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Action against terror can lead to talks: Sibal

V Mohan Narayan in New Delhi | December 07, 2003 21:33 IST

The process of normalisation of ties between India and Pakistan 'must include' abandonment of terrorism and it needs a political decision on Islamabad's part to stop it, says former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal.

He also hopes that Pakistan's positive response to India's peace initiatives is an 'integral part' of a change in mindset, which will lead to credible action against cross-border terrorism and pave the way for resumption of dialogue.

Just a week after retiring from the foreign service in which he had put in 37 years, Sibal spoke candidly in an interview to PTI on a wide range of issues confronting the foreign policy establishment and suggestions on how to fine tune them.

, known for his bluntness in speaking out, said mere form like handshakes during a summit is not enough for a thaw in Indo-Pak ties but what mattered was substance.

"Why go after the shadow and not the substance? If warm handshakes are a reflection of a warm heart and warm intentions, then it is fine.

"But, if it is simply a gesture, then it won't be enough," he said when asked about the possibility of a bilateral meeting between Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and President Pervez Musharraf or Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali on the sidelines of the SAARC summit in Islamabad in January.

Sibal said the process of normalisation of ties 'must include' abandoning terrorism. "Support for terrorism is not normal," Sibal said.

Asked whether India felt that this time Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf was sincere, he said, "If one were cynical, one would say no. But if one is more open-minded and willing to give the benefit of the doubt, one could say that Musharraf is responding positively to our initiatives."

"It is not because he wants to please India, but that this would be in Pakistan's own interest. So, why not be hopeful. One doesn't pay a price for being optimistic," he said.

On what was the hitch in resuming the composite dialogue process at the official level, he said India has made it clear that there cannot be dialogue without credible steps to end infiltration and terrorism by Pakistan.

"This is very important because there can be no sustained dialogue unless the threat of terrorism is removed. If we once again embark on a dialogue, which then is interrupted by a major terrorist attack, we would be back in the vicious cycle of the past. We must avoid that," he said.

Contending it is not as if terrorism cannot be stopped by Pakistan, he said, "It needs a political decision on the other side and it can be taken."

Asked whether Pakistan has taken tangible steps since Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's initiative in April extending a hand of friendship, he said, "So far no... we have seen on the ground that things have actually become worse. So, we have to wait and watch."

If this time, there is a 'serious attempt' to curb terrorism and dismantle its infrastructure, including stopping financial support for such outfits, it will be a welcome thing to do.

"But we must resist the tendency to give immediate applause. Let the play finish conclusively. Then we can applaud," he said.

Describing the ceasefire announcement extending from the international border to the Actual Ground Position Line in Siachen as a 'good' step, he said, "This can be a building block to progressively normalising our relations."

"But to imagine that terrorist organisations in Pakistan are capable of independently taking action, which could result in derailing the process that has begun would be faulty judgement," Sibal said.

He described the recent steps at enhancing people-to-people contacts as a 'stepping stone towards dialogue'. 

"As you mount the stairs, the last stair that has to be climbed before you reach the platform of dialogue is infiltration and terrorism... the process will be complete only when the issue of terrorism is tackled honestly and credibly," he said.

Sibal said even if the existing proposals such as bus links between Srinagar to Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Khokrajar (Rajasthan) to Munnabao (Sindh province) were 'sincerely and rapidly' implemented, this would be a reflection of a 'major change' on the ground and a change in Pakistani mindset.

Asked about US compulsions in having Pakistan as an ally and the bearing it can have on Indo-US relations particularly in the light of the massive military aid package to Islamabad, he said, "It is natural for us to be concerned about this as strengthening Pakistan militarily increases our security problems."

"However, India cannot dictate to the US what its policy should be and equally the reverse," he said.

Observing that India has very good understanding with the US on several issues, he said, "We are building a strategic relation with them. We can always make our views known to them about any issue."

"We are not making our ties with the US dependent only on what it does vis-a-vis Pakistan," he said.

India, he said, was building a relationship with the US of a 'global dimension'. "So let us not reduce it to the regional context," he said.

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