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The Rediff Interview/Former foreign secretary Salman Haider

September 09, 2003

Former foreign secretary Salman Haider does not believe that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's visit to India has been deliberately timed to coincide with the second anniversary of 9/11. In an interview with Chief Correspondent Onkar Singh, Haider points out that India has little to gain in terms of fighting insurgency from Israel. The former diplomat complimented the government for dealing with terrorist violence in a restrained manner despite provocation from the hawks that India should launch pre-emptive strikes against terrorist camps operating in Pakistan.

How would you assess the significance of Ariel Sharon's visit in the present circumstances when so much is happening around the world, particularly in Palestine?

I do not see that the visit has any particular relevance of what is happening within Palestine. Israel would be aware that India is distant from it (the situation in Palestine) and there is no conceivable role for it today -- either political or any other (in Palestine). But what is happening elsewhere, particularly in the Middle East, that surely would be of some significance and would come within the ambit of discussions between Prime Minister Vajpayee and the Israeli prime minister. The major issue likely to be discussed would relate to Iraq because it is a huge problem where the outcome is still uncertain.

                                        The Ariel Sharon visit: Full coverage

How significant is this trip from the Indian point of view?

Sharon is a major world figure and he is coming to India despite very heavy preoccupation at home. He is fighting a
constant battle against terrorism and his preoccupation with his neighbourhood. Obviously, he feels that a visit to India is desirable which in turn has broader and long-term significance in Israel's interests.

What is of importance is the fact that questions which would have a long-term bearing on the relationship between the two countries would be discussed and reviewed.

How significant is the relationship between India and Israel?

The relationship between the two is of tremendous significance. It has already been established when (then Israeli foreign minister) Shimon Peres came here some years ago. But at that time the relationship was still of an exploratory nature. We were trying to see how we could relate to each other. Since then a lot has happened. We have a strong Israeli presence in India. Israel has made tremendous gains in agriculture and is prepared to share its technology with us.

Another major aspect is that we have close cooperation with Israel in defence. Israel has emerged as a significant supplier of defence equipment. It is a relationship between a manufacturer and purchaser. We are not reciprocating and giving them something in defence.

The BJP had always advocated strong relations between India and Israel.

This is the third important element of Sharon's visit to India. Both India and Israel share a concept of perceived threat
from a terrorist attack. Certain security measures might come up for review during the discussions between the two governments. The two governments could share information on the terrorist networks in their respective regions. Some  groups like Hamas have a totally different political agenda and hence are not of much significance to us. Experience of Israel may not be directly of any relevance to us and the same could be the case of our experience in Kashmir for Israel.

Don't you feel India has handled its counter-insurgency operations in a much restrained manner then Israel?

India has decidedly shown much more restraint in its anti-terrorist operations than Israel though we have such elements in India who also advocate pre-emptive strikes against terrorist camps operating from Pakistan. The only area where we could gain significantly is to share information on the terror groups operating in the world. I agree with you that the methodology adopted by Israel does not offer us much in terms of expertise.

Though Israel has got the capability of striking at will, we have exercised restraint. Better sense has prevailed in our case and we have not violated the accepted frontiers which could lead to a response from the other side and lead to escalation of violence.

If you look at India's foreign policy would you say we are inching closer to Israel and moving away from our traditional Arab friends?

Something is visible in that direction. There was a comment by a senior government official sometime back where it was mentioned that there was going to be some kind of convergence between America, Israel and ourselves (India). I do not see that happening. I would not say we are getting away from our traditional Arab friends. Certainly relations change and evolve. Non-alignment is not as active as it was. Third World alliances are not what they used to be. With passage of time countries have to find new associates and new friends. There should be no alarm at that. But traditional friends have their own place.

The unstated part that is not mentioned that the terrorists who are harassing both India and Israel are both Muslims. Certain groups have come out of the Islamic fold and have been threatening both countries and therefore, the convergence. I don't really buy this theory.

Do you see the state of Palestine coming into being by 2005?

No, it is not happening. The Israelis have already said the road map is only in the drawer. It is not operational because there has been violence. It is being derailed by the suicide bombers and counter-attacks by the Israeli forces. The suicide bombers and the Israeli tanks have made the road map non-operational.

Should India be happy with Sharon's visit?

I think we should be pleased. I see no reason why we should not develop relations with a very dynamic country. Our relations have developed because they serve our broader interests. His visit to India should be more then welcome. Some Arab nations have also developed links with Israel. Even Pakistan has been talking of developing diplomatic relations with Israel. So the negative factors of having a relationship with Israel a couple of decades back have either disappeared or are now being discarded.

But we must make sure that it should not be seen as if we are distancing ourselves from our traditional Arab friends. We should not accept the communal tinge some terrorist groups might like to exploit.

Mr Sharon will be in India on the second anniversary of 9/11. Do you think this has special significance?

I doubt that. I would imagine it is sheer coincidence that it happened to be scheduled during the September 11 anniversary. I would be surprised if there is any deliberate attempt in sending some kind of message by scheduling
the visit in such a manner.

Design: Uday Kuckian


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