Prime minister Manmohan Singh is still keen to visit Pakistan. He “needs a door not a window for making the visit purposeful,” says external affairs minister Salman Khurshid tells HT. Full text of the interview with Jayanth Jacob where talks on a host of foreign policy issues.
Q) Pakistan is supposed to give you the MFN status by the month end, which they say they are positively considering. Also there is the the day to day trial on these 26/11 case in Pakistan. Do you see some window is still open for the Prime Minister to visit Pakistan?
Salman Khurshid: Prime Minister needs a door, not a window. When he visits Pakistan he needs a door. But we make assessment and I am sure that the Prime Minister’s Office does that. We provide inputs from time to time as to what will be the ideal time for him to visit. There is a problem though at the other end because Pakistan is moving very fast towards an election and obviously they will get preoccupied after a couple of weeks with those elections. Whether there will be the best opportunity at that time to go to Pakistan or not, I think is the big question. But as I said, Prime Minister wants to go to Pakistan but he wants the visit to be a purposeful one, to be a visit which is not just an ordinary visit but a visit that will achieve something. I think it is important because the disappointment of not achieving anything in the visit and become a drag on whatever expectation we have of moving forward. So, I think at the right time and with the right sense prevailing, the Prime Minister will factor everything in and then make up his mind.
Q) It is the first time that a democratically-elected Government is going to complete its term in Pakistan. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be completing two terms in office. He has been one of the Prime Ministers who always advocated better India-Pakistan ties and this vision for South Asia is well-known. Is it not a bit sad, that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh not visiting Pakistan because of the circumstances which have been there?
Salman Khurshid: Pakistan is not going away and Dr. Manmohan Singh is not going away. So, let us just wait for the right opportunity to come. Going there to congratulate them for completing five years of elected civilian rule is good. Going there to congratulate them on emergence of a new civilian elected government is also a good moment. So, let us see. All these things contribute to the decision. When the decision is taken, you people will be the first to know.
Q) Which is a better moment,? You said both are good moments, congratulating on completion of five years and the first elected.
Salman Khurshid: That is only in terms of timeline. But there are a lot of other factors that have to be taken into account and I have not mentioned those factors. But those are very obvious factors. As I said, factors that will make the visit purposeful are what will be the deciding factors upon which the Prime Minister will take a call.
Q) With regard to the India-Pakistan cricket series, is any cricket diplomacy in the offing? There have been famous incidents in the past. World Cup was one instance when Prime Minister met Prime Minister Gilani.
Salman Khurshid: The very fact that we are playing cricket I hope is a message enough. Who will watch that cricket? We will see as we go along. But just the fact that we are playing cricket I think is important. Some people have objected even to this. There will always be some people who would not want India and Pakistan to move forward at the speed at which after thoughtful consideration we believe we should move. But there are people who would be cynical, skeptics who will think that this is not the right thing to do. We value their point of view and we respect their point of view. But I think the majority of people feel that it is time that we got back to the playing field and use it as a confidence-building measure so that more difficult areas of our relationship can then be taken up and resolved.
Q) So, no diplomacy on the side? No meetings?
Salman Khurshid: Side diplomacy is never planned. It just happens. If there is something that comes up and circumstances offer an opportunity, I am sure both of us will take it.
Q) Despite New Delhi taking it up many a time, the trial of 26/11 Mumbai attack case in Pakistan is not making any substantial progress and Islamabad has been saying it cannot intervene with the judicial process. Do you think that a meaningful India Pakistan dialogue is held hostage to this one issue?
Salman Khurshid: India desires peaceful, friendly and cooperative ties with Pakistan. Our ties can be normalized in an atmosphere which is free from terror and violence. There can be no doubt that we are disappointed at the glacial pace at which Pakistan’s 26/11 judicial process has been progressing. We feel that the Pakistan authorities can do much more in this regard. India remains committed to resolving all outstanding issues with Pakistan through a bilateral dialogue process. Two rounds of the resumed dialogue have been completed since this process began in 2011. The Commerce Secretary level talks held in Islamabad in September 2012 marked the commencement of the third round of these talks. We are committed to this process which is predicated on a step-by-step, graduated and forward looking approach which builds on points of convergence and aims to narrow points of divergence.
Q) Rajiv Gandhi was the last Congress prime minister to visit Pakistan. Dr. Manmohan Singh is held in high esteem by Pakistani leaders and his intentions for good India-Pakistan ties are beyond doubts. But is it the sense that Congress cannot be as daring as BJP in thinking out of the box when it comes to India-Pakistan ties?
Salman Khurshid: All Governments in India have worked towards establishing good neighbourly ties with Pakistan. As I have said earlier our ties can be normalized only in an atmosphere that is free from terror and violence.
Q)Former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf has recently said that the ‘establishments, the intelligence agencies” in both India and Pakistan play a disproportionate role in not improving the ties between the two countries. How do you see it?
Salman Khurshid: India’s parliamentary democracy and Cabinet decision making process are well known, and as the world’s largest democracy do not require reiteration. However, I would not like to comment about former President Musharraf ‘s views regarding decision making in his country.
Q) This is a broader question on Maldives. Some issues regarding Indian investment on a particular project happened in Myanmar in 2011. Now it is happening in Maldives. Is it a sort of a pattern that Indian investment and Indian companies are finding difficulties in countries like Maldives and Myanmar where you do not have that kind of a favourable political situation?
Salman Khurshid: I do not think we should see this in a disproportionate way and out of context. There are local politics in every country and there are differences between political parties and their perceptions about how suitable a particular decision is. You have to take the risk of that in a democracy. That is the reason why we sign bilateral investment treaties and so on and similar guarantees. But in spite of that our own experience shows that internal institutional tensions can end up giving outcomes and results that are not necessarily optimal. So, I think you just have to take these things in your stride and deal with them as they come. This should not be seen as doomsday prophecies or an issue of someone flexing muscle against you and then this should therefore lead to a confrontation. I think we should not see it in that context. But depending on how complex the problem is and the nature of the problem, we deal with it as and when we are called upon to do so. We have to learn to be mature in terms of letting our private industry and private business deal with Governments that it is working with. And at the same time the broad canvas within which they have to work is the canvas that we must protect, preserve and indeed develop as and when it is thought appropriate.
Q) But Sir, there were many reports and many suggestions that there are foreign hands involved. Do you see any neighbouring countries for example inimical to your interest in this?
Salman Khurshid: Why shouldn’t neighbouring countries take an interest? We do not have a monopoly of any country. These are friendly countries. We have invested both in terms of financial support, capacity building, cooperation in the field of development, and in terms of emotional attachment of our people. And we should have self confidence and faith in the relationship that has been developed by our leadership on both sides over decades if not centuries. I think we should not be overtly and unnecessarily concerned about other countries trying to find a foothold in our traditional friendly countries. We should have the confidence to know that ultimately our bonds will be stronger than anything else others are to offer.
Q) But, is it not creating a sort of temporary tension whether it is Pakistan or China finding a foothold in countries like Maldives?
Salman Khurshid: External Affairs Minister: Temporary concerns, passing concerns, of course to view and check our own efforts to ensure that, as you do it in the market place and the market place when a new shop opens, you do take a look and see whether it is attracting some of your old customers or whether you need to do something to reinforce your hold and your bond with your customers. I think that is the same sort of thing that happens in the market place of the world that countries make new friends, countries revive old friendships, countries cement relationships of the past, countries build upon relationships of the past. And I think you need to continue doing that.
Q) Moving on to the nuclear deal issue, there are concerns still about India’s liability law. Many firms argue that their cost will go up if they have to ensure every equipment and things like that. Is it also the Government of India’s view that you can pay them extra money for all the insurance they are going to do for the supplier liability clause in the law?
Salman Khurshid: Our view simply is that we have the law and we have the rules. These have been legislated after considerable debate in the country and disagreement in the country. But now that we have this regime in place, and we have explained this to interested parties across the globe, and many are willing to do business with us based on these, I would urge others to follow suit. I think there are some people who have doubts. We have done our best to clear those doubts and we will continue to do so. As some global companies begin to invest and do business with us, I am sure others will fall in line. If there are difficulties within the four corners of legislation that we have, we are willing to talk about them and see those difficulties can be removed or at least explained away.
Q) There is a suggestion from the US that the law should be interpreted by IAEA. Is it the position you agree to? How do you see that kind of a stand?
Salman Khurshid: Even if we said yes, how will it work? The law has to be interpreted by our courts. Our courts are not subservient to any international organization. They take into account our international obligations. But that is all. Ultimately the interpretation has to be done under our Constitution by our courts, which means the Constitutional courts of our country.
Q) By saying so do you mean that Indian law is consistent with international liability regime? There is nothing in Indian law which is against the international liability regime clauses.
Salman Khurshid: Our obligation is to make our law consistent with international obligations. That is what we do and that is what we have done in each case. For that purpose the only way it can be done is by making appropriate amendments in Parliament. Whatever is finally the product of Parliament can be interpreted only by our courts finally. Our courts are not subservient to or not subject to appeals to adjudication beyond our courts except perhaps where we voluntarily go to the International Court of Justice. It is only in such a case that our courts would be bound by decisions that are taken by the International Court of Justice.
Q) There was also a demand that the law should be looked at by the Parliament again. Is it something which you will be open to?
Salman Khurshid: You have seen how difficult it was when it went to Parliament last time. You will really be inviting trouble to take it back to Parliament. I think sometimes it is best to let something work without reopening a Pandora’s box. There are, not just in India but world over, very strong constituencies against nuclear power. Therefore, I think we should be happy and content with what we have been able to do and let it work forward and show to people that it is beneficial for them, before we try to improve in terms of expectations that some people have.
Q) On the South China Sea issue, how do you think the Code of Conduct that is being talked about will be implemented? China is a big power. It cannot be easily contained. Many people in the Indian Government also said that. Suddenly a Code of Conduct on South China Sea is gaining traction. How do you see it being implemented once the Code is in place?
Salman Khurshid: Chinese are responsible members of the world community and they play a significant role in the ASEAN region. They have a bilateral and multilateral presence in the region. They are in contact with the countries of that region which have varying perceptions about the entire issue. As far as we are concerned, we very categorically support, and obviously we are not the only ones to say this, that freedom of navigation and international law of the sea should be observed. That is standard proposition. But the real issue is with the countries of that area, that region. They are in touch and they will find a solution. One should not treat China as being independent and separate of the world community and the arrangements that the world makes for issues such as these. So, let the negotiations continue in a manner in which they are continuing. And then some solution will be found.
Q) At the same time it is an issue of sovereignty for China. It is like a sovereign issue being brought into a multilateral forum. India has for long resisted this kind of an idea for its own domestic issues. How do you see it from that perspective?
Salman Khurshid: There are a lot of countries which are happy to go into multilateral solutions. There are a lot of countries that do not accept multilateral solutions for issues, as we do not. But you cannot have a single rule and a single size sort of fit everybody. The circumstances, the context, aspirations of people, perceptions - all these matter. Then finally they decide. China wants to talk bilaterally to its neighbours. China will talk bilaterally to its neighbours. I do not think that we should look for problems where no problems exist. Wherever there are possible solutions, I think we should encourage those possible solutions rather than find impediments.
Thank you, Sir.