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The Rediff Interview/Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani

June 11, 2003


Part I and II of the Advani interview

In the concluding part of his interview, Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani tells Senior Editor Sheela Bhatt that his aspiration is to see the 21st century as India's century.

Many experts say India is poised to become a superpower this century, what are your views on it?

We have never used the word superpower. We have always said India has immense potential. Today, after 55 years of independence, we have not been able to grow commensurate with our potential. We continue to be a developing country. We continue to have huge masses of people who live below the poverty line. We have a poor infrastructure. We do not have enough hospitals, roads, schools... all these things.

So our modest objective is that by 2020 we do not want to be seen as a developing country. We should become a developed country. The potential is so great that we do aspire to see that the 21st century becomes our century.

Do you have a road map?

Yes. I cannot claim we have the precise layout of the road map but broadly speaking, we have identified our approach.

An interesting and important speech was made by National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra in America regarding the possibility of cooperation amongst America, India and Israel. Is there any possibility of an axis?

I have seen the text of his speech in which he didn't use any such word. The headlines in India said Brajesh speaks of America-India-Israel axis. But he was speaking at a Jewish conference. This is certainly true that in our battle against terrorism there is much more in common between democracies than between democracies and other types of government.

To that extent, I have always emphasised that France, Germany and India should be able to understand the battle against terrorism more succinctly.

External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha gave a statement in London that India and Pakistan could share intelligence. General Pervez Musharraf also responded positively. One wonders how these two adversaries will share intelligence?

I haven't seen the statement by Sinha. I'll certainly talk to him. But this particular question of yours does remind me of what I spoke to Musharraf, a day before the Agra meet. I told him: "Four days back I returned from Turkey. I believe you spent your childhood in Turkey. You can speak Turkish very fluently."

He said: "Yes, my father was posted there, therefore I did spend my childhood in Turkey."

I said: "You may not know what took me to Turkey. Let me tell you I went to Turkey to sign an extradition treaty with Turkey. Now I wonder why should I have an extradition treaty with Turkey? What use is it to me? No criminal from India is going to flee to Turkey and no criminal from Turkey is going to flee to India. If I do need an extradition treaty, it is with you. Between India and Pakistan. Why do we not have an extradition treaty between us?"

His reply was: "Yes, why not? What's the difficulty?"

Only later, the general realised what was the difficulty. His first response was "why not?" My response was, "I am very happy to hear that. Because if really you were to sign an extradition treaty with India and if tomorrow you extradite Dawood Ibrahim to India, you cannot imagine the kind of impact this would have on the people of India. The people of India would say that here is a different Pakistani leader."

Then, he started withdrawing. Ultimately he said: "No, no, let me tell you that Dawood Ibrahim is not in Pakistan."

What happened to the list of 20 criminals that India wanted to extradite from Pakistan?

Nothing. Pakistan told India "Nahin denge! Nahin denge!" [We will not hand them over.]

You are being blamed for aborting the Agra summit by sending Sushma Swaraj to brief the media.

Sushma had nothing to do with it.

Do you find a change in the Musharraf of Agra with the Musharraf of today?

If he has changed, the change has not come about voluntarily! It is a change as a result of the immense international pressure and international climate against terrorism. That the kind of utter denial that he indulged at Agra has changed. There he said there was no terrorism. That Pakistan wasn't exporting it. That has changed in 2003.

For the head of a government to tell [US Deputy Secretary of State] Richard Armitage that there are no terrorist camps in Pakistan, and if they were any, they wouldn't be there by tomorrow. What do you understand of this statement? Is it a honest and candid statement? Either there are terrorist camps or there are none existing.

Some terrorism experts fear a peace initiative in this manner might affect India's counter-insurgency operations.

You have just mentioned that even while peace initiatives have been undertaken, Operation Sarp Vinash was executed. The security forces have executed a very successful operation. This, I think, answers your question.

America has issued warnings and Iran's President Mohammad Khatami has also responded strongly against America. Again in the gambit of American diplomacy, Pakistan will get weightage because it shares a border with Iran. As Pakistan was a more important ally in America's fight against terrorism in Afghanistan, it could happen again because of its geographical location.

No, it's not so. Pakistan's role was more important when America attacked Afghanistan principally because the Taliban was Pakistan's creation. Geography did play a part only because American armed forces needed bases. That's a different matter. But these are the shortcomings of Pakistan. These aspects of Pakistan do not worry us. These facts should worry Pakistan.

I am talking about American dependence on Pakistan in their fight against terrorism?

It's not so. You are talking about American dependence on Pakistan but I'll tell you about an interesting article in The Friday Times. That article emphasised that America's sole interest in Pakistan was to prevent it from becoming a rogue state. It had no other interest.

In contrast, America's interest in India is not only because India is a great democracy. It's also because of India's rapid strides in the field of information technology. Then, the article goes on to list nearly 25 prominent American firms which are entirely dependent on Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys, Wipro and so on. Then it says Swiss Air and British Airways and such companies are outsourcing from India. Can anyone afford to annoy India? The inter-dependence on India is considerable. These are the aspects that worry Pakistan, they don't worry us.

May I ask you a straight question? Are you afraid of America's so-called imperial designs? Are you concerned about the world becoming unipolar?

I would not call it imperial design. I have just started reading a very interesting book on the difference that has developed between America and Europe. Robert Kagan's book is very good. It narrates the bygone era's attitude that is being displayed by America. I do not use the word imperialism lightly. Many people in the world are worried. Therefore, we took a different stand on the issue of Iraq.

You had an excellent rapport with outgoing US Ambassador to India Robert Blackwill. Would you like to say more about this rapport?

I had, no doubt about it. But it is not for me to say it. So much is this debated that Seema Mustafa [of The Asian Age] wrote an article against it. She asked why could Blackwill not find anyone else to understand India? I am not concerned with it. Some other columnist wrote that he [Blackwill] visited the home ministry more often than the foreign ministry.

But he had a special relationship with you.

No doubt about it. He would not say it, but by and large he agreed with my view that what America is doing is encouraging Pakistan to continue with its policy to support terrorism. He will not say it. Unka shuru se lekar White House se rapport tha, State Department se nahin tha. [He had a rapport with the White House, not with the State Department.]

There is a growing feeling in India and Pakistan that some massive back-door US diplomacy has taken place and some kind of settlement has been arrived at. America wants peace in South Asia, that's what people believe and a strong sentiment is already spreading that American pressure is working.

I would not be in a position to comment on that. And I would not like to comment on that. My own concern is that violence in this region must end. Both countries should carry on with their respective development.

After all, we had a serious problem with China but both parties agreed to bypass the main dispute, the border dispute, and said let us discuss, agree and cooperate in other matters. Now if Pakistan was willing to do that, fine. But if it is not willing to do that, we said we were willing to discuss Jammu and Kashmir.

But the ultimate positions of both, the bottom-line is not going to change, right?

I can't say anything. You should understand why I can't say many things.

How do you look back to your days in power?

When I look back I do not feel satisfied. In 1998, when our government was formed I wanted to keep away from power. I was seriously thinking about it. When I look back, I feel before 1998, I was a happy man. A content man. Now I am never satisfied.


The Rediff Interviews

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