Q & A with Jaswant Singh, Indian Foreign Minister
By Michael Richardson International Herald Tribune
July 26, 1999
The nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan faced their worst crisis in 30 years this summer when armed intruders crossed from Pakistan's section of the disputed territory of Kashmir into the Indian-controlled section, prompting an air and ground assault by Indian forces to evict them. Shortly before he met U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in Singapore on Sunday, Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh of India discussed the conflict over Kashmir and India's relations with Pakistan and the United States with Michael Richardson of the International Herald Tribune.
Q. Do you think the Pakistani government, including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, knew of the program to infiltrate armed fighters into Indian-controlled Kashmir? Or was it a clandestine operation by the Pakistan military and intelligence services?
A. This amounted to aggression. What took place was the movement of Pakistan regular troops, not just to infiltrate, but to occupy and hold territory. I would say that a total of between 1,500 and 1,800 men were involved.
I'm much more interested in the consequences of this, than about whether all the organs of state knew about it or did not know about it.
Q. Under an agreement with President Bill Clinton reached on July 4, Mr. Sharif said he would try to see that all the infiltrators were withdrawn. Have they been?
A. About 90 percent of the clearing of Pakistan regulars and intruders from the areas they held in Kargil was accomplished by the Indian military. When the ground position was found to be untenable by Pakistan, it coincided with the bilateral agreement between President Clinton and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
By Friday, there were still three small remaining areas from which they had not yet withdrawn. We had repeatedly warned Pakistan that unless they did so, we would resume military action. So, as a demonstration, we cleared one area by ground action. Two positions remain occupied by Pakistan.
Q. When will India resume bilateral talks with Pakistan to improve relations?
A. We initiated the dialogue with Pakistan when our prime minister traveled by bus to Lahore in February to talk to Mr. Nawaz Sharif. The dialogue was interrupted by Pakistan. The bus that was headed for Lahore was diverted to Kargil, I think through the total miscalculation of Pakistan. The task before Pakistan is to reroute this bus back to Lahore.
For that process to resume, what is required is a complete withdrawal of all intruders from the Indian side of the Line of Control. Pakistan must then reaffirm the validity and inviolability of that line, which we have said also includes the cessation of encouragement, abetment or aid to any insurgents, particularly terrorists, to come from Pakistan territory to attack civilians on our side. They must convincingly show this.
I believe these are the essentials for a meaningful dialogue to resume. The Lahore declaration asked both nations not to resort to arms. We are simply asking Pakistan to go back to that.
Q. Is there a role for the United States in facilitating dialogue?
A. We do not see a role for any mediators or intermediaries. India and Pakistan know the intricacies much better than anyone else does. We speak each other's languages. We do not need interpreters.
Q. What are the prospects for closer ties between Washington and New Delhi?
A. I believe that two great democracies like the United States and India, which have no fundamental differences on principle and which are committed to similar values, should have closer relations. India has tremendous economic and commercial potential. It is also a stabilizing factor.
Q. Given what has happened in Kashmir, and the fact that India is holding general elections in September, can India and Pakistan be expected to sign the international treaty that would ban any further nuclear tests by this autumn, as they have tentatively promised?
A: India wanted to build a national consensus in favor of signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Had we been able to do so, then of course we would have gone further. But now we are in the middle of an election campaign. India can certainly not be a signatory to the treaty by September.
Q. Doesn't that throw the whole question into an uncertain melting pot?
A. This is an issue the next elected government of India must address.