Does your party and you personally look at this whole controversy about Jaswant Singh’s book on Jinnah sahib?
I think I am not very qualified to comment on this issue but I think it is something which of course is a matter which India has to deal with. I am an outsider from that point of view. I respect Mr Jaswant Singh. When he came to Pakistan, we had very good meetings here and we have been in touch also afterwards. He brought a very good Rajasthani turban for me, I still have it and I have great regards for it. I respect the man. The [BJP] has taken an action and the party is the best judge as to why it has taken this decision. There is nothing beyond this that I can say on this issue.
Jaswant claims that he has brought out the true facts and in his opinion this is the true position. I certainly appreciate what Mr Singh has written about Jinnah and I also have a lot of respect for the man. In my view, Mr Singh is a man who believes in certain principles.
You have interacted with Mr Vajpayee during the Lahore process and he went to Minar-e-Pakistan during that visit, which was perhaps more than praising Jinnah. Do you think that had he been at the helm of the BJP he would have handled the issue differently rather than expelling Mr Singh?
Perhaps I think Mr Vajpayee may have dealt with the issue in a different manner. He is regarded as a statesman. He is not only regarded as a statesman in India, he is also regarded as one in Pakistan. Mr Vajpayee and I had an excellent equation. We are the actual architects of the normalisation of relations between the two countries. We are the architects of the Lahore Declaration; we signed that paper together. And the words that he said during his visit in Pakistan were marvellous and they went down very well with the people of Pakistan. Later he went to Minar-e-Pakistan and signed the book there. The comments that he wrote there have become part of history. The man was not biased at all. He believed in bringing the two countries closer to each other. I was supporting his efforts I would say although I also believe in this cause very strongly. But he was a step ahead of even me to make this thing happen.
Has this Jinnah controversy, I mean don’t you think that there is a need for our two countries to revisit our respective national heroes in order to gain a deeper understanding of their role during their freedom struggle because that could make a good beginning towards the peace process, by shunning their old prejudices and taking things forward with a new perspective about each other’s national heroes?
That is how we will be able to come out of the deadlock. This deadlock has been on for the last 62 years now. Look at the resources that we have wasted on fighting each other, on buying armaments, ammunition. Look at the colossal damage that we have done to our own economies by wasting this money. There has been an arms race between the two countries over the last 62 years – India acquiring MIG 27 and we running after the F-16s. Do we really need them? And then we have stuck to our stated positions for the last 62 years. I think we need to get out of these stated positions. These stated positions have not helped us at all, have not been able to get us anywhere. I think that the minds now have to change and if we stick on to the old mindset I think we’ll be wasting our time.
Do you think that a joint body of historians from both sides would help so that we can re-do our history books on both sides, even at the school level, in order to save the future generations from the old prejudices?
Whether you do that or not, the new generation will do it. You hardly have any control on them.
How do you read this Sharm el-Sheikh statement? You know there is a controversy in India, a huge debate in India that it could have been drafted better.
We should understand each other’s position better. We should try to accommodate each other’s position, and if both sides are sincere – and I am sure they are sincere to their countries – and if they are sincere to the cause, then what is the problem? By reprimanding a prime minister in the parliament – here I am not passing any judgment on the issue as far as India is concerned – but I think Mr Manmohan Singh is as sincere to this cause as the Pakistani prime minister or the Pakistani government. So, if they both have discussed something, have signed an agreement, have reached an understanding, it should be taken as a positive step.
You have just been rated in two successive opinion surveys as the most popular leader of your country, what do you intend doing to put Indo-Pak ties on a more creative course given that you hold sway over the masses in Pakistan. You are also held in very high esteem in big influential sections in India. Don’t you think that you have a duty to do something in this?
I am thankful to the Indian people that they think like this. I also wish the very best to the Indian people. I think both countries have an excellent opportunity now under a democratic setup that we have in Pakistan – both the treasury benches and the opposition who are today one in this belief that both countries have to do business, resolve their outstanding issues amicably, sit across the table and get over with our problems. This is the belief of the opposition and if I am not wrong, it is also the policy of the federal government and the Pakistani government. The government today will not find me lagging behind in extending any amount of cooperation to make this happen. One, I think we should continue with the back-channel that we have. Yes, there has been this problem of Mumbai – the explosions and the killings in Mumbai have really given a set-back to the peace process. We should try to get out of it. Pakistan has a major role to play in this. Pakistan must reach out to India, convince India to sit down together, to conduct a joint investigation and Pakistan should regain the confidence of India in this issue. I know that India is hurt, I admit that, but I think that Pakistan has a duty to do and it should do that duty as quickly as possible and get this peace process going, establish the back channel once again and start the negotiations. We will support the government. There are also other options that one can think of but I do not think that I can give you these options off-hand unless I discuss them with the government. I am the one who actually very strongly support abolishing the visa between the two countries, I strongly support trade links with India, enhance the trade and commerce activities and at the same time I very strongly believe in sitting down together and getting out of our stated positions of the last 62 years and do business with India.
You are in the Opposition at the federal level, though you share power with the PPP in Punjab, what is your advice to Mr Advani? Would you like to give him an advice that you have a creative approach to putting Indo-Pak relations back on track? Would you have any advice for Mr Advani?
I am nobody to advise Mr Advani. He is of course a very seasoned politician, a very senior politician, I respect him. I can only say that I will extend full cooperation to the Indian political leadership – the government and the opposition because I also happen to be here among other political leaders, and of course we are in the opposition. Since we very strongly believe in the peace process, my humble role that I would like to play would be to extend full cooperation to the Indian leadership in this regard.
Do you think it will help if BJP is on board on the other side?
Certainly. Everybody will have to be on board. Same is true of Pakistan. I think the political leadership of Pakistan should also be on board here.
Would you like to tell the BJP that the political leader of Pakistan is serious about fighting terror jointly with India?
There is no doubt in this regard. We are fighting terrorism here ourselves, we are victims of terrorism and we are fighting it out successfully. Therefore, we do not believe in creating problems, not only for ourselves, also for our neighbours or the rest of the world. It is not something which has arisen now or yesterday, it is the result of the nine years of Musharraf’s dictatorship that the country is facing today. This terrorism, extremism, militancy is not a problem of yesterday; it is a problem of the last eight/nine years of dictatorship. Let me tell you that militancy, terrorism thrive under dictatorships, they never thrive under democracies. Dictatorships are excellent breeding grounds for militancy and radicalism. What we need to stress upon is to ensure that we don’t have dictatorships again and again in this country.
What do you think can be specifically done by both sides to reduce this trust deficit on the terror issue?
If the governments are not involved, if the state agencies are not involved, if there are non-state actors who are trying to subvert the peace process between the two countries, I think then both countries have a role to play, they have a responsibility to perform. India must then understand and appreciate that Pakistan is itself trying to fight this menace, therefore extend all cooperation to Pakistan. India knows fully well that the government of Pakistan, the state agencies of Pakistan are not involved in Mumbai killings. It is also being said not only by India but the international forces and Western countries have said the same thing, so if that is true, which of course it is true, then I think India must extend a hand of cooperation to Pakistan to fight this problem. Why the mistrust then?
Mistrust is normally about people like Hafiz Saeed and they getting released. Then your government in Punjab withdrew perhaps its petition in the Supreme Court, withdrew the appeal in the Supreme Court against his release by the High Court.
The governments are doing their best of course. The courts are independent. The government should try to get the kind of evidence which can stand the test of judicial scrutiny.
If there is evidence, then you assure that your government in the province and the federal government would act against it?
If the evidence is strong enough, which can stand the test of judicial scrutiny, of course the situation would then be different.
Do you think Sharm el-Sheikh suffered because it was signed without any adequate preparation on ground all too suddenly? These things require a lot of spadework.
If you go into too much of spadework and if you start going after the ideas floated by the civil servants and bureaucracy, then you are stuck, then you cannot get out of it. This is my experience of the last 20-30 years of politics. The politicians have to take the initiative.
Do you perceive the role for yourself in brokering peace between India and Pakistan, given your standing in your country and the goodwill that you enjoy in India?
I will very much like to use that position which I have been placed by God and of course by the people of Pakistan, make use of that in a very positive manner and use it for resolving all our outstanding issues with India. If I can do that, I think it will be a big service to not only to my country but to the Subcontinent. Why not? It will be a God-given opportunity for me.
So that means broadly that on peace with India, you and Mr Zardari agree? There is a huge agreement between the two of you?
I don’t think there is much of a difference between us here in Pakistan, the opposition and the government think alike on this isue.