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Open trade: Tharoor's solution for peace

Shashi Tharoor, MP, former diplomat, writer and the country’s most influential person on Twitter, tells Sonakshi Babbar about his latest book, what ails Pakistan and why he wouldn’t like to "interact" with Lalit Modi.

books Updated: Jul 13, 2012 08:22 IST
Sonakshi Babbar, Hindustan Times

If there’s anyone who can write with authority on India’s place in the world it is Shashi Tharoor, the former United Nations diplomat and present MP from Thiruvananthapuram. In his eighth non-fiction book, Pax Indica: India and the World of the 21st Century, he brings the spotlight on the country’s place in the new world order. The author speaks to Sonakshi Babbar about how we can prevent another 26/11, India’s current economic situation and more.

Sonakshi Babbar: Many authors have taken stock of India’s place in the world for instance Mark Tully in Non-Stop India and Ruchir Sharma in Breakout Nations. Pax Indica, too, tries to assess India’s importance in the multi-polar world but do you think all this talk of ‘India rising’ being undermined by our current economic situation?

Shashi Tharoor: I wouldn’t say that. Obviously there’re question marks in people’s mind and certainly it’s important how others see us but we are still better than most economies in the world. We’re growing at 5.9%, which is less than what we hoped for and what we have been doing, but I don’t believe we should worry too much. In a year or two, we will head back to at least a 7% and then India’s rise would continue.

Sonakshi Babbar: From your writing, it comes across that you blame Pakistan’s internal politics for hindering the Indo-Pak peace process. It also appears that you support the way Indian government has initiated dialogue with Pakistan through cricket diplomacy and designer diplomacy. Do you actually believe that such Track II methods would solve the issues permanently? Do we not need a strict action to prevent another 26/11?

Shashi Tharoor: We have a real challenge when it comes to dealing with Pakistan. We know that when Vajpayee (former prime minister AB Vajpayee) took the bus yatra to Pakistan, we were rewarded with Kargil and when we had good talks between Pervez Musharraf and Manmohan Singh, we were awarded with 26/11. Clearly, there are elements within the powerful Pakistani establishment who don’t wish to see genuine peace. They want to undermine the peace process because they thrive on hostility with India to justify their power. Their dominance of Pakistani resources and institutions depends on this hostility. This is the real problem and this isn’t going to change unless Pakistan itself changes.

To tackle this, my argument isn’t that of a hawk--I don’t believe in military solutions--and not even that of a dove--I don’t believe in candlelight processions. I feel we should go into this with eyes wide open that there’re serious limitations on how Pakistan has been performing in the subcontinent and how it has encouraged militancy and terrorism. We as a country can’t afford the distraction of having the Pakistani albatross around our neck. Obviously, we can’t afford a war because investors won’t come into a warzone. So, we need to find a solution and for that we need to take Pakistan’s civilian government at face value.

When it comes to Kashmir, there’s no formula that is agreeable to both sides, but even if we find that, it won’t be sufficient because Pakistani elements will find something else to be hostile about. We need a modus vivendi wherein we can coexist together, relax visas, have cultural exchanges, open trade and have a greater normality between the two nations. In fact, if we have more trade, Pakistan will also have more at stake. Frankly, since there’s no trade right now, ISI or Pakistani military have nothing to lose if they harm us. Therefore, we need to create conditions that ensure normality so that they think twice before attacking us.

Sonakshi Babbar: In the book, you have compared Pakistan’s terrorist groups to Frankenstein’s monster who have escaped the control of ISI and Pakistani military and turned down on the country’s own institutions. Do you think that Imran’s Khan’s brand of politics would bring about a change?

Shashi Tharoor: Imran is a friend. I know him and like him personally, but he is a Pakistani politician and he has to cater to prejudices of people who he hopes vote for him. In these circumstances we have heard statements coming out of his party which are troubling to us, but you have to see that there’re certain things to be said for a domestic audience and something else for the international audience. It’s the actual policy from which we can judge them and not by words alone. We have to see if he comes to power and if he does than how he conducts himself.

Sonakshi Babbar: You said in a recent interview that ‘we need to give more than we take’ in context of the subcontinent. Whereas in the book, you’ve pointed out how we keep on demanding from US (support for permanent seat at the UN Security Council, pressuring Pakistan). What should be our approach while dealing with the world?

Shashi Tharoor: In the neighborhood, we are the big giant. Since 80% GDP of the whole area is ours, we must give more than we take. It’s not in our interest to have a series of hostile neighbours trying to pull us down, after all Gulliver was also tied down by Lilliputians. But of course, our strategy needs to be different once we go beyond our neighborhood. It should be a much more hard-headed calculation of what’s in our interest.

Sonakshi Babbar: You’ve had an illustrious career as a diplomat but you’ve spend the last couple of years in Indian politics working at grassroots level. How did this transition happen and what are the main differences you’ve noticed in the politics of the world as compared to politics of India?

Shashi Tharoor: When I was at UN, I wasn’t working on Indian foreign policy. I was working for the collective interest of all member states. Being in India has made my perspective a more national one. As I have argued in the book, the most important thing about our international policy is that it should directly serve the security and well-being of Indians. Our political leadership should create an environment in which we can pursue our own domestic transformation.

Sonakshi Babbar: The Kochi IPL team controversy led to your resignation from the post of Minister of External Affairs. Are you still interested in IPL? Will you mind interacting with Lalit Modi?

Shashi Tharoor: I would certainly mind interacting with Modi, who I thought behaved disgracefully. As a cricket fan I love watching cricket of any kind and I really enjoyed IPL this time.

Sonakshi Babbar: Since you came back to India, you’ve been dogged by controversies. It’s believed by some people that you’re more suited for diplomacy than politics. Do you agree with that?

Shashi Tharoor: I don’t agree with that and I think we should let the voters in Thiruvananthapuram decide that. They have given me a thumping majority and I have been doing a lot of work in my constituency to serve their interests. I’m hopeful that those who claim that I am not suitable for politics will get a fitting answer from the voters.

Sonakshi Babbar: You’ve engaged with India’s international policies in Pax Indica. Do you see yourself turning inwards and exploring the secessionist movements, especially Kashmir and Maoist issues troubling India’s internal peace?

Shashi Tharoor: As a politician, I’m concerned with all these issues, but as a writer after doing my eighth consecutive non-fiction book, it’s time for a fiction.

Sonakshi Babbar: Do you enjoy reading non-fiction over fiction?

Shashi Tharoor:

I quite enjoy reading fiction though I end up reading a lot of non-fiction, current affairs, journals and academic paper

First Published: Jul 13, 2012 08:22 IST