Briefing by Foreign Secretary on Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh's forthcoming visit to London for G-20 Financial Summit
March 30, 2009
Official Spokesperson (Shri Vishnu Prakash): Good afternoon and welcome to the briefing by Foreign Secretary on the eve of Prime Minister’s visit to London for the G-20 Financial Summit. After his opening remarks Foreign Secretary will be taking a few questions. Let me also introduce my colleague Mr. J.S. Mukul, Joint Secretary (ER&TC).
Foreign Secretary (Shri Shivshankar Menon): Mukul is also one of the sous-Sherpas for the G-20 process. That is why he is here. I thought I would brief you on the PM’s visit to the UK to the meeting of G-20 leaders in London. But before that there was something I wanted to give you about the situation in Lahore.
We, the Government of India, are deeply saddened and shocked by the events in Lahore. We hope that the Pakistan authorities will be able to resolve the situation soon with a minimum loss of life. Our sympathies and condolences go out to the families of those who have been killed. Terrorism is a menace to the entire region.
About the G-20 leaders’ meeting, as you know Prime Minister will be leaving tomorrow for London. He will be in London on the first and the second, and will return on the third. He is accompanied by a senior delegation which includes Deputy-Chairman, Planning Commission, Mr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia, who is the Sherpa for the G-20 process from India.
In London, the Summit programme starts with the reception by Her majesty the Queen on the first, which is followed by a dinner by the Prime Minister of the UK for the visiting G-20 leaders. On the second of April, there is an intense programme which starts with the Leaders’ Breakfast Meeting followed by Summit Plenaries in the morning, Leaders’ Lunch; and then another Plenary in the afternoon. Prime Minister will also be having a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Brown of the UK on the first, and a separate bilateral meeting with President Obama of the US on the second of April. He will, as I said, return to India on the third (of April).
I presume you know the names of the countries in the G-20 and if necessary we will circulate that. By way of background, the G-20 came into existence in 1999 following the Asian Financial Crisis. It was essentially an informal forum of major developed countries and major emerging economies representing anywhere between 85 to 90 per cent of world GDP together. It was a forum which met at the Finance Ministers, Governors of Central Bank level consistently until the financial crisis and the economic crisis which began in 2007.
Last year, there was the first meeting of the leaders of the G-20 in Washington on November 15. That was when the leaders actually agreed on a Declaration, which I am sure you have seen, which spoke of a common understanding of the root causes of the global crisis, spoke of common principles for reforming financial markets, spoke of the launch of an action plan to implement those principles and reaffirm their commitment to free market principles and opposition to protectionism.
The Washington Summit had mandated follow-up work in several areas - in strengthening transparency and accountability, enhancing sound regulation, in promoting integrity in financial markets, in reinforcing international cooperation, and in reforming international financial institutions. Work on these was conducted in four Working Groups. India participated in all of them and actually co-chaired the First Working Group with Cananda. Rakesh Mohan, the Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank, was our nominee on that.
Working Group-I was on enhancing sound regulation and strengthening transparency. Working Group-2 was on reinforcing international cooperation and promoting integrity in financial markets. Working Group-3 was on reforming the IMF. Working Group-4 was on the World Bank and other multilateral development banks. All four of the Working Groups have done their work; they have produced reports; they have made a set of recommendations; all of which were considered by the Finance Ministers two weeks ago and will now come to the Summit.
What will happen is that the Sherpas will meet again and the Finance Ministers on the first (of April), just before the Summit in London. So, the preparatory process is still going on. Besides, I do not want to here start telling you about outcomes when they have not completed even the preparatory process, let alone the Summit has not happened yet. But what we would expect really from the London Summit - and these are really expectations, not so much the outcomes, which will have to await the end of the preparatory process and the leaders’ meetings where they will discuss these things – is that once they have reviewed the international economic situation and what has been recommended to them that there would be a set of regulatory measures for efficient and effective supervision and oversight of the financial and economic system, I am sure that individual countries will also brief on their national stimulus packages and what they intend to do to promote economic recovery and to reverse the recession in those countries where there is recession.
The area where we would like to see action is really against protectionism in various forms, which we consider is very important. This was agreed in the Washington Summit. But it is something that will have to be taken forward since we have seen both the crisis deepen and a series of steps by several countries which to our mind appear protectionist.
The other area that we attach considerable importance to is reform of the international financial institutions. There are some suggestions which have already come from the Working Groups and which have been approved by the Finance Ministers. For instance, expanding the membership of the FSF (the Financial Stability Forum) or of the Basel Committee in which India and other emerging economies will now be members. But there are other steps as well, including steps like increasing the ability of the IMF, the World Bank and regional development banks like the ADB, to deal with crises like these to respond the needs of developing countries in particular.
There is general agreement on increasing the amount of resources available to these institutions but the manner of doing so and how quickly it can be done, I think those are still issues which will need to be discussed and resolved. There is also agreement, for instance, on bringing forward the reallocation of quotas to January 2011. The Finance Ministers announced this on the 14th of March. But we will have to see how that works out in detail.
One issue which we think and which we will be highlighting is really the need in dealing with the effects of the crisis and in dealing with both the financial aspects and the economic recovery to ensure that development is not a victim. That is because some of the worst sufferers from the crisis, from the drying up of trade finance, of other forms of finance, have really been developing countries, smaller developing countries. That is something that, I think, will be addressed during the Summit. These are really the themes - if one has to look for outcomes, for what matters, what we would measure the Summit against - these are the issues that we would be looking at.
I would expect that the Summit would also produce a Declaration or an outcome document, but work is continuing. So, as I said, I do not want to jump the gun and say what we think will come out at the end. We will brief you right through the process both on the way there and after the Summit as well.
I would be happy to answer any questions which you might have.
Question: Sir, you have just spoken about the meeting with Mr. Obama on the sidelines and with Mr. Brown on the sidelines of the Summit. What is going to be the crux of discussion with Obama? Is it only protectionism which will be discussed or will it discuss things beyond that? Secondly, the Opposition Leader Mr. Advani yesterday raised the matter of the money stashed in Swiss banks and asked the Prime Minister to take up this matter saying that because of the recession all over this money could be used for different purposes and maybe for the infrastructure and all those things. Is the Prime Minister going to take up this matter as has been demanded?
Foreign Secretary: On the meeting between the Prime Minister and President Obama, I think it is our expectation that they will naturally discuss some of the issues that come up in the Summit - the question of world economic crisis and how we are both dealing with it. But certainly, as this is their first meeting, this will also be an opportunity to discuss our bilateral relationship - what this Administration has already called a true strategic stand-alone global partnership. So, they will discuss the bilateral relationship and how we take that forward. I am sure there will be other regional, global issues that will come up. …(interruption)…That is among the regional issues that will come up I am sure.
On the question of money in Swiss banks and in various countries which have nondisclosure policies in place, this is an issue which has been discussed at considerable detail in the preparatory process. It is not only the question of money in Swiss banks. There are other countries, other banking systems which also were very careful about revealing where the money is from and so on. There is general agreement both in the institutions concerned – for instance in the FSF, Basel Committee - and in the G-20 preparatory process that there is a need for much more open disclosure and that there will be much easier access to this information for certain purposes, especially if there is any question of this money being linked to either illegal functions or anything like that. So, we will work for greater transparency in the system because frankly we think it is also an economic good quite apart from any other advantages that one might see in that. We have urged much greater transparency, and we think that at the end of this process there will be much greater transparency in these cases.
Question: Sir, in the wake of the attack that has happened in Pakistan today, the Interior Minister has said that the same Jihadi groups could be behind the attack. What is India’s assessment of the situation right now?
Foreign Secretary: I think it is too early for us to comment on who did it how and so on. It is till under way. Let the Pakistan authorities investigate and look into it. We will tell you when we are in a position to come to conclusions. But now it is too early.
Question: All the recommendations, or what India seeks seem to be medium-term to long-term issues. Aren’t there any discussions to resolve the immediate crisis at hand, for instance easing credit and so on?
Foreign Secretary: I think you need to draw a distinction between what the function of G-20 is and what the function of national governments is. As national government certainly we will take immediate steps to deal with what we face. Easing of credit for instance is something that might be discussed at a policy level but the ultimate decisions will be taken by individual national governments. So, the discussion will be at a policy level rather than saying, “Okay, this is a level at which you will peg.” I think it is quite clear. We all feel that there is a need to increase aggregate demand in the global economy. I think that is agreed.
Question: But the other discussion which is more short-term is getting stimulus packages….
Foreign Secretary: Exactly what I am saying. There is a need to increase aggregate demand which is what a stimulus package is meant for. How do you choose to do that? Some economies might have exhausted fiscal, monetary measures; some might not. Some might already be at very low rates of interest. Some, like us, might be in a position to cut some rates of interest. We still have space for fiscal manoeuvre and monetary manoeuvre. So, as I said, the actual measures will be a matter of national decision. But there is certainly consensus across the board that you do need to boost aggregate global demand. That is something that I am sure they will discuss and they will also see how they can encourage each other to do that.
Question: Mr. Menon, this is about the Prime Minister’s scheduled meeting with Mr. Obama. Is India rethinking on the question of signing the CTBT? Is that likely to figure in the talks between the Prime Minister and Mr. Obama?
Foreign Secretary: Our position on CTBT has been repeated several times, most recently in Washington by Special Envoy Shyam Saran. Position remains the same. We would not stand in the way. What we want is a CTBT which actually contributes to disarmament. That linkage is very important for us right from the beginning when we started advocating a CTBT long before anybody else did. We are not sure that this treaty does so, at least in its present form. But let us see where this goes. Other countries have changed their positions on the CTBT. We are still watching the process. Our position is clear. It remains the same. Hasn’t changed. But clearly other countries’ views are evolving. We will see where that goes. On whether it will come up or not, nothing prevents it from coming up. But I have no reason to say, “Yes, it will” or “No, it won’t”. I cannot tell you that yet.
Question: Sir, what is our response to the AfPak policy unveiled by President Obama a few days ago, specifically with regard to the regional cooperation which he talks about in terms of setting up a contact group where India will be one of the players, and also giving large amount of aid to Pakistan – some 7.5 billion dollars over the years and more is on the way? Is our Prime Minister going to take up the issue with President Obama?
Foreign Secretary: I think the situation in the region including what happens in Afghanistan and what is happening in Pakistan will certainly come up during discussions. As far as this comprehensive strategic review of US’s policy which is in the process of being rolled out and being discussed also at various fora, we welcome the very clear expression of will to carry through the struggle against extremism in Afghanistan and its roots in Pakistan, which is contained in the new comprehensive US strategy. India has a direct interest in the success of this international effort. And India is ready to play a constructive role as a responsible power in defeating extremism of all kinds.
Question: President Asif Zardari has recently expressed Pakistan’s desire to restart the Composite Dialogue with India. What is India’s reaction?
Foreign Secretary: I think it is quite clear that in the present situation what we are looking at is bringing the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai to justice, and credible action to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism in Pakistan, from which Mumbai and various other attacks on India have taken place in the past. We are waiting.
Question: My first question is a follow-up of the Swiss bank question that was asked sometime back. The US has filed a lawsuit asking for details of American citizens who have accounts in Swiss banks. Is India looking at doing something on the similar lines? My second question, there is a problem with the Western banks lending out to developing countries like India. Is this issue likely to come up in G-20?
Foreign Secretary: On the first question I cannot give you a categorical answer yet. I think we are looking at it. I do not think we have come to a final decision yet on how we do it, which is the best way to approach it. But as I tried to say to you earlier, it is more than just a question of Swiss banks. I think it is a broader issue of transparency and access to information.
On the question on Western banks, the problem is a broader problem. It is not just straight finance but it is various other kinds of liquidity in the banking system. Both at Washington and in the subsequent meetings we have been pressing - frankly we have all been pressing, it is not only India or other developing countries or emerging economies, we have all been pressing including the developed countries – for bank lending to start flowing again as it used to. If you look at the figures now, contraction has been really quite drastic. So, one of the steps and one of the big working groups actually on restoring confidence in the financial system, one of their big tasks is really to make sure that the conditions exist for that flow to start again. This is very important for us. We think it is very important to get the world economy going, equally to get trade going again in the world which for the first time in many many years is shrinking this year. As I said, it is essential for development as well. So, this is one of the outcomes that we would be looking for.
Question: Will the issue of terrorism form part of the Prime Minister’s address to G-20?
Foreign Secretary: It is not strictly speaking part of the agenda of the G-20. In these two G-20 meetings, leaders have actually been meeting in order to address specifically the financial crisis and the world economic crisis. I think that pretty much fills their plate. In the other broader conversations on the sidelines of the Summit, I am sure terrorism is one of the issues that will figure.
Question: Obama spoke of constructive diplomacy to bring down tensions between India and Pakistan. How do you see that? And, is there any meeting slated with the Chinese?
Foreign Secretary: The two bilateral meetings that we have slated are these two right now because there really is not much time. So, these are the two that we have scheduled. There will be other conversations, what we call pull-asides, because they will all be there together for a considerable length of time. But, that I cannot predict at this stage. On the issue of constructive diplomacy our views have been quite clear. On how the India-Pakistan process has been most successful when it has been bilateral. It is very hard for any external influence to substitute or to replace an absence of political will intrinsic to the process itself. It takes two hands to clap, and you know getting hands from elsewhere really does not help. We have actually been most productive and we have made the most progress - if you look at the period between the middle of 2003 and until about the end of 2006 – actually when we did it ourselves. I think that is an important lesson to learn for the future.
Question: Already there are subgroups that are forming within the G-20 with UK and USA on one side, continental Europe on the other, China standing singularly, and developing nations on one side. There are already barriers. Lula is saying that it is a white and blue-eyed people who have caused this crisis. Do you really see a common solution emerging out of this?
Foreign Secretary: As I said, this represents about 85 per cent to 90 per cent of world GDP, depending on whose figures you use. Unless we act together, we are not going to solve a crisis of global proportions and of such depths. It is something quite unprecedented since the Second World War. I do not see us being able to solve it unless we act together. So, I would assume that while we might have differences in tactics, in approach - each one might stress different portions of what we would like to see done – but ultimately our common interest will override these differences. There will be differences. That is what the whole point of sitting around the table is. It is to sort out of these differences because we each come from our own situations. Each of us naturally will see parts of the solutions much more important for themselves. But ultimately I would assume that our common interest in getting the world economy going again, and fixing the financial system would override these differences because none of us can do it alone, none of us. And certainly, if we each chase individual solutions of our own preference, nothing will happen. The problem would not be solved. So, in that sense I am more of an optimist.
Question: Just a follow up on that, Sir. In …(inaudible)… of meeting you cannot do that. There are already things going on right now.
Foreign Secretary: But this is why the whole preparatory process is important. If we can get a lot of the detail out of the way in the preparatory process - which is what the Working Groups have done, Finance Ministers have done – then really at the Summit level you can concentrate on the big issues, and on, in a sense, unifying thinking so that at the end of it you emerge with a much clearer idea of what is possible, what can be done, what is likely to be done.
Question: I would like you to take you back to Pakistan, Mr. Menon. Since 26/11 India has had a consistent position. I know the investigations into today’s attack in Lahore and the operations there are not yet over. But India has had a consistent position that there are elements in the Pakistan State that believe in using terror as an instrument of state policy. Would you continue to say that that is the Indian stand today also because will that wash on the world stage today when attacks in Pakistan are mounting at such a pace?
Foreign Secretary: We have an attack today, which is clearly a terrorist attack, which is now what seven hours old? I do not think anybody should jump to conclusions about who did it, how it is done, why; or should, therefore, then go to even bigger conclusions about describing the nature of the relationship between terrorist elements in Pakistan and parts of the Pakistan establishment. I mean those are huge conclusions to draw on an absolute absence of information. So, I will be very careful before jumping to all the conclusions that you have mentioned on the basis of what happened today. Our basic judgment and assessment is based on our experience over several years, in fact over decades, and over what we have seen. So, it is not going to waver from day to day. This is not something that changes with the weather or with one event or the other. We will have to see. And let us see. Before we jump to conclusions about what happened in Lahore today and how it affects our assessment, let it play itself out and let us see who actually did it and how it was done and why it was done as well.
Question: Mr. Menon, on G-20 a lot of what we have heard from the Indian side in the public domain has been rather defensive, that we are looking to fight against protectionism. I am just wondering what our views are on certain ideas that have come up. For example, the People’s Bank of China Chairman had spoken about the need to move away from the dollar standard and have greater reliance on SDRs. Does India have a position on these kinds of changes?
Foreign Secretary: If you look at what Prime Minister said at the first meeting in Washington, we had spoken about the use of SDRs, about the need to greatly increase the numbers of SDRs and to allocate SDRs so that in effect I think we are all addressing the same problem. We see not just a liquidity problem, a temporary and a shortage of credit as somebody said there. But we also see the problem of what the kinds of stimulus packages that we are talking about, the effects that that will have on currencies, on exchange rates and on reserves ultimately. So, I think there are larger issues here which we are all grappling with. I think many of us have ideas, some of which have been expressed in the public domain, some in the course in the course of the preparatory process since we were very involved in the preparatory process at all levels. I think most of our work has been done there. Maybe that is why you have this impression. But yes, I think we need to look at several imaginative, innovative ideas and ways of dealing with these problems. There are issues here which are I think unprecedented. I do not think we have had some of these issues in global economic discourse for a very long time. So, the more ideas, the better. I am not sure that the Summit is the place to actually deal with big new ideas. I think the way to do it is exactly as is happening now. Many new ideas out in the public, in the open; a lot of detailed discussion in preparatory meetings; and then to see levels of comfort, what is feasible what can actually be implemented, because I think people have to get used to these ideas and their implications. I do not these are the kinds of ideas that this Summit, and certainly not this meeting, will take decisions about.
Question: On Pakistan, what is the metric that we are looking at following which you could conceive of a resumption of dialogue? Are we looking at a trial beginning, extradition? When you say ‘shut down the infrastructure’, can you be more concrete?
Foreign Secretary: We have always avoided setting down timeframes.
Question: I am asking for a metric.
Foreign Secretary: I am not setting down concrete markers. Whichever word you use, ultimately it is the same thing you are asking for. Metric is a fine word. But basically you are saying, “What is your marker, at what stage do you think?” We have made it quite clear. What we expect is credible action against terrorism. Now you will say that it is subjective. Yes, but it has to be credible in our view. Unless we think it is credible, it is not going to be worth it. We want to see credible action against the infrastructure of terrorism in Pakistan. We want to see the perpetrators brought to justice. At that level of generality, I think everybody knows what we mean. Rather than quibbling about whether that involves filing a charge-sheet, or taking them to court, or finishing the prosecution, or sentencing, or judgment, I would rather not get into that.
Question: On CTBT, Sir, you have half-used a phrase that we have not heard from the GoI since 1998, that ‘India will not stand in the way’. Could you complete that sentence? Not stand in the way of what?
Foreign Secretary: That is it. We would not stand in the way.
Question: Does it mean India has an open mind?
Foreign Secretary: That is not what I said. No, we cannot because we have a position and it has been consistent. So, it is not an open mind.
Question: A follow-up on the question on international currency to replace the dollar which the People’s Bank of China talked about. Subsequently, Russia also said the same thing. China and Russia said that India also has a similar position. Does India have a position on a currency to replace the dollar? Has India thought about it?
Foreign Secretary: Here we have a much more open mind, since you want the phrase finally. As I said, there is a real problem here which needs to be addressed. This is one of the possible ways of addressing this problem. The Chinese are pragmatic people, they have come up with a very specific solution. But I think what solution ultimately the international community adopts will depend on a lot of us, on everybody feeling comfortable with the solution. We will need to work this out among ourselves. We had recognized the need for a solution, to work out a solution, in November in Washington itself. If you look at what PM had said at that stage, he had spoken of the need for a major increase in SDR allocations, of how we should address this problem. So, I think if you go back there you will see that we tried to start this discussion, we identified the problems. I do not think we are at the stage today where either the G-20, or in fact the larger international community is ready to say, “That is the solution that we all want.” Not yet. We still need to go through a lot more discussion and reiteration of the problem, I think.
Question: Going back to Pakistan, while the US has been talking about its new policy on Afghan and Pakistan and talking about civilian reconstruction, will we be raising the issue of military aid to Pakistan in any way? Has our position on that changed in any way? And, while Washington expects us to play a role in the region, what is it that we expect of Washington vis-à-vis Islamabad?
Foreign Secretary: We have made it quite clear that for us the links between the Pakistani establishment and terrorist elements is what really causes us concern. So, anything that anybody can do to cut those links, and to persuade Pakistan of its own interest in fighting terrorism and these extremist groups, we would welcome. We have an ongoing conversation with the US, with other friends around the world, where we tell them what we think, what our approach is; which is when we tell them, how we see this evolving. So far I have no reason to believe that people do not accept our diagnosis of the problem. This is important because increasingly it is clear what the problem is. Different countries might have different approaches to how to solve the problem. But that is a different issue. And that is something that I think is normal in the circumstances. We will naturally continue these conversations. I think Mr. Holbrooke wants to come here in early April. So, we are looking forward to that. And we will tell him again what we think.
Question: The subject is G-20. Sir, we are observing a lot of statements and counter-statements of leaders. In spite of that, is India in favour of some global fiscal regulation policy to correct the recession, like the two per cent cut in the GDP somebody objected but the US is in favour of that. So, is there any possibility, is there any effort to reach a global fiscal regulation policy at the Summit?
Foreign Secretary: I think PM was one of the first to say last year itself, long before even the Washington meeting, that what was seen now by way of crisis is a result of both regulatory failure and a failure of surveillance that is supposed to have taken place in the international system. In fact in Washington in November, he spoke of what needs to be done to do that. Now, there are several ways of improving the regulatory system. One is to strengthen national regulation in different ways. The other is to agree a set of international guidelines, standards, benchmarks, which all national regulations will have to meet, or at least to internationally devise a set. The third would be some form of different regulatory functions being brought, some to international level, some at national levels. There are many possibilities of how you do this, how you strengthen the regulatory mechanisms. Most important is to bring all similar activities - by whatever, by hedge funds, by banks, by whoever is involved in these, whoever is dealing in derivatives for instance, in various forms of derivatives - to bring them all into a regulated sector, rather than what actually happened over two or three years which was for most of these derivatives to actually trade risk off on to non-regulated sectors, which has what led to the mess. So, I think that is exactly what has been done in the Working Groups, in the meeting of Finance Ministers, to discuss these issues through. We hope that at the end of the Summit you will hear much more clarity on this, on the regulatory aspects. This is important because if we want to restore confidence and stability into the world financial system, it is very important. Regulation, I think is one of the highest priorities that we will see. So, that we will work for very strongly.
Question: Sir, you mentioned earlier that India expected action on the issue of protectionism. Could you elaborate on that a bit? And also what do you make of the accusations or allegations which have been made India is also very protectionist and that they are …(inaudible)… placed to be asking for less protectionism from the developed countries.
Foreign Secretary: We do not think we are protectionist. I do not think there is anything we have done which is non-WTO compliant. I do not think that is the issue. Obviously, each country will define protectionism in ways that suit it. But what we have seen not just in terms of a contraction in market but also in terms of various conditions which are attached to recovery packages, stimulus packages and recovery programmes, which favour national firms in Government procurement for instance or which try to limit the movement of natural persons - whether Mode-1, Mode4 – in all these I think we have seen a clear increase in protectionist sentiment and certainly there is much more demand for protectionist steps in several developed economies. That is something that we feel the Summit has a role in opposing. At Washington everybody agreed that thee should not be an increase in protectionism. I think everybody realizes that in a sense that would be suicidal for the world economy. That is exactly what happened in the 30s. People put up protectionist barriers. It only hastened and deepened the depression. I think everybody recognizes that has an intellectual construct. But the question really and the trick is how to make that happen in practice. And that is why we think that this G-20 process has been useful because it has given us a chance to discuss all this, not just at the Finance Minister’s level but in the Working Groups and in other meetings in the preparatory process. If we can, we would like to see a very strong statement coming out of the leaders eschewing protectionist steps.
Question: Sir, there are reports about your computers in Washington being hacked into by the Chinese. How correct is that report and how safe are your computers worldwide?
Foreign Secretary: We have been through this before. There are a series of attacks against computers. The report that you are mentioning is the one done by a set of Canadian scholars. That itself says that there were attacks mounted on computers in a 103 countries; that of the four servers from which the attacks were mounted three were in China, one was in the US; and that there is no proof to link this to governmental activity in China or in the US. We assume that - and this has happened to us before, we have discussed this – there will be attempts to attack our computers, to hack into them and so on. We do what we can and what we need to prevent it; or even if it does happen, to make sure that the consequences are non-catastrophic and that actually the consequences are minimized to the extent that we can. So, we take both defensive and other measures to try and deal with this. But this is a reality of a world where we all depend on cyberspace. We all use cyberspace. It is open to everybody - good, bad, whatever. Malware is out there. You have a problem as much as we do. I think the media has this problem as well. We have had e-mail identities stolen of some of our personnel and then used. This is a reality of today’s life. But we will do whatever we can to minimize the effects of this and to counter it wherever it comes from.
Question: This is about Mr. Obama’s strategy for Pakistan and Afghanistan. Mr. Obama wants India and Pakistan to work together to sort out the hassles in the region including China, Russia and so on. Considering the Pakistanis sensitivities about India’s active involvement in Afghanistan’s reconstruction, is that a workable proposition? What is your take on that? Secondly, the NATO forces are looking for an alternative supply route to Afghanistan and Iran says that it is now ready to let India and others use Chabahar to Afghanistan. Are we likely to use that route for our exports to Afghanistan and Central Asia? How do you look at the possibility of that route being used for NATO supplies to Afghanistan?
Foreign Secretary: I am not quite sure what you expect on the first question. As I said, we are ready to play a constructive role as a responsible power in the region in defeating extremism of all kinds. That is the goal of the strategy. We are ready to work with the US, with other regional powers, to see how we that. On other people’s sensitivities, what might happen, could it happen, I am not an astrologer. This is not my business. We will do what we have to in our own interest, in our national interest. On the Chabahar route, yes, it is available. It is now feasible now that we have done the Zaranj-Delaram road in Afghanistan. We would welcome people using it because we did after all make a sizeable investment both in terms of money but more important in terms of lives in building that road. We think it is important. It seems to have helped to generate a fair amount of economic activity in Nimroz province and around in southwest Afghanistan. In fact the town itself has grown from 50,000 to a 100,000 people just in the last two years as the road was being built thanks to the economic activity that the road has generated. But it is more than that. I think it is a linkage to Chabahar port. We will be very happy to see that. This was one of the subjects that we discussed with the Iranians when Mr. Jalili was here on Saturday. It is something that we are both looking forward to seeing used.
Question: Sir, can you give us the latest information on India’s humanitarian assistance to Sri Lanka? Secondly, Indian Prime Minister’s Principal Secretary has visited Colombo and come back. Can you give us the update on his visit? Did he meet any dignitaries there?
Foreign Secretary: Yes, he had a very good visit. The Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister met with his counterpart who is the Secretary to the President. He also called on the President. There were three main purposes to this visit. One was to urge upon the Government of Sri Lanka that they take steps towards a credible devolution and a political package which could be seen as contributing to meeting the needs of all the communities in Sri Lanka, particularly the Tamil community and to bring them into the normal political democratic framework; and secondly to see what we could do for reconstruction, rehabilitation in the North especially. We had a fairly detailed discussion of that. Thirdly, to see what we could do on the humanitarian side, which you have mentioned. As you know, we have increased the size of the hospital because of the numbers of people who were coming out. Now I think almost something like 55,000 civilians have come out of the conflict zone and this hospital has been treating fairly large numbers of people in each batch. So, we had to increase its capacity. We have also shipped a new shipment of medicines, end of last week. And we have also got food supplies into the conflict zone both through the ICRC and the UN. This was important because supplies of food into the conflict zone in February had actually dropped considerably because of the fighting. So, we thought it very important that we get it there. You would have seen recent statements by the Government of Sri Lanka that they are ready to work out modalities including a pause of some kind if necessary, to allow civilians to come out of the conflict zone and to bring them out of harm’s way. We would welcome that.
As you know, our Minister has said so last month already. He had said publicly that we would welcome that. And we would hope that there is progress towards bringing remaining civilians out of the conflict zone so that at least this kind of situation where each side is blaming the other but civilian casualties continue and where we then have to deal with the consequences in the hospitals, in terms of rehabilitation is avoided, and we can then concentrate on the big job of actually getting people back into normal activity and a normal political life in Northern Sri Lanka. So, all in all we were very heartened by the results of the Principal Secretary’s visit. It was a very useful visit.
Question: Are you planning to send more doctors?
Foreign Secretary: We have sent more doctors actually last week to the field hospital.
Official Spokesperson: Thank you very much.
Foreign Secretary: Thank you.