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Excerpts from EAM's interview with Strait Times, 8 September 2019 in Singapore

September 08, 2019

Q: With reference to Jammu and Kashmir issue, how would you describe the state of India's current relations with Pakistan?

There are two different issues here. There is the Jammu and Kashmir issue, there is the relationship with Pakistan. The two are not the same. Many of the changes we have made recently with respect to Jammu and Kashmir are our internal affair. They are not an affair that concern Pakistan. They pertain to the Constitution of India, they were made with the approval of Parliament, these were driven by concerns of better governance and speedier development.

EAM: A lot of the changes that have taken place in India are not visible in Jammu and Kashmir. There is a simple smell test. Spend some time there, and you can clearly see that a lot of energy and activity that is present in India is not present in Jammu and Kashmir. It doesn't take a genius to figure out there is something not okay. And if something is not okay, a responsible government will try and fix it.

Somewhere in this, the Pakistan element comes in. Pakistan has for many years taken advantage of the lack of development in Jammu and Kashmir to advance its agenda of terrorism... The government of India has played the development card. To Pakistan, the development is a threat to the legitimisation of terrorism, they need grievances out there. They have a deep interest in perpetuating, if not aggravating, the situation.The choices are pretty stark for government in India. Either we do more of the same. Or we do something very different.

Q: So Pakistan will raise this issue? They seem to be lobbying quite hard on the international front...EAM : Look, Pakistan has built an entire industry called terrorism which is centred around this issue. Of course they will not let go easily. They made years of investment into... sort of... companies whose main product is terrorism.

Q: How does that spin out? You have Pakistan on a certain trajectory, India on another. What is a happy conclusion for India and how does it come about?

EAM:Right now, we are in an early transition phase, there is a progressive move towards normalisation, that would reflect the ground conditions. Then you would see the government active in increasing investments, spurring economic activity and job opportunities.

We should expect Pakistan to resist all of this, to make noise and that is what they do. Obviously they cannot say this denies me the opportunity to practice my terrorism but that is really what they mean. So there will be a very dissatisfied Pakistan, there is no doubt about it. But I have to look to the interests of the people of Jammu & Kashmir, not to interests of the terrorists of Pakistan.

Q: What kind of indications do you have that the people of Jammu & Kashmir are with the government policy?EAM:If my intention is to provide more development, more jobs, more development, why would your interests be opposed to it?

Q: That is a logical question. But is it for emotional issues or historical reasons?

EAM:There are also intimidation issues. You had a lot of local people.. a senior local police official who was lynched, a local military person who was abducted and killed while on a holiday, a local journalist who was shot dead. This is not emotion. This is intimidation.

Q: Will the development incentives be enough to win over the local population?

EAM:It is in our interest that the people see a better a future, believe that there is a government which is working in that direction. We know what will not work and that is the arrangement of the last 70 years. We have put in place something that we hope will work. I think there is reasonable ground for that hope.I would pose a counter-question. Do you think what was happening before... was offering the hope for peace, prosperity and progress in Jammu and Kashmir?

Here is a government which is willing to do different things. It is fair in a parliamentary democracy if that is the decision of the government of the day. It is a well considered decision, which involves much broader support than just the ruling party.

Q: I understand the development argument. But there were protests in Jammu and Kashmir in the aftermath of the decision. And it does seem the government was concerned about protests, that is why the Internet was cut off. Was there concern that the people of Jammu and Kashmir are not swayed by the development argument?

EAM:If for many, many years you have a climate of intimidation and terrorism, then who do you think will express themselves better - the reasonable, moderate people who are expecting a better future or the deep vested interests, people who are not afraid to commit murder and mayhem in advance of their agenda?The reason why precautions are taken today is because the facilities of modern life are susceptible to misuse. This is not unique to India.And in this case, we have the deep vested interest of the neighbouring country which has the record of doing all that.

Q: On Indo-Pacific, there seem to be some disagreements, there does not seem to be a cohesive definition, which is why Asean seems to have felt reluctant to embrace the concept. What is India's definition of Indo-Pacific?

EAM:When any new concept comes on the stage, naturally people will have their own views, debates. I'm not surprised. It's not a bad thing. All the countries who have interests in Indo-Pacific should discuss it among themselves. They should find areas of overlap.

It has never been the Indian position that we need one defining narrative to which everyone subscribes. That is not the Indian way. We are quite comfortable with multiple narratives that converge on this matter.When we talk of the Indo-Pacific, for us centrality of Asean is very much part of the vision. That is an important concern for Asean nations that we meet. This is an ongoing debate, we hope more parties approach it in a constructive manner. I've had discussions on it with many countries including China and Russia.Quite honestly, because one country has a strong view that should not be a reason for another country to reject it. Everybody should have their view. I don't think there is a determining view.

Q: Is China part of India's Indo-Pacific construct?

EAM: Yes. For us, it's partly a description of a landscape. It is an acknowledgement of the reality that today you cannot artificially segment the Indian Ocean from the Pacific Ocean. It's a very inclusive view of the strategic landscape.

Q: Does this expression of Indo-Pacific policy make India more aligned with the US expression? Where is it as part of India's priorities, is there criticism that India perhaps overplaying its hand?

EAM: The most detailed expression of this was laid out by PM Modi in his speech at the Shangri- La Dialogue last year.

But here's the point: I have laid out my viewpoint. Whether someone agrees with me, disagrees or how much they agree with me that's their prerogative. But because somebody agrees with me does not make it their initiative and should not prejudice an assessment of my position.My position is my position. Because the US agrees with me does not make my position less my position. I'm aligned most of all with myself.

Q: Does India see an opportunity as the United States and China appear to want to decouple their economies amid a trade war?

EAM:Any company looking for locations would find India more attractive in 2019 than, say, 2009. We are making it easier to do business because we want more investments to come in, we're not saying we want more investments to relocate out of China. If somebody makes that call, it's theirs.

Q: What is your response to media reports that Kashmir is emerging as a bone of contention in India-China relations, after India bifurcated the state and created a federally-governed territory in Ladakh which includes areas that China also claims?

EAM: India-China relations are substantial and complex, we do business together, there are international issues on which we work together and also issues where we don't agree, there is a boundary dispute. Reducing it to a single issue or to give it a dramatic prognosis, I think a newspaper can do it, I don't think a serious foreign policy analyst can do it.

Q: Is Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to visit India next month (Oct)?

EAM: We don't comment on visits which may or may not take place.

Q: Is there a possibility of India participating in China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)?

EAM: We have issues with China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (a BRI project) especially with parts which lie in neither China nor Pakistan but in India. It goes through an illegally-occupied part of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. This has been done without consent of India. As far as we are concerned clearly violates our sovereignty. The question I ask people is what would you do if your sovereignty was violated?

Q: Will India allow Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei to participate in the country's future 5G network plan, amid fears raised by the Trump Administration that the company presents a national security threat?

EAM: This is not a Huawei answer... it is an answer with respect to any other company, there are multiple players in this. We look at it as a telecoms issue, not a foreign policy issue. The telecoms department has their own processes of evaluation. At some stage, trials will take place. We have not entered that tunnel.. I cannot answer what will be the light at the end of that tunnel.

Q: This morning we woke to the news of the failure of India's attempt to land an unmanned craft on the moon

EAM: The fact that they came that close was really creditable. Sometimes, not everything goes 100 per cent right. The sense of the country today is that we admire these guys for getting it to where they did and where we are very confident that they will do it successfully the next time around.

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