June 15, 2001


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The Rediff Interview/Former external affairs minister K Natwar Singh 'Four gentleman sat down for lunch and decided to invite Musharraf'

Former external affairs minister K Natwar Singh, now a member of the Congress Working Committee, wears the mantle of the party's shadow foreign minister. In this capacity he has fired many a salvo at the foreign policy advocated by the ruling National Democratic Alliance.

Singh, who is to accompany party president Sonia Gandhi on her trip to the US to seek the support of non-resident Indians to revitalise the Congress, spoke to Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi on the Lahore Declaration, Kargil and Jaswant Singh. Excerpts:

On the Vajpayee-Musharraf summit:

'The Simla Agreement ensured peace for 27 years, while the Lahore Declaration ensured peace for three months. And yet this government got away with it. In spite of Kargil, the government won the election. When Atal Bihari Vajpayee embraced Nawaz Sharief, they were unaware of what was happening on the border. Kargil was a total failure of the government.

Anyway, the Congress welcomed [the trip to] Lahore and we welcome the invitation to Musharraf.

At first, they did not want to talk to Musharraf because he was a military ruler. The Congress argued that in the past we had spoken to Field Marshal Ayub Khan, who was a dictator for many years. We have held talks with General Zia-ul-Haq too.

You can't wish Pakistan away. Indira Gandhi created history and changed geography. Coalition governments can do neither'
After Kargil, when the government refused to talk to Pakistan, we said this was very strange. You [the BJP] went to embrace him in Lahore. Kargil took place due to your [the BJP's] carelessness. But you cannot shut off Pakistan. There are high commissioners in Islamabad and New Delhi. They [Pakistan] are members of the United Nations, Non-Aligned Movement and the Commonwealth. Then what's the idea of saying we will not talk?

On a consensus on Indo-Pak talks:

You can't wish Pakistan away. It will not give in to everybody. Indira Gandhi created history and changed geography. Why not have good relations with the neighbour?

Coalition governments can do neither. They can't create history... forget about geography. So they must take the country with them. They must take Parliament and political parties with them. This is absolutely essential.

They [the NDA] also argued that they would not talk to Pakistan till they stopped cross-border terrorism.

We [the Congress] welcomed the cease-fire, but a cease-fire cannot be an end in itself. What is the objective?

The objective has to be to talk to Pakistan. After all, the branches of terrorism in Kashmir are rooted in Pakistan. Pakistan finances them, gives arms to them, gives refuge to them and passes on intelligence to them. But the government kept saying no to talks with Pakistan.

Earlier, George Fernandes [former defence minister] used to deal with the subject, then L K Advani [home minister], then K C Pant [the Centre's chief negotiator on J&K], then Jaswant Singh [external affairs minister]. And one day the four gentlemen sat down for lunch and decided to invite Musharraf.

Just last week they were saying we will not talk to Pakistan. People who are looking at us are laughing. What is their policy? Direction? Focus? Nobody knows.

We suggest [that they] talk to five ex-prime ministers. What is the harm in talking to P V Narasimha Rao or I K Gujral? Even to Mulayam Singh Yadav [former defence minister]? Talk to experts. Get a national consensus. Then talk to Musharraf.

Vajpayee was compelled to take a U-turn because he had reached the end of the road in Jammu & Kashmir. The cease-fire was not working. There was confusion in the government. A variety of statements were being made on such an important matter. If they would have talked to Pakistan six months ago, many lives may not have been lost in J&K.

On the Simla Agreement:

The BJP keeps blaming the Congress for taking the Kashmir issue to the United Nations, but remember that [Bharatiya Jana Sangh founder-president] Shyama Prasad Mukherjee was a member of the Cabinet that took the decision. He didn't resign on the issue of Kashmir. He resigned on the Nehru-Liaquat pact concerning East Pakistan refugees. If the Jana Sangh felt so strongly on the issue, he should have resigned before the matter went to the UN, but they gloss over this fact.

When Mrs Indira Gandhi became prime minister, she declared that India did not want third-party intervention. The Simla Agreement is the backdrop of bilateral relations. Indira Gandhi went out of her way to accommodate Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto because she did not want to break West Pakistan. It wouldn't help us.

Indira Gandhi took a long-term view. After defeating Pakistan on the eastern border, if we had gone for dismembering West Pakistan, the Americans and Russians would have intervened. The Russians even indicated that. We could not push into West Pakistan. The Pakistani Army was pushed into their territory.

Then the Simla meeting happened. In the final paragraph of the agreement there is a mention that both sides will find the final solution to J&K. The difficulty is that Pakistanis have a one-point foreign policy -- when in doubt, blame India. And when not in doubt, blame India.

That makes life simple for them.

Vajpayee had praised Mrs Gandhi profusely for the Simla accord. The Lahore Declaration was a continuation of the Simla Agreement.

In 1965, Pakistan took the Kashmir issue to the UN Security Council.

'Get a national consensus, then invite Musharraf'
Bhutto was their foreign minister. Sardar Swaran Singh [former foreign minister] and Y B Chavan [former defence minister] represented India. I was also part of the delegation. We walked out, complaining that the UN platform was used to abuse us and not for discussion.

From 1965 to June 1998, Kashmir was never discussed. After the Pokhran nuclear test Kashmir was discussed, India was condemned and sanctions were imposed.

In the past, the Russians made sure that no resolutions were passed by the Security council [against India], but in 1998, the Soviet Union had disappeared and they went along with the majority.

After Pokhran, we have lost the winning edge over Pakistan in conventional warfare. So a talk between India and Pakistan is necessary, but neither can succeed without a national consensus. It is necessary for Vajpayee to build a national consensus. Which he hasn't done on the issues of CTBT [Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty] or on [the] Nuclear Missile Defence. From 1947 to 1998, India's foreign policy had a national consensus.

Nobody should expect that one Vajpayee-Musharraf meeting will do the trick.

When she signed the Simla Agreement, Mrs Gandhi didn't lower her guard; Vajpayee signed the Lahore agreement and lowered his guard. Pakistani troops were already in the bunkers. It was a total intelligence failure.

After Lahore, even some Indian troops were pulled back. So they just walked in. But nobody walked in [the Indian territory] for 27 years after the Simla Agreement.

During the Kargil war, the Pakistan Army pulled back from the Line of Control, not because of us, but because of Bill Clinton.

But they [the BJP] won the election on the issue. They claimed, "We pushed them back. Drove them away." What nonsense!

On Jaswant Singh and America:

We have never tilted on any side, we are still a non-aligned country. But the impression going around is that he [Jaswant Singh] is tilting towards the United States.

I am not saying that we should not have the closest relations with the USA. It is the most powerful and advanced country. But we must take our crucial decisions ourselves. When Clinton said, "Kashmir is disputed territory", I don't think anybody in the government told him: 'Yes, you are our guest, we respect you, but we wish you had not said that.'

'Pakistan has a one-point foreign policy -- when in doubt, blame India. And when not in doubt, blame India'
At the NAM summit, Nelson Mandela mentioned Kashmir as amongst the tension-ridden areas and we jumped to his throat. And here in the Central Hall [of Parliament], he [Bill Clinton] tells you in your face and you don't say anything.

I don't have any evidence, but I won't be surprised to know that America has brought India and Pakistan around the table. After all, during Kargil, America told us that we will tell Pakistan to push back, but you too stay on this side of the LoC [Line of Control].

Jaswant Singh said after Lahore: "This is the defining moment in Indo-Pak relations." Some defining moment! And in three months time you have a war!

Similarly, Vajpayee tells America that Pakistan should be declared a terrorist state. And three months later, Jaswant Singh takes three hardcore terrorists in a plane to Kandahar. What America said is: 'This is very funny. You want us to declare them terrorists and you are taking them in your own plane.'

This is the kind of inconsistency that goes on. Jaswant Singh goes to Israel and says that the Israel policy of India was wrong, it was governed by the Congress party's concern for its vote bank... He does not know history.

The Congress party has supported the Palestine cause since Mahatma Gandhi's time. Since the 1920s. And for a foreign minister of India to criticize the other party in a third country is not done.

Since Vajpayee is not well, he gets away with it. Nobody seems to tell him anything.

So we are hoping that on the issue of talks with Musharraf, we [the Congress] will be consulted. There is time. The talks will be probably held on 9th or 10th July. Sonia Gandhi will be back [in India] from America much before that.

Indo-Pak Summit 2001

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