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Interview with External Affairs Minister Mr. Jaswant Singh

November 25, 1999

Interview with External Affairs Minister Mr. Jaswant Singh
Courtesy:T I M E
November 25,1999

"India's nuclear program is neither country-specific nor threat-specific"

TIME: How has the coup in Pakistan affected relations with India?
Singh: India's dealings with Pakistan have always been governed by principles of good neighborly relations. The coup is of course a disappointing development. It's matter of concern for us. It is no doubt indicative of a certain degree of impatience with the demands of democracy. The new order in Pakistan is yet to stabilize. We are still watching the situation.

TIME: Do you have anybody in Pakistan that you can pick up the phone and talk to if there is a problem?
Singh: We are in touch with the government of Pakistan, whatever the nature of the government.

TIME: The man at the top of that government now, General Pervez Musharraf, initiated the action in Kargil. Does that indicate anything about the direction Pakistan may be moving in?
Singh: I won't comment on the direction on which Pakistan has already set itself. We'll watch the situation.

TIME: What is your biggest foreign policy concern right now?
Singh: How far are we from the new millennium--six weeks? This is not simply India's challenge, it is a global challenge--how to distill the lessons of the 20th century so that we are able move into a better future as 2000 dawns. If the 20th century was marked by the ascendancy of the importance of man and was the century of democracy, let us then convert political democracy into real economic democracy.

TIME: Has the development of the globalized economy been kind to India?
Singh: I am not a globalization fundamentalist. I am greatly attracted by the underlying theme, that globalization will lead to greater equalization. If globalization is the economic equivalent of political democracy, it's welcome. But it would be an error to treat it as a panacea. I am cautious about cure-all suggestions. I do believe in the creative genius of individuals, in free enterprise and economic liberalization. But under the guise of economic liberalization, we mustn't permit the perpetuation of disparities.

TIME: Speaking of globalization, will China's accession to the WTO make it a responsible global partner, or will it merely make China a stronger country able to intimidate its neighbors more effectively?
Singh: India has always stood for China's entry into the WTO. We believe that this will open the markets in China to the rest of the global community and that China will then have to compete with other countries on more equal terms.

TIME: When India tested its nuclear weapons last year, Defense Minister George Fernandes said that one of the main reasons was to protect India from a nuclear-armed China. Has that position changed?
Singh: My good friend George's statement has been inaccurately put across. Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs tend to have different approaches to international issues, just as the Pentagon and the U.S. State Department do. But India's nuclear program is neither country-specific nor threat-specific. It is an answer to a wholly iniquitous new nuclear security paradigm that has come into existence since the end of the cold war. Our program is aimed at acquiring for India strategic space and strategic autonomy.We remain committed to a wholly defensive posture with minimum credible deterrence. We are for global disarmament and for global elimination of all weapons of mass destruction.

TIME: Did the testing accomplish its objectives by making your job easier?
Singh: Yes, it did. It was a well-thought-out project. It was a continuity--rather than an aberration--of policy, and it achieved the objectives of giving India additional strategic space and autonomy.

TIME: And this hasn't been diminished by Pakistan's parallel development of a nuclear program?
Singh: If you reflect on what I said about India's program being neither country-specific nor threat-specific, then the question would not arise. I am mindful of the fact that Pakistan has policies and programs that are centered around what India does or does not do. But it would be an error to assume that Indian policies and the path that it adopts are in any sense a reaction to what does or does not happen in Pakistan.

TIME: The militant uprising in Kashmir is now 10 years old. The army is still in the cities, but a solution remains elusive. Are any new initiatives being taken to break the deadlock?
Singh: What you term militancy is an externally inspired and aided insurgency. The armed forces of India have to be present in the state of Jammu and Kashmir to perform a duty which any armed forces of any country will be required to perform--to safeguard its borders and to take necessary action against externally aided terrorism.

TIME: So the soldiers will remain in the cities indefinitely? Or have there been other initiatives?
Singh: We have just held a general election there, and the chief minister of the state has been talking of local-body elections. But if terrorists continue to come from across the border and infiltrate the urban centers, the security forces will have to be present to take action.

TIME: So the solution is ... ?
Singh: Stop cross-border terrorism.

TIME: The turnout in the elections was very low, particularly in Srinagar and the Kashmir valley. Do you attribute this entirely to intimidation by militant groups?
Singh: Yes, I do.

TIME: I [Ghosh] visited the state during the elections and the sense I got was quite different. The people say they don't trust the election system and certainly didn't trust the chief minister. Do you get that sort of feedback at all?
Singh: I am sure if you went around the streets of Hong Kong and talked to people, they might not be entirely supportive [of the government]. I am aware of the challenges and difficulties that we face, but we will answer those difficulties and meet those challenges. If this cross-border terrorism is discontinued, the people will be at peace. The state of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India. The difficulties in Jammu and Kashmir are as important to our government as are, for example, the difficulties that we are encountering in the eastern state of Orissa, which was recently devastated by a cyclone.

TIME: To what extent has the presence of the Dalai Lama and his followers in India hindered your relations with Beijing?
Singh: The Dalai Lama is an honored guest, and he has the freedom to practice his religion in India. But he does not practice any politics there. We recognize China's position on Tibet and its sovereignty.

TIME: You were host to another global religious figure recently, the Pope. Do you think it's unfortunate that he made remarks about the need to convert the people of India to Christianity?
Singh: The Pope combines two functions--he is head of state of the Vatican and head of the Catholic Church. My obligation to the head of state was to accord to him total cooperation to make his visit as successful as possible. As head of the church, we made all the arrangements to ensure his security and to ensure that no impediments were placed in his path.

TIME: So you don't consider that his presence ...
Singh: I don't comment on religious matters.

TIME: Actually this is a matter of politics. The issue of conversion has become a touchy one in India, especially among Hindus.
Singh: This needs to be placed in perspective. Conversion is touchy not simply among the Hindus. Conversion would be touchy in Islamic countries too. If there were conversions to Islam in Christian lands, there would be protest. The protests in India were really far apart and very few. They were blown out of proportion.

TIME: China seems to have been vastly more successful in attracting foreign investors than India. Are there any lessons that India could learn from the way China manages its economy?
Singh: India has nothing to be defensive about how we have managed our economy. India will manage its economy as India. We are ready to learn lessons from anyone, but I think it is really the international community that has to learn lessons from how China is managing its economy and how India is managing its economy. As for foreign investment, I am informed that nearly 80% of the foreign investment in China has come from overseas Chinese, and I
do not know what lesson we have to learn from that. The democratic process makes its own demands, and that process will inevitably be slower than the processes of a totalitarian system. But the democratic process can run a marathon, and in that it will be victorious. I accept that we must reduce the gap between the promise of democracy and the delivery of democracy. India also has to reduce the bureaucratic obstacle course that investors face.

TIME: Are you disappointed by the reluctance of the international community, and especially the U.S., to be more outspoken about the death of democracy in Pakistan?
Singh: The approach of the U.S. is course disappointing. It is disappointing because the U.S. advocates a commitment to democracy and human rights globally. If that yardstick be applied to this situation, it is a disappointment. But I also occasionally apply the yardstick of realpolitik. The U.S., after all, is one of the contributors to the situation in Pakistan today. The U.S. has invested heavily in Pakistan over decades, in men and materials, armaments and
money. Now the U.S. has run into a blind alley, and therefore there is no other option for it to adopt than wait-and-see. It is disappointing, but I have to live with it.

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