical people like Sajid Mir and Muzammil Bhat, the chief Lashkar military tactician, do not even feature in the charge-sheet. And Pakistan has taken no steps to pursue the 20 fugitives wanted for their role as crew of the boat that came to Bombay. So, Pakistan is verbally very reassuring but when you look at the concrete steps that they are failing to take, the gap gets wider and wider.
A: I have said it and I say it again we do need closure on all these issues. These are issues of paramount concern to India and very legitimately so. And I think Pakistan is fully aware of this. The rounds of talks that we have had in recent months, and I refer especially to the Home Secretary level talks, have served the purpose of communicating and articulating these concerns very graphically to the Pakistanis. And the fact is that we have sustained the dialogue on these issues, while I agree with you, concrete results seem to be very far off. We have not seen anything actually happening on the Mumbai trial and that is the point of great concern to us. But let me ask you a question. Does it mean that dialogue is not an option that we should pursue with Pakistan?
Q: This is very interesting that you should bring that very question up because the point I was going to make is that as I ...(Inaudible)... , and I suspect as the audience ...(Inaudible)... , they will say to themselves that what the Foreign Secretary is really saying is that the previous position that India had taken after 2008 on 26/11 that there can be no dialogue with Pakistan until there is substantive delivery on 26/11 and terror, that position has changed. Even if the Government does not agree to it upfront, the Government has decided that now it can no longer refuse talks, it needs to engage with Pakistan in the hope that engagement will produce the result that earlier ...(Inaudible)... did not produce. Has that change taken place?
A: I think you have to look at policy-making in a dynamic situation. I do not think you are making policy in a laboratory. You take into account the surrounding environment. You take into account the success of a certain approach or not. Did that approach (of not talking) yield too many dividends? Well, you have to make your assessment of that. I think the decision to reengage with Pakistan and to talk about the issues that divide us, that create a gulf between us, to reduce the trust deficit, as the two Prime Ministers said, I think is a very realistic approach to dealing with problems with Pakistan.
Q: Absolutely! I mean ...(Inaudible)... the fact that the world changes, time moves on, and policy needs to move on as well.
A: Especially for us in South Asia.
Q: Foreign Secretary, let us come to the recent decision taken by the Nuclear Suppliers Group not to sell enrichment and reprocessing technologies to countries that have not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Would you accept that in effect this has nullified the clean waiver India got in 2008?
A: I think we are very clear about this development. There are two points that I would like to make. First of all we have consistently underlined, and this is a fact well-known to our partners, that the sanctity of the clean exemption that India was granted in the September 2008 NSG decision must be maintained, must be upheld.
Q: That is your position. But they do not share that position.
A: I am coming to it. The second point is that full bilateral civil nuclear cooperation commitments that have been entered into between India and its various partners must be taken forward. And both these points let me mention have been recognised by our chief partners in this regard – by the United States, by France, by Russia.
Q: I will come to the United States, France and Russia in a moment’s time. Let us first pick up on your point that the sanctity of the waiver must be retained and preserved. That is your position. But the NSG has introduced a new paragraph 6 in its guidelines which stipulates the criteria that recipient countries must meet before any NSG country can sell ENR technology. And the first criteria is membership of the NPT. That criteria alone disqualifies India.
A: First of all let me say that these guidelines have not been published in open text as yet. We need to study that more fully and we need to draw our conclusions from that. I am not saying that these developments are welcome. I am not in any way suggesting that this is something that we have not known and we have not fought all this time. We knew that there was a process under way and we ...
Q: And we tried very hard to prevent and we failed to prevent as well.
A: It is not a question of failure. You have look at this as a dynamic process. Let me say one thing very clearly, and I will repeat myself on this, that the international nuclear order will change in India’s favour. And I am sure of that.
Q: That is a hope. ...(Inaudible)... But let me put it like this. When India got the clean waiver in 2008, it did so on the basis of certain specific commitments it made. It agreed to put several of its nuclear facilities under international safeguards. It publicly endorsed a whole set of nonproliferation conditions. It agreed to pass a nuclear liability law. India fulfilled all its commitments but now, almost three years later, the NSG was wavering, it is diluting its waiver. Do not you think they ...(Inaudible)... ?
A: Karan, nothing is set in stone here. I think you are jumping to very hasty conclusions. As I said, this is a dynamic process. We have to study these guidelines, there is no doubt about it. But let us look at the statements that have come out of the United States, France and Russia post the NSG decision.
Q: On the point on France and Russia let me quote to you ...(Inaudible)... He was the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission when that waiver was obtained. He has gone on record to say this is a betrayal.
A: I would not use similar terminology. As a professional engaged in this process, I think the latest NSG decision is not the end of the road. It is not set in stone. Let me say that.
Q: How can you say that? You ...(Inaudible)... member of the NSG. How can you say that?
A: Definitely I am basing that on the knowledge of the situation as it exists. There is a balance of interest, there is a balance of commitments, there is mutual reciprocity involved. There are leverages that we can exert from our side also.
Q: What are the leverages we have?
A: I am not going to go into details. The whole issue of full bilateral civil nuclear cooperation, the fact that India has the potential to develop 60,000MW of electricity from nuclear energy by 2030. So, this is a dynamic process. We have an expanding nuclear industry. This is a great attraction to the rest of the world.
Q: Are you saying that India would not buy reactors from any country that refuses to sell ENR technology as well. Is that the leverage you have in mind?
A: We will defend our interests to the hilt.
Q: Let me put it like this. You have great hope that countries like France and Russia would continue to sell ENR technology to India. The truth is that at the moment you do not have agreement with either that permits the sale of ENR technology. Both countries have committed themselves to reaching a further agreement. That further agreement has not been reached in either case. Now, with the NSG changing its guidelines, there is a real danger that France and Russia will never conclude an agreement that permits sale of ENR.
A: I am not going to draw a doomsday scenario from this. As I said, this is a dynamic process. Nothing is set in stone. This is not the end of the road. And as I said, there is a balance of interest and commitments involved. There are questions of reciprocity.
Q: Is this just hope and brave talk.
A: No, certainly it is not.
Q: You are sure it is not just diplomatic bluster to use a colloquial term.
A: No. I do not believe in bluster. I believe in being diplomatic definitely, but this is neither diplomatic bluster nor non-recognition of reality.
Q: Let me tell you what people believe is your real hope. The Hindu says, between 2009 when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh went to Paris President Sarkozy made a personal pledge that Paris would not be bound by any decision of the G8 or the NSG not to sell ENR technology to India. Does that pledge still hold today?
A: I think pledges deserve to be honoured and everything we are hearing from the French, from the Americans, from the Russians would suggest that their commitment to full bilateral civil nuclear cooperation and keeping in mind, and let me say this, the clean exemption that was given to us in September 2008, will be taken forward.
Q: But that is the past. You say pledges should be honoured. Will this pledge be honoured? Have you had confirmation from Paris that they stand by their pledge?
A: I have confirmation from both the United States and from France and from Russia that they stand by the commitments made to India in this regard and that there is no dilution of these commitments.
Q: But the problem is that the commitments they made in their bilateral agreements do not include sale of ENR technology. That is something that both countries had said that they would negotiate later. And the problem is that in Paris’s case you have a pledge which we do not know whether it is reconfirmed or not, in Russia’s case, Russia has actually passed something called Decree 992 which they re-endorsed and renewed in December 2010, which does not permit sale of ENR to any country which is not an NPT signatory. So, if Russia ...(Inaudible)... Russia is being only duplicitous with us.
A: I do not believe Russia is being duplicitous. Russia is a long time strategic partner and I think the strategic interests in this relationship, the fact that this is a relationship that is rock solid, will prevail.
Q: You are confident on that?
A: I am very confident and very clear about the strengths that we have. I think people seem to think that this is the end of the road. It is not the end of the road. I think we have a tendency to proclaim defeat at every such turn. I think that is not the way. In situations such as this which are dynamic situations, nothing is set in stone. Nothing is set in stone. Interests prevail, reciprocities prevail, commitments prevail.
Q: And you are also saying that India’s strength and leverage will prevail.
Q: Foreign Secretary, a pleasure talking to you.
A: Thank you so much, Karan. *