Mian Nawaz Sharif, who was Pakistan’s Prime Minister at the time of the May 1998 tit-for-tat nuclear tests, believes that that India and Pakistan are today more confident when it comes to dealing with each other. Excerpts from an exclusive interview he gave to the
days before the 10th anniversary of his country’s nuclear tests:
You were Prime Minister when India and Pakistan conducted their nuclear tests 10 years ago in May. Is there some kind of “strategic stability” between the two countries today?
I think so. Both countries today are feeling more confident while dealing with each other. Soon after the detonations, the (dialogue) process started when the Indian Prime Minister visited Pakistan. I think it was a turning point in history when the two PMs met — an Indian PM came on his first-ever State visit to Pakistan. My answer is yes.
You were in Almaty when India tested its nuclear devices on May 11. What was your first reaction?
I was surprised that all of a sudden this has happened: what was the need to do it? But that also gave us an opportunity (laughs) to test our own nuclear devices. Actually, we didn't want to do that. But then India gave us the honour.
Although the world was not happy with both of us, and Pakistan was under enormous pressure from the international community not to test, India, since it did so suddenly, did not face those pressures.
Everybody was calling me — all the G8 heads were calling me. But then there was no other option left for us. India gave us no other option but to detonate.
The credit for our detonations goes to India. India actually made Pakistan a nuclear power. It turned Pakistan nuclear. Both the blame and the credit goes to India (laughs).
Is there a date between May 11 and May 28, when you decided that Pakistan would test its nuclear devices in the Chagai Hills of Balochistan?
It was somewhere in between the middle of the two dates. We were certain that there was no other option, but to detonate.
Was this purely your decision? Or did the Army have a different take on the issue?
There were different views, sometimes conflicting views. Some said do it, others said don't do it. Some said there will be unbearable pressures from outside. At the end of the day, everybody knew that we had no other option but to do it. There was near unanimity at the time of taking the decision.
Could you have survived as Prime Minister without testing? It was difficult because the nation wanted it.
Do you think the Pakistan Army could have gone for Kargil without the umbrella of the Chagai nuclear tests?
They could have. I don’t think the ones who undertook this misadventure (Kargil) had this thing in mind. Perhaps, they didn’t have the mind to calculate that (laughs loudly).
Post-Kargil, Musharraf improved relations with India. Wasn't he following in your footsteps?
I think he took a U-turn. In the beginning, he was showing his fist to India. He took that U-turn after 9/11, perhaps. Otherwise, he was in a different mood. He (Musharraf) is a man who is very shifty in his policy and decisions.
Had you been PM, how would you have handled 9/11?
We would have extended full cooperation to the international community, but after seeking the support of the Pakistani people. Musharraf’s was a one-man support. That is where the difference lies.
President Bush has said that the time is ripe for a solution to the Kashmir dispute. Do you agree with him?
We’re already late by 60 years. Had we resolved Kashmir in 1947, we would have been different countries today…If the Lahore process hadn't been derailed in 1999, we would have achieved something by now. Mr Vajpayee told me that let us declare 1999 as the year of resolution for all our problems, including Kashmir.
Do you think the time has come for Indian companies to invest in Pakistan and vice versa as well?
Yes, why not. I would like to see the visas abolished between both countries. India should also reciprocate. I’m of the view that even if India doesn't reciprocate, we should do it unilaterally.
The bureaucracies on both sides, you see, hardly allow us to move forward. I’m not criticising the two bureaucracies, they are made that way. They don’t come out of their stated positions very easily.
India remains concerned about the operations of militants in Pakistan. What can be done to address that issue?
I don’t know whether their concerns are real or not. I don’t think there is any such thing existing on the ground. At least, I’m not aware of that.
General Musharraf gave a four-point formula to work out a resolution to the Kashmir issue, ruling out what was not acceptable to India and Pakistan. You think we can work with that?
This gentleman, Musharraf, announces very, very important things off-the- cuff. He has the habit of taking decisions in a very casual manner; sometimes he doesn’t apply his mind to these issues. He’s also erratic, a little impulsive. I don’t agree on a lot of things with Mr. Musharraf.
But then one has to look into this. One will have to study this. We don’t have to go by what Mr Musharraf says. Let us sit down and see how best we can resolve this issue. A solution has to be acceptable to the people of Pakistan, India and Kashmir. Otherwise, there can’t be any solution. There I agree. We have to find some way.