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Interview of External Affairs Minister Shri Yashwant Sinha on BBC World’s HARDTALK INDIA

October 17, 2003

Transcript of Yashwant Sinha interview on BBC World's HARDTALK INDIA. The interview was telecast on BBC World on Friday, 17th October at 2200 IST.

KT: 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?
Y: 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.

KT: 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?
Y: 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.

KT: You were responding to a question in the Hindustan Times interview on the sixth 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.
Y: No, I was talking to a journalist.

KT: 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.'
Y: No, so what is the question?

KT: In other words, clearly this is not the sentiment of a country that is extending a hand of friendship.
Y: 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.

KT: Okay let me put…
Y: (intervenes) No, but I must go back to the question that you asked, the first question.

KT: Was it genuine or was it tactical?
Y: 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…

KT: (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?
Y: 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.

KT: 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?
Y: No there is no international pressure what ever…

KT: None?
Y: 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.

KT: Because on the 18th of April the Prime Minister took…
Y: 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.

KT: Except on 18th of April when he was extending his hand of friendship…
Y: (intervenes) The Prime Minister of India Mr. Karan Thapar does not act under any pressure.

KT: 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.
Y: 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…

KT: Then what does it mean that Iraq is a warning to India-Pakistan?
Y: 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.

KT: Let's just assume that you are absolutely right, that the Prime Minister wasn't then responding to international pressure…
Y: (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 succeed.

KT: Let's come back…
Y: So this is the most important thing.

KT: 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?
Y: This shows very inadequate understanding of that mobilization, that mobilization took place after our parliament, the seat of our sovereignty…

KT: And continued…
Y: The seat of our democracy was attacked by terrorists.

KT: And continued till October the next year …
Y: …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.

KT: But you failed to stop terror.
Y: 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.

KT: All right Minister lets accept that…
Y: It was the international border where the mobilization was unacceptable.

KT: 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.
Y: 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…

KT: Except…
Y: Which Pakistan has not done as they…

KT: 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?
Y: Because you can't go on repeating the same thing over and over again. You know…

KT: Can't you?
Y: No you can't.

KT: 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?
Y: 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.

KT: Except it hasn't started. It shows no sign of starting.
Y: 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 Times.

KT: 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.
Y: 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…

KT: (intervenes) It wasn't your condition in May 2001', why are you making it a condition today?
Y: Because after the May 2001' it has become worse. And it cannot be allowed to become worse.

KT: In other words you've been boxed into a corner?
Y: 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…

KT: 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.
Y: Did Kasuri speak to you about coming to India?

KT: But Kasuri made it pretty clear in the newspaper from his response…
Y: (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.

KT: In other words just because he didn't chose the direction correctly you're responding in this way?
Y: 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.

KT: The Pakistani Foreign Minister…
Y: But, but let me tell you, you're not quoting anything that the Pakistan spokesperson said.

KT: 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.
Y: No he was not doing what previous foreign ministers have done.

KT: But they did it.
Y: (continues) He was trying to be one up. There have been…

KT: How do you know this?
Y: 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.

KT: The last two?
Y: No, not the last two.

KT: Nepal 2002, Sri Lanka 1998?
Y: (intervenes) And who came? Did the foreign minister of Nepal came?

KT: Mahesh Aacharya, the Agriculture Minister
Y: (intervenes) Agriculture Minister. They could have sent their Sports Minister

KT: Lakshman Kadirgamar, the Srilankan Foreign Minister came in 1998.
Y: Why didn't they send their Sports Minister then?

KT: So you're objecting to…
Y: No I'm not objecting to anything. The only point I'm making is that if you want to visit somebody you don't invite yourself through the media. You get in touch with them directly.

KT: All right. Let's perceive that Mr. Kasuri was inviting himself as you say through media he was doing it the wrong way. But then what about this last September in New York when General Musharaf raised Kashmir at the Norwegian Prime Minister's conference on terrorism, your foreign secretary turned around and accused him of an annual Kashmir-itch and advised him to fast for a month. Now that's not the language of seeking friendship. That sounds as if you are trying to turn the man into an enemy.
Y: The problem Karan is that you are reducing the whole interview to just India-Pakistan. I'm sorry to say this but you and the rest of the media is just concentrating on just one issue and that's India-Pakistan, one. Two, the other mistake that you are making is that you're just quoting what Indian spokesperson has said without correlating it with what the Pakistanis have said. What did General Musharaf say in that conference which the Norwegian Prime Minister had called? What did General Musharraf say when he spoke…?

KT: (intervenes) General Musharraf raised Kashmir, the issue which Pakistan has always done. When you've extended your hand of friendship, when you knew that he would do this, why then respond in this way when he does?
Y: I don't understand this attitude that you have a person here who is constantly day in and day out denigrating India, abusing India and if we are saying something in response, you're blaming us; that why did you respond. Why wouldn't we respond?

KT: Because you extended the hand of friendship. You wanted to open a new chapter. Presumably you weren't expecting Pakistan to give up their platform or their position.
Y: So…of course we expected Pakistan.

KT: You expected Pakistan to give up their platform, their position. In other words…
Y: Yes.

KT: In other words…
Y: So what is all this about. If they are holding on to their position, their platform on cross-border terrorism…

KT: You're not giving your position. You are simply extending a hand of friendship.
Y: We are…in extending the hand of friendship we are saying that stop this violence, stop this cross-border terror. There can be nothing more vicious than terrorism and cross-border terrorism attack. Are you condoning that?

KT: Let me put it like this. When Mr. Vajpayee six months ago extended his hand of friendship, not only did India win worldwide praise, but people say that India has secured the moral high ground. Today because of the way you are dragging your feet, the excuses you are giving for not talking, the language that you are using, people say that you are losing that high ground, you are becoming an obstacle. The credit you gained is slipping away.
Y: I don't know how many people you talk to. I talk to a lot of people. I talk to a lot of Foreign Ministers, I talk to a lot of other foreigners. And I don't get that impression that you are trying to convey here. No, I think India's case is very well understood, India's case is very well appreciated. And the whole international community is with us in condemning terrorism and especially cross-border terrorism.

KT: What about the critics at home that point out and say that India doesn't have coherent and well thought-out policy with Pakistan. It's going around in circles.
Y: We don't accept that here clearly. We have very well thought out policy and we are acting according to that very well thought-out policy.

KT: In the last five years minister look at the things you've tried; summits, talks with militants, ceasefires on the line of control; you've kept Pakistan out of the Commonwealth quite successfully; you've replied to it in public at the U.N and you've complained to the Americans…
Y: (intervenes) No are you recommending that they should be admitted into the…

KT: But does it not look like that you are pressing every button because you don't know which will work?
Y: When you're dealing with a situation that Pakistan has created for us, you have to deal on a wide variety of fronts. It cannot be a single button policy. And in the past we have offered through all these measures that you are mentioning, enough opportunities for Pakistan to come clean…come clean on what? On change of mindset. There must be a change here. They must realize that they have to, as we realize, that they have to live with India, that we are neighbours, we have to live in peace and amity. This is the change that must come about. It was not Prime Minister Vajpayee who raised the issue of Pakistan in the general assembly, it was General Musharraf.

KT: But you're saying something very interesting. You're saying that for the talks to proceed, Pakistani mindsets have to change. There is no need of any change on the Indian side.
Y: No, Indian mindset is already in the right…

KT: You said a moment ago that Pakistan has to give up its platform and position.
Y: Platform or position with regard to cross-border terrorism as an instrument of state policy. That was the point which I was making.

KT: And you're quite happy with the way the relationship is going. You actually genuinely believe that the peace process is making headway, its not mired in quicksand.
Y: It is not mired in quicksand. We are making progress, the progress will have to be slow, the progress will have to be calibrated, the progress in dealing with that, we'll have to be patient…

KT: Okay.
Y: And you cannot solve the problem of five decades in five minutes.

KT: Then let's…
Y: If anyone expects to do that, I'll say please change your mindset.

KT: In which case let's leave aside the India-Pakistan relationship…
Y: (Intervenes) Thank God!

KT: That's stuffed where it is. But there is one relationship that is flourishing. Perhaps your relationship with America is better than it's ever been before. The opposition however turned around and say that you've made India a vassal state.
Y: So there you are. What you're saying is yourself that our relationship with the U.S is best today and…

KT: (Intervenes) But the opposition says that its only because you've made India a vassal state. How do you answer that?
Y: No, it's not true, it's not correct.

KT: Isn't that…
Y: You know this is what I'm saying, when you said that you are acting under pressure. It's this Indian…I don't know why we have this complex…all Indians, that we are either a vassal state or we're acting under pressure. We are a proud nation of one billion people… We're the largest democracy of the world…

KT: (Intervenes) Except for the fact…
Y: We are an economic power. Why can't we face the world with the kind of confidence we should have?

KT: Except for the fact Foreign Minister that today within 24 hours of 9/11 your predecessor Jaswant Singh offered the Americans in public military bases, arms and equipments to fight the Taliban regime. And four months earlier India became perhaps the first country in the world to support America's controversial National Missile Defense Plan. Two major departures from India's traditional foreign policy.
Y: Of?

KT: Of non-alignment, of not offering bases, of not stationing American troops on Indian soil.
Y: No this is something that I have gone on record already in parliament to say that we must shed this baggage of anti- Americanism. We have entered a new phase in our relationship. We have differences even today. But we are not allowing those differences to overwhelm us.

KT: In which case then can you accept that today America is India's principle interlocutor vis-à-vis Pakistan and in fact it is playing the role of facilitator.
Y: No this is a loaded question and I'll say it's not true.

KT: It's not true? America is not India's interlocutor?
Y: On Pakistan you said?

KT: Yes
Y: No.

KT: It is not playing the role of facilitator?
Y: No it is not.

KT: Then let me quote to you what Mr. Advani said to an India audience in Washington this June. He said to them that he had told President Bush, and I'm talking about June 2003', It's responsibility to make the peace initiative of our Prime Minister meaningful and President Bush has assured me that he would do so'. Advani saab clearly thinks that America is an interlocutor.
Y: This is what I told the foreign minister of Eritrea. What does that mean? It means any one…

KT: (intervenes) No I'm not quoting you. I'm quoting the Deputy Prime Minister.
Y: I know but what I'm trying to tell you is that there is a global war against terrorism. And in this global war of terrorism we are all united, with United States, with others. Now as far as cross-border terrorism is concerned we have to explain our case to President Bush as we have to explain our case to every one else. And in explaining that we have to say that they not merely have to understand what Pakistan's up to, they also have to ensure…

KT: Foreign Minister what you are saying flies in the face of facts: Kargil 1999, the summer of 2002, even last month at lunch with President Bush, when President Bush was asked to tell General Musharraf to stop cross-border terrorism, those are all clear indications that America is playing a role in keeping the peace between Delhi and Islamabad.
Y: I was talking to the Canadian Foreign Minister a little while ago and India- Pakistan came up, and I made exactly the same point that Pakistan has to stop cross- border terrorism. And anyone who wields any influence with Pakistan has to use that influence to make them desist from cross-border terrorism.

KT: Think about how often you want to claim in public how close you are to America, think about how often you publicize the fact that President Bush drops in on meetings that L.K Advani and Brijesh Mishra are having with Condoleeza Rice, or that Mr. Vajpayee is the only one invited for lunch with President Bush in New York. You want to be seem to be close and yet you won't admit that you need them as interlocutors, and that you are successfully using them.
Y: No you are always using the wrong phrase all the time. We don't need any interlocutors as far as Pakistan is concerned.

KT: You are using them as interlocutors, very successfully as well.
Y: No we are only that part of India- Pakistan relationship which is…which consists of cross-border terrorism.

KT: (intervenes) Absolutely. On the subject of cross-border terrorism the services of the American government, their good offices are being used.
Y: Their good offices are not being used. This is a global war against terrorism, where any good offices which are available to India will be used.

KT: Absolutely. But the good offices that are most often used are those of Washington.
Y: No, why aren't you talking about what conversations we've had with Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac? No because you are not interested, because…

KT: (intervenes) because the man who matters the most is President Bush.
Y: No, because you are hitched on the US.

KT: The amazing thing is that in fact the people who admire your policy give you credit for having dropped the traditional Indian antipathy to America, for having made America a facilitator. If you don't want to accept that credit…have you not got the courage or conviction to do that…
Y: (Intervenes) No, it's not the question of courage and conviction. We have clearly said that whatever dialogue will take place between India and Pakistan will be a bilateral dialogue between India and Pakistan, that there is no place for a third person on that table, that's all. Now you are…what the confusion, let me tell you, the confusion in your mind is that you are involving the U.S in cross-border terrorism which is not the totality of our…

KT: I'm not involving the U.S. You are the one who is approaching them to put pressure on General Musharraf.
Y: Because there is an alliance, a global alliance.

KT: (intervenes) So you are using it?
Y: (continues) A global alliance against terrorism and that's what I meant to tell you, that just as we are talking to Americans, we're talking to a whole lot of other people and telling them that they must tell Pakistan if they are interested and they are partners in global war against terrorism to stop this cross-border terrorism.

KT: It seems to me that you're doing it but you feel a reluctance to admit it. Why?
Y: No, no. Because you are putting it the wrong way. You are trying to convey something which is entirely wrong if I were to answer your question.

KT: In other words you are reading meanings into an innocent question and responding to that.
Y: It's not an innocent question Mr. Thapar, that's the point I'm making.

KT: You think that to be seen as a close friend of America would be a trap?
Y: It's a loaded question and you're trying to trap me and I refuse to be trapped.

KT: Foreign Minister I'm afraid, so there we must leave it. Thank you very much for speaking to HARDtalk India.
Y: Thank you.

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