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Saurabh Shukla, PTI
New Delhi, August 03, 2004
You have just completed a hundred days in the foreign office. How was it?
There are three elements of diplomacy that I want to take forward. There is the ethnic element of diplomacy, economic element and the democratic element. Democratic content of our relationships has to be brought forth. Whenever possible there have been exchanges between parliaments. It does make a difference vis-a-vis Pakistan.

We also have to make use of the emerging political clout of the NRIs and the Persons of Indian Origin. We are working on a ‘Pravasi Bhartiya Divas’ in January. The clout of Indian professionals abroad will be an important input in our foreign policy.

What is your impression of the image of India based on your discussions with world leaders?
The (recent) international conferences in New York, Copenhagen, and Johannesburg allowed me to meet many Foreign Ministers. One of the advantages we have is that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is recognised as a statesman. I saw it during his meetings with President Bush and Prime Minister Blair. Then there is India’s economic strength, which is clearly an asset.

Now, we talk of a two-way traffic even for investment proposals. Times have changed. Also, the strategic importance of India has been realised. You have to listen to what India says, India cannot be taken lightly. India’s image has undergone a change, and for the better.

Cross-border terrorism remains one of the biggest challenges. All that you are left with are the empty promises by General Musharraf which were never fulfilled. Aren’t you worried?
We didn’t ask the global community for a promise. We didn’t appeal to the Americans to get us a promise. It was Richard Armitage who conveyed General Musharraf’s promise. Cross-border terrorism is still continuing. If General Pervez Musharraf has gone back on his promises, then the international community should take note of it.

The international community should deal with him as he made a promise to them. We are in dialogue with them. To the extent they can discipline Musharraf is fine, the rest is our problem and we will deal with him.

How do you plan to deal with him?
We do have a strategy to deal with terrorism and things are under control. If Pakistan was allowed to have its way, things would have been much worse. We dealt with Pakistan-supported terrorism in Punjab and we won. We had a successful Jammu and Kashmir election. Clearly, India is winning the war against terrorism.

But there is a view that Indian diplomacy has not worked well against Pakistan.
I would say India has an upper hand today, on the ground and in the diplomatic arena. You think of any one – Japan, EU, G-8. In the last few months you see the statements coming from them that have held Pakistan responsible for promoting cross-border terrorism. Therefore the achievements of Indian diplomacy should not be minimised. In the past, the Western powers tended to tilt towards Pakistan; the tilt has gone.

But what about double standards adopted by these countries? For instance, in the case of clandestine Pakistani nuclear support to North Korea, the US Secretary of State Colin Powell almost gave a clean chit to Pakistan.

We have to be pragmatic. We make our judgements, they make theirs. The basic principle is that we will do things in our national interest and they will in theirs. We cannot expect them to do things that are not in their national interest. As long as we realise this basic principle we will not be under any illusion.

An impression is gaining ground that the decision to withdraw our forces from the border and de-escalate was taken under pressure.
Somewhere deep down we have this misconception that we do things under orders from someone. The simple fact that we are capable of taking our own decision is not recognised. This decision was taken entirely by the Government.

Of course, the whole world has been telling us to de-escalate since Agra, but there is no question of India acting under pressure. It’s not a question of this Government or that Government, it’s about national prestige.

By saying we have acted under pressure, we are diminishing our national prestige. Why say we have acted under pressure from the US, why not Japan or Austria?

Are we contemplating any more de-escalatory steps such as restoring transport links between India and Pakistan and restoring full diplomatic status?
That will be as and when the situation arises. It will not be fair for me to comment on it at this stage.

On Indo-US ties, where do you think they are headed?
We are trying to build on our commonality. We are trying to give a new dimension to our relationship. It has several components. Military to military co-operation, there is co-operation in civilian nuclear technology, and even in areas like dual use technology we are settling our differences. There is a growing economic component of the relationship.

Our views converge on international issues and I see the building of a strategic relationship with the US. This is the direction both our Prime Minister and President Bush are working in.

Moving to Afghanistan, are you concerned at the resurgence of the pro-Taliban elements in Afghanistan?
We are not present in Afghanistan militarily, others are. They have to keep the dangers in mind. We have shared our information with them. There is a real danger of pro-Taliban elements trying to come back to power and these concerns have to be met effectively.

Do you think that steps being taken at the global level address India’s concerns on terrorism?
Unfortunately, at the international level, countries which are directly affected by terrorism are on one side and on the other are those who are not affected. They don’t realise that it is just a question of time before it catches up with them.

When did we suggest a Comprehensive Convention on terrorism? It was in 1997, four years before September 11. The convention is still being discussed at the UN. We’ll have to work together to strengthen the fight against terrorism, setting aside all differences.

Can they really fight terrorism with Pakistan as an ally?
Our view is that countries like Pakistan need to be disciplined, (otherwise) the war against terrorism will be incomplete. The world may not realise it today, but it will tomorrow.

Incidents like Gujarat have lowered India’s image abroad. Don't you feel that the statements made by some people dilute India’s diplomatic war against religious fundamentalism and terrorism?

Every interlocutor who comes here has to realise that India is a democracy. Why only Sangh parivar, lots of people are saying a lot of things. What matters is the attitude, and policies of the government and national consensus. People who get worried about such statements suffer from amnesia. They forget the fact that India is a democracy with freedom of expression. If such a thing would have happened in their own country, they wouldn't have been worried.