July issue 2002
Interview: Sudhir Vyas
“After December 13, there is zero tolerance in India for state-sponsored terrorism”
– Sudhir Vyas, Deputy High Commissioner, Indian High Commission
A: India has been fighting terrorism sponsored from across its borders, for two decades now. After September 11, it is widely recognised that the menace of terrorism cannot be isolated geographically. Tackled here, it only shifts its epicentre to another conducive location there. A global phenomenon, international terrorism cannot be justified or appeased; it must be confronted. Every member of the international coalition against global terror has a role to play.
What we are seeing today is not a US-sponsored war on terrorism, it is joint action by all peace-loving nations amongst whom India will play its role. Furthermore, today the international community rejects completely any attempt to make a distinction between terrorism and so-called “freedom fighting.” Use of violence and killing of innocent men, women and children cannot be justified on any ground or pretext. History has also shown that those who seek to use or sponsor such methods to pursue political goals, often have to face the consequences of the culture of belief and activity that is generated.
Q: How can India maintain it is serious about addressing what even it concedes are the genuine grievances of the Kashmiri people when its actions in the state — e.g. the arrests of Geelani and Yasin Malik — are completely contrary to any such contentions?
A: The people of Jammu and Kashmir enjoy full democratic rights guaranteed to them under the constitution. They are represented at the state and at the centre, and any genuine grievances that they may have can be addressed through these mechanisms. This democratic and constitutional dispensation is protected from subversion by a set of laws dealing with national security. Obviously, any person acting contrary to these provisions will face prosecution.
Q: India remains intransigent about no third party mediation on Kashmir, yet it seems to have no qualms about enlisting western help and sympathy in regard to its charges against Pakistan’s alleged sponsorship of terrorism in the state. How do you defend this double standard?
A: Terror transcends boundaries seamlessly. It is incumbent on all responsible countries to work jointly to eradicate this menace. There is a role for international cooperation as a part of the global effort against international terrorism. Today it is recognised that terrorism anywhere is a threat everywhere, especially with the mutations and interlinkages of the various terrorist groups. It is for this reason that the international consensus today demands that terrorism be eradicated wherever it exists. Bilateral issues between states, however, are a different matter, and a third country’s role can only come into play with the consent and at the request of the parties involved. India is convinced, based on its own experience as well as elsewhere, that third country involvement in essentially bilateral issues only complicates matters to make them more intractable.
Q: India insists on bilateral dialogue on the Kashmir issue and at the same time turns down Pakistan’s offers to start a dialogue. Isn’t this contradictory? By maintaining this stance, India in a sense leaves third party mediation as the only option on Kashmir.
A: India is convinced that outstanding issues with its neighbour, Pakistan, can only be addressed peacefully through bilateral dialogue. It has been consistent in following up on this commitment, through the Composite Dialogue Process (1988), Prime Minister Vajpayee’s initiative at Lahore that resulted in the signing of the Lahore Declaration (1999), and his invitation to President General Musharraf for the Agra Summit (2001). A great deal of political and diplomatic energy went into Lahore and Agra. Each of these initiatives offered promise of forward movement on all outstanding issues including Jammu and Kashmir; each one was undermined by Pakistan. India was repaid for its initiatives at Lahore by Kargil, for Agra by attacks on the J and K Legislative Assembly and our National Parliament.
The experience has eroded the trust and confidence that Pakistan would be ready to work with India for the betterment of our people. India today is naturally cautious and is no longer willing to take Pakistan’s declaratory statements at face value. We now expect that Pakistan permanently and convincingly give up its policy of using cross-border terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy. India has not turned down Pakistan’s offer of starting dialogue and stands ready to reciprocate as soon as Pakistan implements the assurances that President General Musharraf has made to India and the international community to end terrorism from Pakistani soil.
Q: Indian govt. spokesperson Nirupama Rao recently stated quite unequivocally that Kashmir was an “integral part of India” — despite its universally acknowledged status as “disputed territory” — to bolster the argument against any foreign intervention in the state. By the same yardstick how does India justify its military support of the separatist movement in Bangladesh — then genuinely an integral part of Pakistan — or its covert but well-known support of the LTTE in Sri Lanka?
A: The Indian spokesperson has only restated facts. J and K is an integral part of India, enshrined as such in the constitution, which is an expression of the sovereign and freely expressed will of the people of India, including of the State of J and K. It is no secret that the then military government of Pakistan chose to overlook the results of the democratic elections that would have put a Bengali-speaking leader as Prime Minister of Pakistan. The brutal military assault by the Pakistan army on the East Pakistanis’ non-violent movement of resistance to the government of West Pakistan is equally well-documented and acknowledged. These events on our doorstep and the resulting flood of refugees into our territory could not but have far-reaching repercussions on our country.
When Pakistan waged war on India in 1971, the people of India fighting to defeat aggression found themselves partisans in the struggle of the people of Bangladesh battling for their very existence. Thus, the normal hesitation on our part not to do anything which could come in the way of peaceful solution, or could be construed as intervention, lost significance. As for LTTE, it is a banned organisation in India. India has sought the extradition of LTTE’s leader Prabhakran, for the assassination of our late Prime Minister.
Q: The few foreign observers grudgingly allowed into strategically selected areas of Hindu majority Jammu aside, if as India maintains there is no genuine freedom movement in Kashmir, why does it refuse to allow human rights group to observe the situation in the valley? Pakistan has extended a carte blanche invitation to foreign observers — including Indian journalists who have availed the offer — to visit Azad Kashmir.
A: The question is based on false premises. Foreign journalists have been regularly reporting from Jammu and Kashmir, including from the Valley and Ladakh. Unlike the norm in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, national and international visitors to J and K are free to move around and interact with local people. The state is open to tourism and in the last year alone, 52,68,246 tourists have visited the state. Several human rights and social action groups, including international organisations such as the ICRC, regularly visit the state. The National Human Rights Commission has J and K under its purview. There is a State Human Rights Commission as well.
Q: Isn’t it unrealistic to expect Pakistan to monitor the movement of every individual who attempts to cross the Line of Control when the 600,000 troops stationed along it on the Indian side can’t detect or stop this infiltration? Also why does India not allow foreign observers along its side of the LOC to draw their own conclusions about the alleged infiltration?
A: Infiltration across the Line of Control and the presence of training camps in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir is today internationally acknowledged. The Pakistani press itself is replete with details. It is self evident that infiltration of this kind is not possible as a consequence of individual initiative alone. It has been accepted that this has been sponsored and abetted by agencies of the Pakistani state. If Pakistan is to live up to its commitments made publicly, it would need to end the involvement of the state permanently and to close down training camps and other terrorist infrastructure. These steps are within the power of the Pakistani state to effect and are, in fact, an obligation under article 1 (ii) of the Simla Agreement as well as under UNSCR 1373. And it is not difficult, through technical and other means, for India and the international community to reach a pretty accurate assessment of the situation on ground.
Q: How much credence is there in the speculation that the BJP’s war rhetoric is in direct proportion to its domestic problem and attempts to retain power?
A: The BJP, as a component of the multi-party National Democratic Alliance, was voted into power through an electoral process involving a billion people. The full spectrum of Indian polity is regularly consulted on national security issues and has, in the present instance as well, provided unqualified support for India’s approaches to foreign policy issues. Speculation on the lines of your question, I’m afraid, reflects a lack of understanding of the Indian democratic process.
Q: Do you think nuclear war — or conventional war — has been imminent at any point in the current stand-off?
A: As Prime Minister Vajpayee has clearly stated, India, while not desirous of military confrontation, had kept all its options open. India’s objectives are and remain clear. Had Pakistan not given its commitment to permanently end infiltration and had the US not communicated that commitment to the Indian leadership, India would have had to take the necessary measures to end this menace. And India understands its responsibilities as a responsible nuclear power with a declared policy of no first use.
I must also draw attention to the fact that India has been facing a proxy war from Pakistan over the last two decades, and has demonstrated exceptional restraint. However, it needs to be clearly understood that after December 13, there is zero tolerance in India for state-sponsored terrorism.
Q: Exactly what will it take for India to begin to demobilise its troops at the border? It acknowledges that “cross-border infiltration” has dropped substantially, but maintains it “cannot trust Pakistan.” Will its trust be measured by time — if so, how much time?
A: Evidence that Pakistan is living up to the commitments that it has made would create an environment in which military demobilisation on the border can be initiated. If Pakistan permanently ends infiltration, and, as a corollary, closes down the terrorist infrastructure including training camps in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, a new beginning can be made, a new chapter opened in the bilateral relationship between India and Pakistan.
Q: The two overtures made by India — the recall of its warships and its stated declaration (not yet, made official) to allow Pakistan use of its air space in obvious anticipation of reciprocity — are widely seen as being only to India’s own benefit given the greater economic losses incurred by Pakistan’s ban on Indian use of its airspace. Would you comment?
A: The de-escalatory measures taken by India were communicated formally to the Pakistani Charge d’ Affaires in New Delhi by the Ministry of External Affairs. It does not get much more official than this. The de-escalatory steps India has taken are carefully considered, graduated to respond to the evolving situation and carry meaning. They have been welcomed by international observers as significant. Of course, any de-escalatory move will be in the interest of both countries, and India awaits a conducive environment to take further such steps. Some recent comments suggesting that Pakistan was backtracking on its commitments have no doubt delayed the possibility of further measures and also resurrected concerns about reliability and trust.
Q: When is the new Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan going to take office?
A: India will watch the situation and determine when the time is right to restore the diplomatic relationship to its full level.
Q: What message is India trying to convey by its choice of a nuclear scientist as President of the country?
A: The premises of this question are wrong. The election of the next President of India is yet to take place. The two main nominations for this post are persons of outstanding achievements and eminence. In so far as Dr Abdul Kalam is concerned, first of all, he is not a nuclear scientist. His work has centred mainly on space research and space vehicle technology, and he has devoted extraordinary efforts to the development of scientific education amongst the youth of India. His candidature was not based on any unifocal consideration but taking into account the overall situation and his complete role and personality.