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October 20, 1998


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The Rediff Interview/I K Gujral

'We want good relations with our neighbours to encourage them not to support terrorism'

I K GujralI don't know why it is not being done. My approach was that some parts of India were subject to militancy sponsored from across the border. The problems are in the northeast and the in north, it affects Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir. I do not know for what reason previous central governments had decided that all the expenses incurred in fighting terrorism be debited to the state governments. This is wrong. Because wherever terrorism strikes, it destabilises the whole of India. It is an attack on India. I had promised that whatever expenses are incurred will be taken care of by the central government. And Abdullah is right.

You had criticised the nuclear tests conducted by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. Yet, you have defended the government's action in international fora?

The proposition is very simple. India has a nuclear policy, and it is being consistently followed since 1988. We have said that one Non-Proliferation Treaty nation has transferred technology to Pakistan. When the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty issue came up in my time, we tried to tell the world that the real objective can be served only by denuclearisation, because only then will every nation feel safe. Because the CTBT is not comprehensive, it does not ban all kinds of tests. From 1988, when Pakistan was a recipient of nuclear weapons, we had decided to acquire a minimum deterrence. This policy was followed by all governments, including mine.

When I spoke in Parliament after the tests, I had said there was no imminent danger to India's security environment which necessitated us to undertake the tests. But the tests have taken place. Therefore, naturally, as a member of the nation, I have to see the situation in the post-nuclear age. It is now no use discussing whether the tests should have been undertaken or not. But India's nuclear policy from 1988, in fact from 1974, is totally justified. I have been saying this in my travels and at international conferences. There is no contradiction between my two statements.

The BJP government has claimed that during the UF regimes, national security was not looked after.

Well, as a cliché, one can say anything. The UF had adequately met the threat of militancy. In my 10 months as prime minister, I made seven trips to Kashmir. Militancy reduced greatly during the UF rule. Also, kindly understand that the present government wants to claim that it has looked after national security only by testing a nuclear weapon. They did not make the nuclear weapon in 15 days. This attempt to assign to one party this achievement has only fractured the consensus that existed on our foreign and defence policies. In that sense, they have weakened the nation.

You have spoken of how on one hand relations with our neighbours improved, yet there was a massive sponsorship of militancy from across the border. Is it possible to have good relations then?

There is a situation existing with two dimensions. One, to be firm to the needs of the nation's defence, to the challenges faced by the nation. This was met, in fact it was being met ever since 1989. So far as improving relations with our neighbours, it is part of the same policy. We do want good relations with our neighbours to encourage them not to support terrorism, because terrorism is a danger which ultimately affects everybody. That policy continues, and I am glad for it.

Can you elucidate on the doctrine that today bears your name: the Gujral doctrine?

The Gujral doctrine is a doctrine of good neighbourliness. In South Asia, India is the largest country and the largest economy. All the countries of the neighbourhood put together cannot match India. Therefore, it is my doctrine, that in the post-Cold War era, all the neighbours must look up to India as a friendly neighbour. For doing so, if concessions have to be given, they should. But these concessions do not include two things: no transfer of sovereignty of any part of India, including Kashmir; and second, we will not compromise on our basic secular, democratic polity. Minus these two factors, we are willing to give concessions as long as it does not hurt our defence.

For instance, we gave concessions to Nepal to have direct access to Bangladesh. This helps us. I feel that through this, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation strengthens, the entire region gains. If we all can then enter the era of free trade, the entire region will benefit, because it will be the largest market in the world of about 1.2 billion people. We have all the natural resources, much of which is enjoyed by our neighbours rather than us.

Do you think India should sign the CTBT?

The question is not whether India should sign the CTBT or not. The main point is that the CTBT does not ban all kinds of tests. Just two weeks ago, the US had gone ahead and conducted some sophisticated sub-critical tests. Similarly, the NPT signatories can still pass around the technology. Even now, the US Senate has not ratified the CTBT, nor has the Russian Duma. So we have to wait and see what the others do before we decide to sign.

Do you think the Indian government is in a hurry to sign?

No, I don't think the Indian government has yielded any ground vis-a-vis our stated position. India has made its point clear. We ought to understand where this leads us to, and I think the government is taking the correct line.

Do you think India still appears a role model for the rest of the world?

It depends on what you mean by model. We are a huge country, with different linguistic, religious and cultural backgrounds. Despite our difficulties, we have held together, and that too democratically, which is something few others can boast about. In that sense we are a great role model. There is no other country with so many diversities which has stayed together democratically.

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