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May 11, 1999


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The Rediff Interview/ Jaswant Singh

'India is neither in the first, second or third world, India is a world in its own right'

Jaswant Singh is a man of many parts. A former major in the army cavalry corps and Caretaker Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's right-hand man, he is today considered an expert on security issues and has authored books on the subject.

Singh was Vajpayee's first choice to be the finance minister (a post he held in the 13-day government of the BJP in 1996). That move, however, did not fructify. He returned to the limelight when Vajpayee handpicked him to hold talks with United States Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott in the aftermath of the nuclear tests last year. Later, he was appointed external affairs minister.

The best word to describe Singh's accent is pucca. In his resplendent office at South Block, New Delhi, he keeps a stiff upper lip and a stiff schedule even as a general election looms four months away. On Saturday, the day Amberish K Diwanji met him, the ministry was agog with reports that a NATO missile had hit the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. Despite such pressing matters, Singh spared time for an exclusive chat, even as India prepared to observe the first anniversary of its nuclear tests.

It will be one year since India conducted its nuclear tests. How has the situation changed over the past year?

It has caused fundamental transformations. There is first of all a much understanding of India's position and a much greater appreciation of India as a factor in the international community. I don't speak simply in power equation terms. From the tests of Shakti -- the nuclear tests carried out on May 11 and 13, 1998 -- up to the Agni II -- the intermediate range ballistic missile -- India has acquired for itself greater and more enhanced strategic space and, without a doubt, greater consequential strategic autonomy.

That there is recognition of this new reality is borne out by the objective reality of the visits that are made to India now. The manner in which India has managed the post-Shakti situation the entire year gives reason to be satisfied.

Today we have three nuclear powers as neighbours -- China, India and Pakistan. What does this portend for Asian security in general and South Asian security in particular?

I think there is a kind of simplicism and a harking back to the fixed views and cliched idioms of the post-Cold War (sic) era. South Asian nuclear reality is a reality of its own variety. I have always maintained that every nation has a right to decide for itself and seek for itself its security parameters that are in its national interest. That is why whenever such queries have been made to me, I have stated that I can scarcely deny to others the right which I claim for myself.

The principle involved here is of equal and legitimate security for all. And such equal and legitimate security can be found globally, equally and legitimately for all, only through the path of global disarmament. India has not forsaken its commitment to global disarmament simply because from Shakti to Agni II it has enhanced its security space. In fact, it only goes to underline our viewpoint.

In light of the events in Yugoslavia, you might perhaps say that India's decision to go nuclear now appears to be justified.

I don't wish to retrospectively justify the decision to go nuclear. Our decision for Shakti on May 11 and 13, 1998 was a correct decision that subsequent events have gone on to underline. And the further correctness of this decision in the coming decades is something that good people like you and other can draw!

How would you describe your ongoing talks with Mr Strobe Talbott to bring Indo-US ties back on an even keel? After all, Indo-US ties did suffer following the nuclear tests.

Indo-US relations suffered because of misperceptions and our efforts have been to harmonise these viewpoints. I do believe that there is now a much greater understanding of India's viewpoint. When you ask me how will I characterise them, I'll say that these have been the longest lasting, most productive and potentially, the most useful talks the US and India have had in the past many decades. Of course, the talks must continue.

Has much progress been made on the talks?

(Laughs) Without a doubt, there has been a much greater harmonisation of viewpoints, without a doubt there has been progress. But have we come to the end of the road? No. That is why the talks must continue.

Before the nuclear tests, India had aspired for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and had refused to sign the CTBT. Are we now likely to change our position on these two counts?

These two are unrelated. The nexus that you establish is, to my mind, non-existent. I don't see how a greater democratisation of the UN can be undertaken without India. I do not see how an organisation that got formed 50 years back, post World War II -- I refer to the UN Security Council -- can continue to exist as it does now in perpetuity. There has to be movement forward, there has to be greater representation.

And when the case of greater representation is made, I simply cannot understand how anyone can make out a case for India's exclusion for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. You are referring to a country as ancient as India, to a country with 1 billion human beings!

What about the CTBT? Are we going to change our position on it?

I think our position on the CTBT has been stated by our prime minister in the UN General Assembly and in the Indian Parliament. Before the elections, our position was that India will not stand in the way of the CTBT coming into force provided other Article 14 countries also did likewise and if a suitable environment were found. However, now we are in the middle of an impending election and how can this government undertake that?

'India is not marginalised, India cannot be marginalised:' The Jaswant Singh interview continues

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