May 23, 2002


 Search the Internet

E-Mail this interview to a friend
Print this page Best Printed on HP Laserjets
Recent interviews
'We don't need lectures
on patriotism'
- Anand Sharma
'There is a realisation
that there should be
peace in Gujarat'
- K P S Gill
'Indian democracy is
based upon corruption'
- N Vittal
'It will take some time
to eliminate insurgency'
- Devendra Raj Kandel
'India has to accept
Kashmir as disputed territory'
- Syed Ali Shah Geelani

The Rediff Interview/I K Gujral

'India's patience is being stretched beyond limit'

The study in his New Delhi home is abuzz with activity as former prime minister Inder Kumar Gujral is busy fielding questions from assorted members of the foreign press. A veteran diplomat, the former prime minister's views smack of political maturity. And he delivers them in a quiet, impeccable style.

Tara Shankar Sahay quizzed him on the current India-Pakistan standoff. Excerpts:

You have been India's prime minister and have observed Indo-Pak relations from close quarters. Do you think the two countries have irreversibly embarked on the path of war?

I K Gujral Well, I don't think so and very fortunately, no. Let us understand one basic thing -- the world has undergone a change since the Americans entered Afghanistan. The struggle against Taliban-cum-fundamentalism is not over.

The main actors, Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, have not yet been apprehended. Even the presence of a large number of contingents from various European countries has not established the sway of the Kabul government. The Kabul government is still confined to very limited areas. At the same time, the Americans have established a chain of bases in Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

With this presence and the main fight, the world has taken on terrorism. I don't think it would be either wise or advisable for India and Pakistan to upstage any new situation. Both these countries have committed themselves to this broader coalition against terrorism. Pakistan naturally has done more for this coalition than we have because of its geographical position. Therefore, the American and other allies can say [to both India and Pakistan] that your skirmishes could harm that process.

They cannot ignore it nor would it be advisable to do so. But at the same time, I do hope and think the Americans should take notice of the way terrorism is being inflicted on us. We are under the impression, perhaps rightly, that the Musharraf regime is either unable or unwilling to stop this.

So long as that is concerned, our tensions will not go down. I do hope that it doesn't lead to war because it is not good for any nation. The terrorists in our region are increasing and so are their activities. Mr [Abdul Gani] Lone was killed. Before that, they attacked a bus and before that a temple in Jammu. Whatever they are doing is an ongoing process.

Now these terrorists, after the collapse of the Taliban government in Afghanistan, have acquired a new recruitment process and a large number of Taliban cadres have moved out of Afghanistan in every direction. Estimates vary up to hundred thousand people who have come to Pakistan and parts of Kashmir with the purpose of destabilising us. I do hope the Government of India has conveyed this information to the Americans and even if they haven't, the American would have known it by themselves. I think they should do something to see that the anti-Taliban front is not disturbed.

How can cross-border terrorism be stopped without the two countries going to war?

I do hope diplomatic steps in this direction are not yet over. I think the coalition against terrorism is widely spread where a large number of countries are involved. We should consult them, particularly neighbours like China, Russia and Europe. We must tell them what is happening and our difficulties. There is a point to be sold to these people that India's patience is being stretched beyond limit.

I draw your attention to a recent report in The New York Times which said that unless India calls Pakistan's bluff this time [on cross-border terrorism], Islamabad will continue needling New Delhi.

Well, I don't know how authorized that report is. You gentlemen have every right to say everything. But I would say that this is something, which we conveyed to the main partners of the anti-terrorist coalition. They must know that this can happen also because -- after all you cannot tolerate that every second or third day these attacks are sustained [by India]. The danger is increasing with the melting snow in Kashmir.

With the Indian forces being mobilised on the border, is there a crisis of confidence being faced by the military government of Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf?

Governments in Pakistan have always faced a crisis of confidence. We have always believed, and rightly so, that Pakistani rulers -- especially military rulers -- have been looking at situations not as a whole. They are anti-terrorist so far as Afghanistan is concerned, but support terrorism so far as India is concerned. Therefore, we have to deploy forces primarily to safeguard ourselves. It is not an aggressive posture on the part of the Indian Army, but a defensive posture. We have to take care of ourselves.

There is a school of thought, which thinks the Americans are meddling in the South Asian region in order to gain a foothold in Kashmir. Do you agree with this assumption?

These are weather-torn or weather-old propositions. In modern times, even the colonisers, whatever their intentions, do not occupy lands, India's interests matter more. It is a fact that American influence in this region is visible. But it is also a fact that their bases in Central Asia and South Asia have also been established. In reality, one need not get emotional about it.

You are reputed to have cordial relations with many leading personalities in Pakistan. What is their attitude towards India?

One of the major things that has happened in the last ten years or more, ever since I started what is called the Gujral Doctrine, people-to-people relations have moved in a very positive direction. At the same time, there is another critical change in South Asia. In fact, the civil society in all countries has come of age. On that level, we have extremely good relations between the Indian and Pakistani people. Even now at Lone's killing, I received a large number of telephone calls from people in Pakistan. They are not sold out to the explanation being trotted out [in their country], and see India's point of view regarding terrorists and want a stop to terrorism.

Do you think abrogating the Indus Waters Treaty would be a good idea if Pakistan refuses to rein in cross-border terrorism?

I never cross a bridge before I come to it. The Indus Waters Treaty is an international treaty signed between the two countries under the auspices of the World Bank. And, therefore, we should not think of it or talk about it. But all the same, it is a weapon of last resort. One should not brandish it indiscriminately.

What is your opinion of General Musharraf?

I know very little of the general. I met him once. I think he is a competent general, a very shrewd observer and a very articulate politician. But in the last analysis, he is a general who has been trained as a commando.

He has taken over the governance of Pakistan by force and not on a popular basis. He himself feels embarrassed to talk about his recent referendum. Every army ruler in Pakistan has seen benefit for himself. If India-Pakistan relationships were to improve, then who would spend so much money on the army in Pakistan? Sixty to seventy per cent of Pakistan's revenue goes to the army.

Every time a democratic leader has come to power in Pakistan, though they came briefly, the prospects of Indo-Pak relations have improved. But I do not see any phase in these 50 years where our relations have been better with an army ruler in command.

Why does the US tolerate military dictatorships like Pakistan when it calls itself the world's greatest democracy?

You see, sometimes while judging policies, our observers and writers get emotional. No country in the world is in the business of the export and import of ideologies. Every country has its own system to suit its people and traditions. The last time such an ideology prevailed was when the former Soviet Union existed. But after its dissolution, that also was abandoned.

It is not that America only tolerates and deals with Pakistan. They [the Americans] have dealt with dictatorships in South America. They have the largest business with China, is it an elected government? So, therefore, that particular way of looking at things is faulty and, to an extent, I would say, amateurish.

What is your opinion of the worldwide jihadi movement?

The jihadi movement is now a very aggressive form of pan-Islamism with fundamentalism going down deeper than even the Wahabi movement. Their networks have spread very widely. And when I look at the world from Indonesia going down to our continent, further down to Africa and even into Europe, I see the network has spread.

We are one of the early victims and have been warning the world for the last 20 years, but nobody was giving heed to us till the fire came home. With the unfortunate incidents of New York and Washington, I do hope the world recognises this. But at the same time we must understand that in no circumstances should it be viewed as a civilisational war. It is not.

The jihadis do not represent the vast bulk of the Muslim population the world over. Hence, we should never make the mistake of mixing the two.

In our own country it is very interesting. Sometime back, a correspondent from New York came to meet me. He had been observing the scenario in Afghanistan for a long time. And he told me that during all his years of stay in Afghanistan, he had met a large number of so-called mujahideen coming from various countries, including Algeria, Nigeria, Indonesia, the Philippines, the Far West and the Far East. But he didn't come across any Indian Muslim there. It is a great thing for us. This means that in a democratic country like India we are building secular peace, that is the real strength to resist these movements.

You have expressed doubts about India invoking the provisions of the 1993 Indo-Russian Friendship Treaty. But there was a media report from Moscow that soon after the Cabinet Committee on Security met recently, Indian Ambassador in Moscow K Raghunath met Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Losyukov in connection with the invocation of the treaty.

No, the meeting of an ambassador and the deputy foreign minister of a host country is a normal routine in every country's relationships. I have not come across any evidence that I could call authentic or credible.

In case India invokes the provision of the Indo-Russian Friendship Treaty, could Beijing-Islamabad come forward to counter it?

These are hypothetical assumptions. Both are false.

Do you subscribe to the oft-repeated American assumption that South Asia is a nuclear flashpoint?

Well, South Asia is in difficulty because it is the main front for the anti-terrorist war. It includes Afghanistan. The countries participating in this anti-terrorist fight are going beyond previous alignments. China is a part, so is Russia, because they have also been threatened. Take Xinjiang in China, Chechnya. The Ferghana valley has been under attack. All these countries have been destabilised by terrorism.

Is there Pakistani nuclear brinkmanship?

There is no doubt that both India and Pakistan are nuclear powers. But we are not the only two countries in the world. China in the north is a powerful nuclear weapon state. We also have a large number of ships standing in the Gulf with nuclear weapons. To our south, we also have Diego Garcia, which has nuclear weapons. So there is a proliferation of such weapons in our region. It is no more a dual game between India and Pakistan.

Design: Dominic Xavier


Terrorism strikes in Jammu

The Rediff Interviews

Tell us what you think of this interview