Never one to betray unnecessary excitability, India’s foreign policy point man, the stoic External Affairs Minister Somanahalli Mallaiah Krishna, has struck some encouraging notes ahead of his visit to Pakistan in an exclusive interview with The Express Tribune.
Among other things, he stressed that India wants Islamabad as a strong and stable “partner” – and pointed out that Pakistan’s geographical location puts it in an ideal position to be a bridge between South and Central Asia.
Scheduled to arrive in Pakistan today (Friday) on a three-day visit as a part of the composite dialogue process, Krishna is to hold talks with his Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar, as well as other top political leaders on a range of issues.
His visit comes after substantive progress has already been made on the trade and commerce front between Pakistan and India, and could lay the groundwork for an even higher-level visit: that of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Krishna spoke to The Express Tribune over email on the eve of his arrival, talking about everything from trade to terrorism, prisoners to politics and from Consulates to Kashmir.
The following is the text of entire interview, uncut.
Q: Should we expect any major breakthrough on some of the contentious issues hampering improved relations between Pakistan and India when Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh travels to Islamabad later this year?
A: Let me begin by saying that I bring message of goodwill and serious intent for dialogue from the Government and the people of India for the Government and the people of Pakistan. India is desirous of building a relationship of mutually beneficial all-round cooperation with Pakistan. We would wish to see Pakistan as our strong and stable partner in pursuit of peace, progress and prosperity in our region.
During their recent meeting on the sidelines of the NAM Summit in Tehran, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh thanked President Zardari for his gracious invitation to visit Pakistan. Dr Singh also said that he attached great importance to normalising relations with Pakistan, and was keen to visit Pakistan. It is also clear that the right atmosphere needs to be created for the visit. It would need to be prepared well to have a substantive outcome, which could strengthen significantly the process of building a constructive relationship with all round co-operation between the two countries. Prime Minister Singh also mentioned to President Zardari that there must be a general feeling that Pakistan was doing all that it can to deal with terrorism directed against India from Pakistan’s soil. In keeping with the desire of the two leaders, I shall explore with Her Excellency Hina Rabbani Khar the possibilities of what can be achieved to facilitate a purposeful visit of the Prime Minister.
Q: Why are the two—India and Pakistan-finding it almost impossible to come to some kind of agreement on Siachen and Sir Creek—-an agreement based on give and take?
A: India is committed to resolving all outstanding issues with Pakistan through peaceful bilateral dialogue to find practical and pragmatic solutions. Given the complexities of our bilateral relations, we have to be patient as we move forward and build more trust and confidence in each other. There is nothing that cannot be achieved through patience and perseverance. At the same time, we should not lose sight of the considerable progress made by the two countries over the last one year or so in regard to trade and commerce, which has enormous potential to contribute to the progress and well-being of people on both sides; as well as Cross-LoC trade and travel facilities. During my visit, I also hope to conclude a liberalized visa agreement, which will give further boost to people to people contacts.
Q: There has been a lot of talk about cooperation between the two countries to fight terrorism and drug trafficking but very little concrete progress. What are the reasons for this slow motion on these issues, potentially dangerous for the societies of both India and Pakistan?
A: Terrorism is the most serious threat to peace and security in our region. It is in the interest of everyone to co-operate in fighting this menace effectively and comprehensively. You may know that during their last meeting in May 2012, our Home/ Interior Secretaries reached an understanding to enhance cooperation between National Investigation Agency of India and FIA of Pakistan on issues of mutual concern, including Mumbai terror attacks investigation. They also took an in principle decision to initiate negotiations on a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty in order to strengthen mutual cooperation in criminal matters. They further decided to have an early meeting of investigation agencies (Central Bureau of Investigation of India and FIA of Pakistan) of the two countries to work out technical details of moving forward on issues of human trafficking, counterfeit currency, cyber crimes and Red Notices. However, I would wish to emphasize that to be productive, co-operation against terrorism requires a high degree of trust. We hope that the forward movement from the discussions between our Interior/Home Secretaries and the above mentioned agencies will be able to generate the requisite level of trust and the feeling that India’s concerns on this issue are being addressed effectively.
As regards drug trafficking, we hope that a Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Narcotics Control Bureau of India and Anti Narcotics Force of Pakistan in September 2011 to combat this menace will help enhance co-operation in this area.
Q: India does not seem to be even partially satisfied with the progress of the case in Pakistan against those (Lakhvi and company) allegedly involved in Mumbai attacks. What in your opinion would Pakistan need to do for India to feel satisfied with the progress?
A: India has repeatedly stressed, including at the highest level, the need for an expeditious and successful conclusion of the trial in Pakistan relating to those involved with the Mumbai terrorist attacks. Prime Minister Dr. Singh has recently mentioned that action in this respect will be a major confidence building measure, help in bridging the trust deficit and also help to build public support in India for the kind of relationship we would like to see between the two countries.
Q: How does India view Hafiz Saeed’s claims of his innocence in the Mumbai attacks?
A: Any such claim cannot withstand a case prepared well on the basis of the incontrovertible and undeniable evidence available against him and his well known track record of involvement in acts of terror against India.
Q: There are still many Indians in Pakistani jails and many Pakistanis in Indian jails. Would it not add to confidence building measures (CBMs) if the two immediately released at least those who have served their sentences and also those who are not accused of being involved in proven cases of espionage?
A: I completely agree that all such prisoners who have completed their sentences should be released and repatriated expeditiously. The understanding reached between the Home and Interior Secretaries in this regard needs to be implemented vigorously. I would like to mention that a large number of prisoners and fishermen have been repatriated from both sides over the last year or so. I am happy that efforts of the two governments in ensuring a humane approach in dealing with cases of fishermen and prisoners, especially women, elderly, juvenile, and those terminally ill or suffering from serious illness or physical / mental disability, have received significant support from the work of the bilateral Judicial Committee and the NGOs engaged in the task of ensuring the well-being and timely release of such individuals.
Q: In the same spirit-CBMs-would it not help if the two decided to allow setting up of their respective consulates in Mumbai and Karachi, so far blocked by Mumbai politics?
A: The significance of Mumbai and Karachi for trade and commerce and as pluralistic megacities is axiomatic. Resumption of work by the Consulate General of India in Karachi and that of Pakistan in Mumbai will undoubtedly help in boosting trade and commerce and people to people contacts. I would not look for simplistic answers to why the re-opening of these consulates has not taken place so far despite a move to that effect some years ago. Suffice it to say that we are in favour of such a move and willing to discuss the necessary modalities with the Government of Pakistan.
Q: Officially the two countries seem to have no reservations about relaxing visa restrictions but when it comes taking a final decision on the matter, the process seems to get stonewalled by some unexplained reasons. Your views on this, please.
A: A new and liberalized Visa Agreement has been finalised. It seeks to introduce or considerably improve visa facilities for tourists, businessmen, elderly and those wishing to visit their relations and friends. I may add that India has unilaterally taken a number of measures, including expediting business visas, grant of non-police reporting visas in deserving cases and introduction of student and medical categories etc.
Q: Now that there seems to be a desire on the part of the two countries to forge closer all round relations, would the two governments consider increasing the frequency of rail, road and air communications as well as removing all restrictions on to and fro movement of media products and media persons?
A: India wishes to build a mutually cooperative and productive relationship with Pakistan. Increased connectivity is both a facilitator and a consequence of such a bilateral engagement. The existing trade and travel links between our countries will need to be expanded as people to people contacts as well as trade and commerce grow. We are willing to consider opening more trade points along the border with Pakistan. We also fully support the theme of the last SAARC Summit, which was very aptly put as “Building Bridges”. India has put forward concrete proposals for enhancing regional connectivity not only with Pakistan but within the entire SAARC region. We are cooperating with SAARC countries and other neighbours in developing multi-modal connectivity within SAARC and beyond and look forward to Pakistan joining these efforts actively. India has also proposed two regional agreements – on Motor Vehicles and Railways in the SAARC framework. Pakistan’s geographical location puts it in an ideal position to be a bridge between South and Central Asia. The new trade and energy highways passing through our countries can bring prosperity commonly associated with the Silk Route of the bygone era.
People are at the heart of relations between any two countries, more so between India and Pakistan – countries which share much in their history and culture. Enhanced interaction between our peoples and exchanges in the sphere of media will go a long way in promoting better understanding of each other, and of this shared heritage and the need to preserve it. Our films, music, TV serials, artistes and authors are popular in each other’s country. I am happy that many young artistes from Pakistan are finding increasing success in India. We encourage this, for in the success of such people lies the seeds of greater trust and better understanding.
Q: Can you categorically say that the renewed peace process is irreversible? What if another Mumbai like attack happens, will it derail the process?
A: We have all along desired the peace process between India and Pakistan to remain uninterrupted. However, such a process cannot make much progress in an atmosphere of terror and violence. It would be unrealistic to expect that peace and cooperation can coexist with barbaric terrorism of the kind we saw in Mumbai. It is incumbent upon all countries to deal with terrorist forces effectively and comprehensively and to ensure that their territory is not used for acts of terror against others.
Q: Notwithstanding the current stated position of both Pakistan and India on Kashmir, can you realistically say the two countries find an out of box solution to the decades-old problem?
A: It would be recalled that the period between 2004-2008 saw the most fruitful and productive discussions ever between India and Pakistan, including on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir. These discussions were based on the common understanding that while boundaries could not be redrawn, we could work towards making them irrelevant by enabling people on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC) to move freely and trade with each other. We need to carry those discussions forward and build on them. I may add that as a result of Cross-LoC CBMs initiated during the above period, a large number of people from both sides of LoC have been able to visit their families on the other side, and goods worth crores have been traded through two designated points on the LoC. Over the last one year, Her Excellency Hina Rabbani Khar and I have taken some important decisions to improve further the trade and travel facilities along the LoC. The number of trading days has already gone up from two to four per week. Some other steps to be implemented include improvement of trade infrastructure, introduction of six-month multiple entry permits for travel, introduction of travel for tourism and pilgrimage in addition to visiting relations and introduction of banking facilities for Cross LoC trade. India is willing to open additional points along the LoC for trade and travel.
Q: India has got massive investment in the Southeast of Afghanistan and Pakistani leadership is always skeptical of your country’s presence there. How would you assure authorities here in Islamabad that New Delhi’s involvement in Kabul should not be seen as threat?
A:- India is engaged in developmental and humanitarian work in Afghanistan, at the request of the Government of Afghanistan, to assist the Afghan people as they build a peaceful, stable, inclusive, democratic and pluralistic Afghanistan. India does not see Afghanistan as a battleground for competing national interests, nor assistance to Afghanistan for reconstruction and development as a zero sum game. Our 2 billion US Dollar assistance programme in Afghanistan is largely aimed at building infrastructure, capacity building in critical areas of governance, health, education, agriculture and generating employment. This has been developed in consultation with the Afghan authorities and is spread across all areas of that country. India’s sincere and friendly cooperation with Afghanistan, a country with which we share ties since antiquity, is not directed against any other country. I believe that there is growing realization of this reality in better informed segments of public opinion in Pakistan also. As countries with a vital stake in peace and stability in Afghanistan, we ought to be able to discuss our respective role in contributing towards such peace and stability.
Q: Is it possible that Pakistan and India can be on the same page on the Afghan endgame?
A: As countries in the region, both India and Pakistan naturally have a vital stake in a peaceful, stable, inclusive, democratic and pluralistic Afghanistan. Both the countries, and their peoples, stand to benefit enormously from Afghanistan thriving as a transit hub of trade and energy. This vision has also been endorsed by the international community. Such an Afghanistan can come about only if there is no external interference in its affairs and the people of Afghanistan are left to make choices for their own future. India would respect such choices and expects all other countries to do likewise.
Q: How can you assure authorities in Pakistan that India is not in any way involved in the ongoing unrest in Balochistan?
A: We have said it on many occasions, at the highest level, and I reiterate it for the benefit of your readers, that India wishes to see a stable and prosperous Pakistan, acting as a bulwark against terrorism in its own interest and in the interest of the region. We are highly disappointed at the allegations made against India from time to time in the context of unrest in Baluchistan, with which India has nothing to do.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 7th, 2012.
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