Interview of External Affairs Minister Mr. Pranab Mukherjee by Mr. Karan Thapar on Devil's Advocate
December 14, 2008
Interviewer (Mr. Karan Thapar): Hello and welcome to Devil’s Advocate.
How should we assess Pakistan’s response to the terror strike on Mumbai? That is the big issue I shall explore today with the Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee.
Foreign Minister, let us start with the responses from Pakistan so far. Reports say that LeT offices have been raided; Jamat-ud-Dawa offices have been sealed; newspapers claim that perhaps as many as seventy people have been either arrested or detained including Masood Azhar, Hafiz Mohammad Sayeed, Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi; and they say that the action is continuing. Does this begin to look like a meaningful first step?
External Affairs Minister (Shri Pranab Mukherjee): Let us wait and see whether these actions are taken to their logical conclusion. You know what happened after the attack on Parliament in 2001. Almost similar type of action was taken at the initial stage when the international pressure was mounting. But after that it was let off. Therefore, we will have to see whether these are taken to their logical conclusion. So far as JuD is concerned, I understand that the Security Council Committee has declared it as an outfit of the banned Lashkar-e-Toiba. The response which we have received through the media – of course there is no official communication from Pakistani to us – is that the Foreign Minister and other Pakistan authorities reacted that they will fulfill their obligations as per the international requirement.
Interviewer: Are you now waiting to see that they keep that word?
External Affairs Minister: I am not waiting only for that; I am waiting to see whether these steps are pursued seriously; followed up to their logical conclusion; the infrastructure facilities available there for the terrorists are totally dismantled; and the outlawed or banned organizations do not reappear with a new name, with a new signboard but with the same old faces.
Interviewer: I understand that. But I also note that Admiral Mullen, the American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has described the steps Pakistan has taken as very positive; he has called them great steps. Now today you met the American Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte. What impression did he give you about America? Do they think Pakistan has taken effective steps or are they prepared to wait like you for full measures to happen?
External Affairs Minister: I would not like to disclose what transpired between me and Negroponte fully because I understand he is going to have an interaction with the media. But he shared his perception and we conveyed our perceptions to him. We clearly pointed out that we would like to see that these steps are taken to their logical conclusion; words must be followed by action.
Interviewer: Pakistan has proposed a high-level political delegation which they want to send to India. And they said that this is different from their original idea of a joint commission. How do you respond to that?
External Affairs Minister: I would like to have the official communication first. That is because in response to my demarche, in the first sentence itself it was stated that they were considering various aspects (of our demarche). As to what would be the composition, what would be the nature, what would be the task; we do not know anything. I must (first) know what is this high-level delegation which will come, what is the purpose.
Interviwer: So this has not been officially communicated to India as yet.
External Affairs Minister: No.
Interviewer: It has only been mentioned in the press by Pakistan.
External Affairs Minister: In their response they have said that they would like to send it but no details have been available to us.
Interviewer: So, you are awaiting clarification.
External Affairs Minister: Yes.
Interviewer: One of the proposals Pakistan has made earlier, which your Government has indicated you are not impressed by, is their suggestion of a joint investigative mechanism under a Joint Commission headed by the two NSAs to look at the evidence. Why is that not a step forward?
External Affairs Minister: From our past experience we have seen that various mechanisms are already in place. Take the case of the Joint Anti Terror Mechanism. What was the purpose of Joint Anti Terror Mechanism? It was to share information, intelligence, and thereafter to follow it up. In four meetings which have taken place since its establishment, nothing has been produced. It has yielded no results. It was an exchange of views, and thereafter it was not followed up.
Interviewer: So, in fact, your experience leads you to believe that the investigative mechanism they are suggesting would be equally …
External Affairs Minister: I am not coming to any conclusion but we think that whatever they committed, whatever they are to do, let them do it first.
Interviewer: Now, late last night the Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi went on television to say that the steps they have so far taken are on the basis of investigations they have done on their own, but now they need evidence from India to go further. Do you think that evidence from India can be made available since he is publicly asking for it?
External Affairs Minister: Whatever evidence we have we can make it available. But you know this is a case we are also investigating. We have not come to a definite conclusion. Therefore, at this juncture perhaps it would be premature to share the evidence.
Interviewer: But at the right time you are prepared to do so.
External Affairs Minister: We have shared the evidence in the past. The point I am repeating is that it has not been followed up and it has not been taken to its logical conclusion.
Interviewer: Absolutely. In the past they have, in a sense, not taken it further. But you are also saying that when you reach your conclusions you will be prepared to share evidence this time round.
External Affairs Minister: If it is needed, surely I would like to share it with them.
Interviewer: The Pakistan Ambassador at the UN has gone public on television to say that they would like access to the terrorist in India’s custody Ajmal Kasab so that they can be satisfied that he is genuinely a Pakistani.
External Affairs Minister: I do not think I have received any formal communication from the Pakistan Embassy.
Interviewer: So, once again they are communicating through the media, not doing it officially.
External Affairs Minister: I do not know. At least to my knowledge it has not yet reached me. I do not know whether it has reached at a lower level. I will find it out.
Interviewer: But is this something that could be possible?
External Affairs Minister: How can I say it right now? Are they claiming that this man is a Pakistani citizen? I do not know! Have they claimed the dead bodies? I do not know!
Interviewer: In fact, their newspaper Dawn has done an interview with Ajmal Kasab’s father who has recognized the picture and accepted it is his son.
External Affairs Minister: Everything is appearing in the media. But the fact of the matter is that there is a way of communication between two Governments.
Interviewer: And that is not happening.
External Affairs Minister: Up to now it has not happened.
Interviewer: From everything you know about what happened in Mumbai, do you believe that this was primarily the work of non-state actors, or is there any truth to a report put out by PTI late last week that the Government has evidence that suggests that ISI is officially involved as well?
External Affairs Minister: Look, I am not interested in having trial by media. These are the areas of investigation. After investigation it is taken to the court, the due process of law and procedure established by law should follow. Therefore, I am not in a position to share any of this information. It is due to the media inquisitiveness that people may be interested in it, but being in the Government I am not interested in it. The second point which I would like to suggest is that non-state actors are not coming from heaven, as I told Parliament yesterday. They do not come from a different planet. They live and function from and within the territory of a particular country.
Interviewer: In this case Pakistan.
External Affairs Minister: In this case Pakistan. That is why repeatedly I said, “elements from Pakistan”. That is the phrase I have used meticulously.
Interviewer: And that is the phrase you prefer to use at this moment. You do not want to be more specific.
External Affairs Minister: I would not like to be more specific unless a definitive conclusion is arrived at by the investigating agencies and they prosecute the person. There is a legal system in our country, which will take care of it. Till then we will have to keep (retain) whatever information we have, in the interest of the prosecution and a fair trial.
Interviewer: I understand. Let us come briefly to the demarche you have given to the Pakistan Government. There has been a lot of speculation about it in the press. Am I right in saying that the truth is you have given Pakistan three or four names but you have not specifically asked for extradition; what you have asked for is that you would like them to take action; and you are happy if that action happens without ascribing it to India? Am I correct in characterizing it like that?
External Affairs Minister: No. What I have told them is that there are two categories of people involved. There are some people who have committed crimes in India, have left India and have taken shelter in Pakistan, like Dawood Ibrahim. We are asking the Pakistan authorities to hand over persons like these to Indian authorities so that there can be trials as per Indian laws here. There are persons who are Pakistan citizens, who are indulging in terrorist activities. Let them be arrested, let them be tried as per Pakistan laws. One person I am particularly mentioning is Masood Azhar. He was in Indian custody. We had to hand him over to the hijackers of the Indian plane in Kandahar. He is available in Pakistan. Very often he appears on the television screen in Pakistan. I do not understand what difficulty Pakistan Government has in handing him over to us? Pakistan Government did not demand his return. The hijackers demanded that they would release our passengers in the hijacked plane if we handed over the man who was in our custody. So, why can’t the Pakistan Government hand over that man to us? And what is the point of keeping him under house arrest?
Interviewer: I understand. This is in a sense a critical test of their sincerity and their genuine cooperation.
External Affairs Minister: I am not making a value judgment. I am asking them to do what I wanted them to act upon. I am telling them that twice at the highest level they had given assurances that Pakistani territories would not be allowed to be used by terrorists to carry on activities against India. Please dismantle them, and please prove that it (Pakistani territory) is not being so used!
Interviewer: In these circumstances, as Foreign Minister, would it be proper and fitting for the Indian cricket team’s tour of Pakistan to go ahead? Or do you think it should be reconsidered?
External Affairs Minister: Do not mix politics with cricket. Of course, I do not think that a conducive atmosphere prevails right now. But the authorities (who decide) are different. Taking into account all circumstances they will decide.
Interviewer: But as you say, do not mix politics with cricket.
External Affairs Minister: Yes.
Interviewer: How do you respond to Asif Ali Zardari’s article in The New York Times? Do you see it as an expression of political sentiments that are genuine and warm?
External Affairs Minister: The article speaks of the agony of a person who himself is the victim of a terrorist attack. Therefore, everybody who has read that article will have sympathy and will be in agreement with him. Therefore, it is not a question of persons or individuals. When you discharge some public functions, how are you discharging that public function is important. What role he plays as President of Pakistan to fulfill the commitment which he gave to our Prime Minister is important here.
Interviewer: In other words, his words may be reassuring, but they must be matched by proper action.
External Affairs Minister: Proper action. Words must be followed by proper action.
Interviewer: So, when Asif Zardari writes in his article that reconciliation and rapprochement is the best revenge against the dark forces that are trying to provoke a confrontation between Pakistan and India. You say, “As a sentiment that is fine, but if you do not have action, then it does not work.”
External Affairs Minister: It will remain merely a sentiment. It will produce nothing.
Interviewer: So, at this moment, Asif Zardari has to prove he means what he says, he means what he writes.
External Affairs Minister: Not only that, it is not a question of an individual. It is a question of the holder of the high Constitutional executive office.
Interviewer: Does he, as you analyse his position, actually have power to do and implement what he says; or is he checked by the Army and checked by the ISI?
External Affairs Minister: How can I comment on the internal mechanism
of Pakistan? It is not for me, it is for the authorities of Pakistan, people of Pakistan, to decide who will function as per their own Constitution; in what manner, in what way. I am not sitting in judgment on that.
Interviewer: Mr. Mukherjee, let me start this part by putting to you something that Veerappa Moily, the Congress Spokesman and General Secretary, has said on television about a week ago. He says that if Pakistan does not shut down terrorist camps, India will step in and act on its own. Is that your Government’s position, or is that just a statement Mr. Moily has made?
External Affairs Minister: Government’s position, which I have already stated, is that every sovereign Government would like to take all steps necessary to protect its citizens and to protect the territorial integrity of the country and its sovereignty. So far as Congress Spokesperson Veerappa Moily’s observations are concerned, it is the reflection of the sense of outrage and sense of anger among the Indian people, at this attack on Mumbai by terrorist elements from Pakistan.
Interviewer: On Thursday in Parliament, I believe in response to a question that was asked, you ruled out the option of war. But Yashwant Sinha, one of your predecessors, went public that night and said that India must not rule out the military option.
External Affairs Minister: Every individual is entitled to hold his view. So, I cannot gag Mr. Yashwant Sinha or anybody else. What I can say is what I believe and what the position of the Government of India is that war is not the solution to the problem.
Interviewer: In which case, how much time are you prepared to give Pakistan before you come to the conclusion that they simply are not taking effective action?
External Affairs Minister: It depends on how fast, how quickly Pakistan responds; or whether they respond at all or not. Therefore, it is not possible for me to indicate any timeframe right now.
Interviewer: Are you worried that at the moment anger and passion in India is at a high pitch, and may be people will become impatient if you give Pakistan too much time; and yet if you do not give Pakistan enough time to act, there is pressure on you internationally? In a sense you seem to be caught in between.
External Affairs Minister: No, this is not a question of being caught between two. This is a question of getting things done the way one should feel it should be done. We have demanded certain things from Pakistan. We hope and expect that the new dispensation - which has come in Pakistan through the democratic process, with the restoration of democratic system there - would fulfill its commitments. That is our hope and expectation, though we know from our past experiences that these assurances are observed more by breach than by compliance.
Interviewer: A lot of your hopes and expectations centre around the new civilian regime and Asif Zardari has only been President for less than three months. Are you a little perturbed by this hoax call controversy that the system in Pakistan and perhaps the President himself were a little gullible and got taken in by a hoax call?
External Affairs Minister: I am a little concerned about the type of hysteria which developed as a result of this hoax call. If the Government is guided or takes certain actions on receiving a hoax call, then surely it is a matter of concern to everybody. But factual position is that, as I explained earlier, there was no question of me calling the President of another country. Normal diplomatic courtesy demands that the President should be spoken to by the Prime Minister and I can have a conversation with my counterpart which …
Interviewer: And Asif Zardari should have known this?
External Affairs Minister: … which I actually had with the Pakistani Foreign Minister Mr. Qureshi. But that was not in Islamabad. He was very much here in Delhi at that point of time on 28th evening. And every word of it was recorded as per our system - (there is) no question of calling up President Zardari. Why should I call him?
Interviewer: Pakistan has multiple centers of power and no one is certain who is the absolute authority. There is the army, there is the civilian President, there is the ISI. How difficult is it to deal with a country where you are not quite sure where power lies?
External Affairs Minister: It may be difficult but we have no option. I cannot change the internal mechanism of functioning in Pakistan. That is for the Pakistan authorities and rulers to decide.
Interviewer: Mr. Mukherjee, a pleasure talking to you on Devil’s Advocate.