June 13, 2002


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The Rediff Interview/Salman Haider

'This is not a diplomatic victory for India'

Former foreign secretary Salman Haider feels in the changed international circumstances India should not hesitate to accept an offer of facilitation between India and Pakistan. In an interview with Haider said Russian President Vladmir Putin's offer to bring India and Pakistan together should be seen in that light. "What Russia is doing is what America has been trying to do," the former diplomat told Onkar Singh.

What do you think of the measures that the government has taken to ease tension on the India-Pakistan border? What have we achieved by granting permission to Pakistani aircraft to overfly India and ask our naval ships to return to their bases?

India was close to war -- at least that is what we were told. The risk of hostilities seemed much more imminent and dangerous last week. I welcome any moving away from the brink of war, particularly because of the damage that it would have done both India and Pakistan and the danger of it turning into a nuclear war. The country must do whatever it can to avoid war. I do not believe the risk is worth taking. Frankly, the war talk has not in any manner been edifying.

I welcome the measures the government has taken -- the war clouds have thinned a bit even if they have not been removed.

Hawks in the govenment and elsewhere ask why India has granted such concessions to Pakistan.

I think this is not correct. A military buildup does not mean you have to go to war. Buildup is as much for diplomatic purposes as much as it is for military purposes. We wanted to give a message to the world that India has no more patience with terrorist attacks. Such a buildup of military postures can go wrong by giving wrong signals to the other side and provoking an attack that could go out of control. This has had some effect on the international community in activating Pakistan to do something to stop infiltration.

As a former foreign secretary would you see the latest developments as a diplomatic victory for India?

No, I would not call this a diplomatic victory for India. I would not put it in such forthright terms. Once a matter gets internationalised, the way it has, the resolution of it has to be seen. In the present context a resolution seems in the process of taking shape. It would have both plus and minus points from our perspective. The most important outcome so far as India is concerned is that the deliberate freezing of the stakes seems to have compelled the international community to bring Pakistan to kneel and force it to put an end to cross-border terrorism. On the other side one must admit that it has opened the doors for much more active involvement of foreign countries in Indo-Pakistan affairs.

Do you think that in the present circumstances both the United States and United Kingdom will insist on sending troops to monitor the border between India and Pakistan in Kashmir?

I would not rule that out. There are many ways in which this can be done. Both countries have spoken of monitoring the border by helicopters. This would help monitor infiltration. When both the US and UK say they would like to ensure that Pakistan does not break its promise to contain infiltration across the border then it would not be easy for India to say we don't want monitoring. We could say they could do this on the Pakistani side. There are many variations by which this could be achieved. We could monitor infiltration/movement across the border by installing remote sensing devices. There are ways in which both the US and UK can play a part in monitoring infiltration and trying to ensure that the obligations assumed by Pakistan are in fact discharged.

Do you think there may be tacit understanding between Pakistan and the US that if the former halts infiltration, then the US would ensure that India returns to the negotiating table?

I think this is very much possible. No kind of bearing down hard on one part in a manner that makes that party's internal situation untenable or difficult will succeed. Unless there is a perception in Pakistan that they have also gained something. It would be difficult to believe that this is one sided intervention favouring India and they (Pakistan) have promised to stop doing what they have been doing for decades that brought the two countries on the brink of war.

Could US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage have given such an assurance to Pakistan?

He could have. But what matters is in what form he has given the assurance. How directly or how open is the assurance, it is difficult to say. He could have said what he has been telling India that Pakistan must stop infiltration. The two sides must withdraw their armies, return them to the barracks and get back to the negotiating table. How it is to be organised, what the sequence is and what the assurances are -- that is impossible for us to say because it was a private discussion. But it would be no surprise if something along these lines has been told to Pakistan.

Do you think the solution to the Kashmir problem has to be found under the Simla Agreement? Or do we have to go beyond it?

Under the Simla Agreement one of the most important parts is bilateralism -- India and Pakistan should sort out their own affairs. Both countries are of certain dimension and weight. This we know perfectly well. India is growing in strength. We may have had setbacks but by and large our influence is growing. Ten years from now we would be a much more potent force. Pakistan is also a substantial country. And it is not going to disappear.

We should first try and settle our differences bilaterally. In the changed international circumstances, in the post Cold War era, what people like to see is that some progress is made towards solving our problems. As an encouragement some sort of facilitation is being spoken of. And there is a sense amongst many competent observers in India that there is a willingness on the part of certain countries -- which are acceptable all round -- to help out without mediating or telling us what to do, to create an environment that could help in this process. We should not shy away from this opportunity.

What is your personal view?

My personal view is that any overt or visible intervention by third parties would not work. I don't think both India and Pakistan would like to go through a process which is controlled by someone else. A mediatory process could mean that a third party tells us do this or do that. This is not acceptable to India. But if some countries do something to bring the two countries together and encourage them to sit at the table and have constructive discussions. I think we should certainly consider that proposal.

Minister of State for External Affairs Omar Abdullah has said the Indian army will remain at the border till the assembly election is concluded in Jammu and Kashmir. How do you read this statement?

Frankly, I don't know what to make of it. On one hand we are allowing Pakistan's civilian aircraft to fly over India, asking our naval ships to return to their original positions, thinking of sending high ranking officials to Pakistan. On the other hand we have a contradictory statement of this nature and say we are ready for war and that the army is going to remain on the border. This sends contradictory signals. This is not useful for us. If we are satisfied that steps are being taken towards ending cross-border terrorism, I think it is in the country's interest to reduce the war-like atmosphere in the sub-continent and genuinely work for measures that can bring a sense of normality. We have no idea of the burden that the present standoff is putting on our economy.

One point of view has it that when America caught a top Al Qaeda terrorist recently President George W Bush realised Pakistan has not done enough to put down terrorist outfits with an iron hand. This forced America to put pressure on Pakistan and ask it to end cross-border terrorism.

This could be part of the reason for growing American pressure on Pakistan. After its battle in Afghanistan America is determined to end terrorism in any form. The Americans and the world community know and acknowledge what Pakistan has been doing to encourage terrorism. Infiltration along the border is another form of terrorism. That is why the pressure on Pakistan has increased. America has been aware of Pakistan's activities and this has been going on for years. The presence of Al Qaeda could be an important part for the changed American strategy in the Indian sub-continent.

Do you think countries like the US, UK and Russia are trying to get a foothold in Kashmir and stay put once they are allowed to come in on some pretext?

I don't think they want to come to Kashmir and stay there as you put it. This could have been true in the Cold War days, but not any longer. Today conditions are more conducive for negotiations on Kashmir. President Putin's proposal to help India and Pakistan is an indication of revival of Russian activity in this region. This puts him solidly in line with what America has been trying to do. The picture that emerges is that a majority of powerful nations in the world are speaking with the same voice and trying to impress upon India and Pakistan to avoid war and come to the negotiating table.

Designed by Dominic Xavier

Terrorism Strikes in Jammu and Kashmir: The complete coverage

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