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|September 24, 2001||
The Rediff Interview/ Pramod Mahajan
In Delhi, Information Technology, Communications and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pramod Mahajan is considered a man for all seasons. He spoke to Sheela Bhatt about the government's position in the aftermath of the terror attacks in the USA.
What was your first reaction to the September 11 disaster?
I was in Moscow at a meeting with Russian IT and telecom industry members. The moment the meeting was over, they gave me a slip of paper and informed me. I didn't believe it. We rushed to our hotel and saw the CNN footage. The first look was like a Hollywood film. It looked unreal. It's still hard to believe. Even today, I feel let someone say these were just film shots and untrue.
I called Delhi and tried to find out what was happening.
Any unusual reaction in Russia?
The same day President (Vladmir) Putin went on air. What I saw the following day was unusual. Since it was my first visit to Moscow, I went to the Kremlin, to a souvenir shop. I was carrying dollars in my pocket. I had not exchanged it for roubles because dollars are accepted everywhere (in Russia). I am told they (the Russians) die to get dollars. But a girl at that shop refused. She said the dollar rate had gone down by 30 per cent, though officially there wasn't a 2 per cent reduction. I requested her to accept 3, 4 dollars more over the exchange rate of $ 12, but she refused. In the end, the protocol officer paid on my behalf.
I think the terrorists have not just hit America's military and economic might but also its image of being a global giant.
How would you interpret this event?
It is not just against the might of America, it is an onslaught against the human race. The world looked at America and noted what a human race could achieve in business and military might. The terrorists have hit the world's belief in America's might. People are saying if it can happen in Pentagon, it means the whole human race is vulnerable.
The war has just begun, we will need patience and be vigilant. India has witnessed terrorism in all shapes and shades. Let us start with Mrs (Indira) Gandhi, followed by Rajiv Gandhi who was killed by a garland bomb. Then the third bomb which shook India was a car bomb aimed at the Punjab chief minister (Beant Singh).
Just before the attack on America, anti-Taleban leader Ahmad Shah Masoud was killed by a camera bomb. With technology, crime and evil has modernised.
Many non-resident Indians feel the Indian government should drum up its support to America to fight terrorism.
Quite right. but there are two viewpoints. I don't know how well-informed NRIs are about the Indian government. In India, criticism of the government is diametrically opposite to what the NRIs say. They want us to stand up and support the USA. Opposition parties think we are rushing towards the US. But I can assure one thing: India has risen to this occasion. India does not have to side with the Americans.
Frankly, it is India that is fighting a war against terrorism for the last two decades which America never realised. Yes, we have not lost over 5,000 people in one day but we have lost many more in the last 20 years. The world never paid attention to it. I think the Americans are now joining India's war against terrorism.
I have faith in American society today. I met the American ambassador to India Robert Blackwill, he too agreed that it is not a fight against one person or one nation. It is a fight against global terrorism. Success will come in instalments. It is a long drawn battle. India will be the only reliable nation in the US fight against global terrorism because India is the only country which is the hardest hit victim of terrorism.
I feel NRIs should impress upon the American government that their battle should not be limited to (Osama) bin Laden or Afghanistan, it should go beyond that.
You obviously mean Pakistan.
I have three points in relation with Pakistan.
First, America should make Pakistan see reason and convince Pakistan to honestly join the battle against terrorism. In return, if America gives Pakistan some billion dollars we don't have anything to grudge.
Secondly, the US should convince Pakistan that fighting terrorism does not mean fighting terrorism on the western border and inflicting terrorism on the eastern border. If they don't agree, we are still aware of the realities.
India is aware that in America's present short term plan, Pakistan has a role to play. We appreciate it, and we understand it. India will not put any condition at this juncture because we have faith in the people of America and government. Once they are through with their short term plan they will see the game.
In any case, India is quite competent to protect Kashmir. We have nothing to worry. We hope America will stand on the side of justice.
Like the old days, are America and Pakistan coming uncomfortably closer again?
I think the Americans want something to be done immediately. Look at the public anger. They feel insulted, humiliated. They were the mightiest power on the globe and 20 per cent of the Pentagon does not exist. The landmark in Manhattan disintegrated. Naturally, they are angry and they want some kind of revenge and we understand it. India's point will be heard once these emotions are satisfied and retaliation is over.
How best can the world fight this war?
The war against terrorism is not a conventional war. There are no victories and defeats. It's a continuous war. This is a war of the mind. A war against a certain system. The nations of the world will have to change their policies. The education system, economic, foreign policy and international laws will have to be changed. Those who feel the heat of terror will fight it. It is the most complex war.
How is India going to support America? Are we ready to provide military bases to them?
Nobody has asked us for any kind of base. This debate is avoidable at the moment. The fact is India is the first victim of this kind of terror. This is the turning point for India to fight terrorism. If America decides to take terrorism head on, India will be the largest beneficiary.
The retaliatory attack could be construed by some as a war on Islam.
No way. Prime Minister Vajpayee said on the first day that it is not so. We are not using the word Islam. How can we do it? Islam is not synonymous with terrorism.
The Congress worries about the RSS thinking on this matter.
How can they criticise? When Mrs Gandhi was assassinated, what happened? Congressmen blamed it on Sikh terrorism.
Leftists are worried India will be swayed on America's side, and many critics of the government wants the decision makers to understand the sensitivity of Muslims in India.
America is siding with us in our old fight against terrorism. Who is funding terror in Kashmir? Who is America targeting? Our enemy is the same. India is aware of its Muslim population. Even if we did not have a single Muslim in our country, we would have joined the war with the world. No religion can be blamed for the terror. But we have to fight the war which is weakening us.
When we fought a war against Pakistan these critics did not say it is a war against Islam. It was never the case. The same way, this war is not against Islam, this is a war against the perpetrators of the crime. When America locates the last man in this fight, we would see our enemy is the same.
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