India has “reasonably strong evidence” of the involvement of Pakistani government agencies in terrorism within the country. In his first formal interview since taking office, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee told the Hindustan Times and NDTV that he was not convinced by Pakistani denials of involvement. “No country under the sun will ever say that it has sanctioned terrorist activity,” the foreign minister scoffed.
Asked about the foreign secretary-level talks, Mukherjee said they had gone “along expected lines”.
He said that he was pleased that the details of the joint mechanism against terror had been fleshed out but was cautious.
“The test of the pudding is in the eating,” he said about the functioning of the mechanism.
Mukherjee said that if he was a prosecuting counsel approaching a judge with a case charging Pakistani organisations with terrorism, he would regard his case as being strong and would be confident “that my case would carry conviction with the presiding officer of the court”.
Asked specifically if this involvement was on the part of freelancers or government organisations, Mukherjee was categorical that governmental organisations were involved. He said that India had, in the past, also given Pakistan evidence of the location of training camps and of terrorist organisations. “But just because some of these organisations have changed their name, it does not make a difference. The individuals are still the same.”
Asked about the Pakistan foreign minister’s claim that the Siachen dialogue had reached a stage where the issue could be resolved in a few days, Mukherjee laughed: “If we all agree, then anything can be resolved in a few hours. Why do we need a few days?” He said the talks were still in progress and suggested that no breakthrough was visible.
The foreign minister spoke about a range of foreign policy issues. Asked about the Indo-US nuclear deal, he said he had spoken briefly to the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who had said she was hopeful that the bill could still be passed in this session of Congress.
However, he said that he was optimistic that it would be passed in the next session even if it did not go through this time. “There is strong bipartisan support for the bill and that support will not suddenly vanish into thin air just because there has been a change in the numbers in Congress,” he said.
Asked if India still stood by its old statement that it supported a constitutional monarchy in Nepal, Mukherjee said that India’s position was that it supported the Constitution. “There is talk of a new Constituent Assembly and a new Constitution now,” he said significantly. Did that mean that India no longer believed that Nepal needed a king? Mukherjee said that this was a matter for the Nepalese to decide.
Mukherjee conceded that there had been several rounds of meetings with the prime minister and the Congress president before he agreed to accept the Foreign Ministry. But he said that this was because he was involved in too many other things, including his role as leader of the House and as chairman of 12 groups of ministers (GoMs).
He, however, denied that he had expressed any desire to be deputy prime minister. “I have never uttered a word,” he said. “I do not know how these rumours start. There is no constitutional provision for a deputy prime minister. The post has no power.”
Did it ever worry him, he was asked, that when he first became a minister, Manmohan Singh was a middle-ranked civil servant. And that when Mukherjee was finance minister, he appointed Manmohan Singh as governor of the Reserve Bank?
“Even if these thoughts were to cross my mind, the excellent behaviour of Dr Manmohan Singh has given me no reason to think like that. The relationship of trust I enjoy with the present prime minister is such that I require no post. What is important is trust.”