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Transcript of External Affairs Minister's interview to NDTV 24X7

November 23, 2012

Interviewer (Ms. Nidhi Razdan): Joining us now is India’s Foreign Minister Mr. Salman Khurshid who has already had a rather interesting tenure in the less than one month that he has been at his new job.

Mr. Khurshid, thank you for joining us today. Like I said, you have only been at this new job for less than a month now. Do you feel it is a refreshing change from what you were doing? We are already seeing you generally wear more suits and ties than kurtas although today is an exception.

External Affairs Minister (Shri Salman Khurshid): I am trying to give a clear message that I am not breaking off from my other engagements. Of course, in sartorial terms you have to sometimes make adjustments, which I do. But more than that I think you have to make adjustments in attitudes and give up some preoccupations because this is a job with which you have to be extremely careful. You cannot afford to make mistakes. You do not make mistakes easily but even then you just have to be extremely careful that do not make mistakes because so much turns on what you are doing. So, yes, it is different, and it is exciting, and it is certainly very challenging. Now we will have to see how one does.

Interviewer: You have already faced some challenges. There are interesting and challenging things happening in the neighbourhood. I will start with Pakistan first because Kasab’s hanging just happened a few days ago. What is your assessment of the reaction to his hanging in Pakistan both officially and even in the media where everything seems to have been generally quite understated?

External Affairs Minister: I think that as far as Pakistan is concerned, there seems to be a reasonably acceptable level in terms of the response that we have had, and some signals have been I think particularly satisfying. It could not have been easy for them. And I am sure many many things that we expect of them are not easy looking at their ground conditions and the complicated politics that they have in their country. We certainly understand it. But at the same time we expect that they understand our compulsions and they understand our aspirations and our obligations. I think it is that balance between us that is called for and necessary and that is the balance that can allow us to move forward, mend the relationship whenever it has been damaged because of acts either of state actors or non-state actors, and then look at the positive side where we can, as we must, grow towards a more meaningful relationship.

Interviewer: I will come to that a little later in more detail. But there was also this rather contradictory sort of statements from both sides about whether Pakistan accepted the letter about Kasab’s execution. You said on record, the Government said, Mr. Shinde also said, that when we sent them the letter first in person with the Deputy High Commissioner they rejected it. Rehman Malik, the Interior Minister of Pakistan, has denied very categorically. He said that no we always accepted it. Who do we believe where both are saying opposite things?

External Affairs Minister: I think that was in process communication that we were offering to you as the media to keep you posted and informed about what the situation was at that time. It was important for us to underscore that as a country that believes in rule of law and the commitment that we have including human rights, it was important that the family of the person be informed and certainly the country, which is what we did. I think to go now into greater detail of whether they accepted, or was there an indirect way in which they discovered or the fact that we faxed that …

Interviewer: But you stand by what you said on day one that they did not accept the initial letter.

External Affairs Minister: I do not want to get into an argument on that but I think we did what was the best and possible. We do not go back on what we said that day. The important thing is that the communication was complete. They knew what was going to happen and the consequences. Our concern that the family be informed, and that could only be informed by authorities in Pakistan, to the extent that we could indicate this we had done so.

Interviewer: Okay. So you are not going back on those words. But why do you think then they contradicted that? What would the possible logic be?

External Affairs Minister: If you read all their statements, I think by and large there is adequate convergence between what we are saying and what they are saying. But this is not an issue on which we should stand on ceremony and on any kind of rigid ego positions. The substance of it is that they were informed. They have accepted that they were informed. And I expect that they thereafter have done what was necessary for them to do which was to inform the family. We also had an address where it was indicated to us that the family would be available and we couriered to that address the information that we felt should be shared with them.

Interviewer: Has anyone claimed Kasab’s body? He has been buried there in Pune in Yerawada Jail. But has anyone come forward at all from the government, from his family, anybody?

External Affairs Minister: Not to my knowledge. And I would imagine that this is consistent with the position that was taken for those people who suffered fatal casualty during the operation. They were also buried in unmarked graves in our country because there were no takers for them. I assume that since it was the same group and the same operation, one would have thought that they would consistently do whatever they had done in the past. We have not had any other contrary information. Certainly we have had no signals whatsoever from any source seeking his body or his remains.

Interviewer: But if his family does seek his body, or Ansar Burney - who is a well-known human rights activist in Pakistan who said he is willing to take the body from India – would we be willing to consider that?

External Affairs Minister: This is a matter that will have to be considered on merits, if such a request was formally made. I request made by family or on behalf of a country of the citizen is one thing. But a request by any well-meaning third party is quite another. As I said, if there is a formal request, I am sure the authorities concerned would examine it as rationally and objectively as possible.

Interviewer: There has also been a threat from the Pakistani Taliban in the last 24 hours saying that if Kasab’s body is not handed over, then they will target more targets in India. How seriously are you taking that threat?

External Affairs Minister: I think any form of terrorism should not cause you undue anxiety but you have to be careful. You cannot be dismissive. We have had very unpleasant experiences in the past. So, we cannot be dismissive and that is the reason why we requested the Government of Pakistan to provide adequate security. And we would continue to do so as and when we feel that that is in the coming days or months found necessary according to our analysis. We would continue to make that request …

Interviewer: So, you take that threat seriously. You have to, I guess.

External Affairs Minister: I think one should not take chances. As I said, we have seen some extremely unpleasant things happen in the past. So, one should not take chances. But this is responsibility of the Government of Pakistan. It is a law and order issue for them. It is a security issue for them as well. And I hope that they will take it seriously.

Interviewer: The families of the victims of Mumbai and many others have commented in the last few days that Kasab’s hanging does not really close the matter here, and I certainly think the Government would not think that either because the masterminds are still roaming free in Pakistan. On the question of Hafiz Saeed, do you think we have hit a dead end with Pakistan on even being able to detain him? There seems to be a sense that it has just become frustrating to deal with them on this and it is not going anywhere.

External Affairs Minister: No, we are not giving up and we have not given up. I think it would be unfair on many people in this country and on ourselves if we did give up. I think that there are some intractable issues on which you cannot expect immediate relief, response and reaction that you desire and you aspire to. But still you have to continue, you have to continue your struggle, and you have to continue striving. And we will continue to do so because it is not just about something that has happened in the past which was extremely hurtful and tragic, but it is also in a sense unraveling systems that can be put in operation against us in the future. And unless we know the entire story and we are able to make people accountable for what they did, there would remain a big question mark about our security, safety of our citizens in the future. I think that is why it is important in both dimensions that we get to what we believe is the logical conclusion.

Interviewer: So, you are saying you will not give up on that.I do not want to use the word precondition, but is it now fairly clear that the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Pakistan is linked to 26/11 and concrete progress on that?External Affairs Minister: I would not say that but at the same time I cannot say that it is irrelevant. Whatever is in totality different dimensions of our relationship with Pakistan and whatever is linked with our relationship with Pakistan will obviously every time we take a call has to be factored in. What the impact of each of those things will be at any given time in an evolving situation, will have to be decided at that particular moment. But our strategic, safety concerns and obviously accountability for what happened in Mumbai is not the only factor. There are other factors that you look at as well. It is a totality of those factors that makes you take a decision.Interviewer: Is the Prime Ministerial visit looking, therefore, highly unlikely?

External Affairs Minister: I am not prepared to venture a guess on this. When the Prime Minister feels that he is ready to take a call he will probably ask us to provide analysis, inputs and suggestions, and then he will take a call. I do not think we should anticipate one way or the other, and we should leave it to the Prime Minister to take the call when he feels it is appropriate.

Interviewer: But is it a smaller window now? There are elections coming up in Pakistan.

External Affairs Minister: Yes, I think the window is closing in because of elections in Pakistan. And then our own elections will not be too far away once the elections in Pakistan are over. There are a lot of other things that are happening between now and then. Of course the window is a very small window but sometimes you can fly through a small window and sometimes there is a very large window and you still cannot go through. So, as I said, I do not want to be more specific than this.

Interviewer: Very diplomatic answer I must say, Mr. Khurshid. Let me turn my attention to China now with whom we have a rather complicated relationship. There has been a leadership transition that is going on there. And from time to time these irritants crop up between India and China. Today, as we have reported as well, a new row that has broken out over two Chinese passports that have been issued where they are stamping a map of China that includes Arunachal as part of China, Aksai Chin as part of China. The Indians have sort of given them back in kind, as one official told me, by stamping the Indian version of the map on visas that are given to Chinese nationals. What can you tell us about this latest map row?

External Affairs Minister: You know that sometimes you disagree and sometimes you agree to disagree. We have issues with China, everyone knows that. And we have a history with China and everybody can recall that history. But we as a nation, and this is not just successive governments but I think as a nation, have opted I believe for an enlightened view of a relationship between India and China as being imperative, as being desirable, and as being useful for both sides, mutually beneficial for both countries. I think both countries have come to this conclusion. But the fact that we have come to this conclusion does not mean that problems that have existed have disappeared. We have put in place resolution methods as well, conflict resolution methods and solving the issues that cause the problem in the first place. And that is quietly and discreetly moving forward. Inching forward maybe, but definitely moving forward. Now there is a new generation of leadership in China. The signals we have had from them, the limited signals we have had from them, are encouraging, are positive, are good. Our response is, as it should be, that prima facie we should trust them, we should welcome them, and we should put forward our best foot.

Interviewer: But yet these things will happen that they will continue to draw maps showing Arunachal as their own.

External Affairs Minister: And we will continue to say what we say. Why should we get …

Interviewer: Is this an agree-to-disagree situation? What do you think it is?External Affairs Minister: We never sat down and talked about how much we can disagree. But some things are implicit and some things are explicit. Some things you get accustomed to because the other side is doing it for a while, some things they get accustomed to because you are doing it for a while. And you do not every time sit down and take a tally of where you disagree and where you agree. But I think …

Interviewer: So, you are not planning to lodge a protest diplomatically over this issue. It is not just India that is concerned with this new Chinese map. They have claimed the entire South China Sea as their own. Vietnam and the Philippines have officially lodged a protest with the Embassies in Beijing. So, are we planning to do anything?

External Affairs Minister: Every country has its own style, and I think every country takes a call according to the circumstances as they exist at that given time. You know that we have participated in many different fora where freedom of navigation for the South China Sea is something that has been emphasized over and over again. There are different resolution methodologies that are being proposed by China. Largely they want to do it bilaterally with the countries involved. We have accepted much more of a multilateral approach. But …

Interviewer: But on the specific issue of maps, are you saying in other words that this is something in a sense we have gotten used to over the years –you are right it is not the first time that the Chinese have come up with the map that shows Arunachal and Aksai Chin as their own – and, therefore, we have learned how to deal with it our own way?

External Affairs Minister: It is familiar. It is familiar, and in that sense you might say that one gets accustomed to it, but not by accepting it. We are not prepared to accept it and we would not. We, therefore, ensure that our flags of disagreement are put up immediately when something happens. Now you can do that in an agreeable way and you can do it in a disagreeable way. We think that nothing calls for us to be disagreeable. I think that what is being done is only one of the many things that we share and that we come across in our relationship with China. So, you do not want to let anything hold the rest of the relationship hostage unless it becomes something that at that given moment in the circumstances that exist becomes a very significant matter on which you then have to take a firmer opinion.

Interviewer: Since we are on the issue of the South China Sea, we have seen China far more aggressive with so many other countries and in the kind of conflicts that it has with the Philippines, with Vietnam, with Japan, what does India make of this highly aggressive China?

External Affairs Minister: We have noted it. It is aggressive in the sense that it is a pushy and a firm position they have taken, but they do that also with Japan where they do it with Japan over the islands, etc., but that is their style. We have a different style. All the countries involved in the region, each one of them, have a different style. I think it is all the styles put together that give you a sense of how Asia thinks and how Asia feels. I do not think that this should be seen as something to be unduly alarmed about. But that it is something on which we would wish to express our concern and would be concerned is certainly very clear. But I do not think these are alarm bell issues.

Interviewer: But issues of concern.

External Affairs Minister: But they are issues of concern and that concern has been consistently expressed. We do find the occasional opportunity and appropriate opportunity to show our concern and to share it with the other countries as well. I think that we should not rush into a very optimistic or a very pessimistic view of the final outcome as and when it happens.

Interviewer: I would just ask you, Mr. Khurshid, to wear your political hat for a few moments. There are lots of big political developments happening in the last few days. First let me ask you on today’s issue. There is a huge row over the 2G report and the CAG’s role with a former official in the CAG who was responsible for drafting the 2G report basically saying that he was forced to sign off on it, he did not agree with the final number, also accusing the BJP’s Murli Manohar Joshi, the Chairman of the PAC, of contacting CAG officials and trying to influence them on the 2G report. The BJP has called it a government’s conspiracy today. And they have asked serious questions about why Mr. Singh, the CAG official, suddenly appeared after one year and made these comments in the media when there were reports about his reservations even a year ago. Why did he give these interviews now? What would you say to them?

External Affairs Minister: I would ask the same question. I wish he had said it earlier. Why is he saying it now? And I would ask that question of the media why are you carrying these statements now, why could not you get the statement earlier. I do not think that it is fair for anyone of us to dissect the CAG. I know that some of my colleagues in Parliament may be doing so. But they perhaps have greater freedom than I have as a Minister. We do respect Constitutional authorities. Therefore, for us to dissect the CAG and actually look at and put them through a scanner to see what exactly was the difference of opinion between one official or another official, I think is not fair. You just take whatever is coming at face value, factor that into the preconceived notions and positions that people have had all these months, and then come to a conclusion.

Interviewer: But do you think that R.P. Singh’s statement discredits the CAG’s reports across the board, not just the 2G report?

External Affairs Minister: I do not want to use the word discredit at all. I am going to say it contradicts. Now, every time you have two positions, there is a thesis and there is an antithesis, then you have to find a synthesis. And when you contradiction on facts or you have contradiction on interpretations and on opinions, you have to choose. Frankly in our system when such a thing happens, with or without it happening, who is supposed to interpret and who is supposed to put a final stamp on it, accept or reject it? It is Parliament. So why do not we just allow Parliament to do this? If Parliament will not be permitted to decide an opinion of the CAG is to be accepted or not accepted, is to be treated as correct or not to be treated as correct, does it require modification, does it require moderation, if Parliament is not to be allowed to do this, then who else can do it?

Interviewer: But there has been this collision course between the Government and Vinod Rai the CAG for some time now. What do you think could have motivated Vinod Rai to put pressure on someone like R.P. Singh, as he alleges, to sign off on this report or to have this inflated figure of 1.76 lakh crore as the government claims.

External Affairs Minister: You cannot attribute anything or imagine anything that happens within an organization. You can only go by the product of that organization, what they finally produce. What are the internal mechanics and how the internal chemistry of how things happen and work, etc., really is not for people on the outside to assume or to …

Interviewer: I am asking whether you feel that Vinod Rai has been politically motivated to do this because it has been suggested by people in the Congress.

External Affairs Minister: You can disagree, you can disagree with the CAG on what the CAG says, without attributing motives. The trouble we have now in our country is that if we disagree, we have to attribute motives. I believe that you can disagree without attributing motives. Just as I said ...

Interviewer: So, you are not attributing a political motive to him.

External Affairs Minister: No, I am not attributing any motive, forget about political motive. I think in this country we have to learn to disagree without questioning a person’s integrity and motive. This is true about the CAG just as much as it is true about us, or for that matter any other Constitutional authority. It is true about judges, it is true about investigative agencies, it is true about the police, it is true about Parliament. You can question and disagree, but to question and disagree should not automatically be seen as a politically motivated or a narrowly motivated attack on the person with whom you disagree. Equally, the person who takes a position that you disagree with should not immediately be painted with a brush of motive simply because you disagree with him. Is it not possible in a democracy to disagree? That is why we have an opposition in a democracy. You cannot say that every time you are in opposition you are dishonest and when you are in government you are honest, just as you cannot say simply because you were elected into government you must be honest. That is the kind of conversation in this country and discourse in this country that will destroy us and destroy our democracy if we do not learn to respect each other.

Interviewer: You are also facing a big political challenge on the FDI issue. There is a sense we are getting today that the government may actually be ready for a vote and that everything will depend of course on how the resolution is finally worded. Is that a correct assessment?

External Affairs Minister: I know that my colleagues are working on it, I know that the Parliamentary Affairs Minister and the Commerce Minister have been working overtime to reach out to people, persuade them, take their genuine concerns on board, and certainly persuade them not to stand on their ego about concerns that are not as serious as could be.

Interviewer: But you are ready for a vote.

External Affairs Minister: I do not know. I think this is something which you will see only when we get on to the floor of the House and give you our decision.

Interviewer: But not ruled out then.

External Affairs Minister: When you go into Parliament you do not rule out anything. But you go into Parliament hoping for the best outcome for yourself. What is the best outcome in the circumstances that prevail today is something that my colleagues are better informed upon. And I am not going to make their job more difficult by suggesting that the best option is or the best outcome is the one that I have thought of.

Interviewer: One final question, Mr. Khurshid, and this is on Rahul Gandhi. When he was appointed head of that election panel for the next election you said that now we know who our leader is, he is our commander. Is that a hint that he is also going to be the face of the party in the next General Election to lead the country?

External Affairs Minister: But he is the face of the party. In fact I do not even know why these questions are asked. He is the face of the party but he is not the only face. Mrs. Gandhi and the Prime Minister are also faces of the party.

Interviewer: I am asking whether he is going to be projected as Prime Minister. Is this one step towards that?

External Affairs Minister: The most important thing about what Mr. Rahul Gandhi will do is what Mr. Rahul Gandhi will do. It will be his decision and I can assure even now very clearly and categorically, this must be his decision. He is very clear in his mind how he wants to move forward. I think that it is important that we respect him for being very rational, very objective and very careful about step-by-step forward movement taking the party along.

Interviewer: But you have already declared him your commander. So, he is the leader.

External Affairs Minister: He is a commander. There can be not one, two, three, four commanders. There is also a commander-in-chief. I said he is a commander. And sometimes the field commander is more important for you and the commander-in-chief sitting somewhere else is not that important for you because you as a soldier are actually taking commands directly from your field commander. So, in that sense he is a commander. We are moving with him. The army will be listening to him, hearing him, taking commands from him, but he is part of the overall command which includes the Prime Minister and …

Interviewer: So, you are not willing to say whether he is going to be commander-in-chief yet, too early to say.

External Affairs Minister: If I have said that he is commander, then when will he be commander-in-chief or would he like to be more than a commander or a special commander, we would like to hear from the commander himself. I think soldiers must not speak for the commander but speak when asked to speak by the commander.

Interviewer: Alright. Mr. Khurshid, it was a pleasure talking to you. Thank you very much for joining us.

External Affairs Minister: Thank you very much.


New Delhi
November 23, 2012

To see the video of this interview please visit the following link:
Interview of External Affairs Minister Shri Salman Khurshid to NDTV 24X7

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