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Jan 20, 2013 at 10:06pm IST

Both Indian, Pak democracies need to be strengthened, have to look forward: Salman Khurshid

While speaking to Karan Thapar on Devil's Advocate, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said that the Indian government played no role in sending back Pakistani sportspersons and artistes following the recent LoC killings.

Below is the full transcript of the show:

Karan Thapar: Hello and welcome to a special Devil's Advocate, in a special interview on India-Pakistan relations with Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid. Foreign Minister let's start with Hina Rabbani Khar's offer of talks to sought out tensions on the Line of Control (LoC). Conversationally you have described it as a positive step, but three days later, what is your government's official response?

Salman Khurshid: I don't understand what do you mean by an official response. See these are ongoing developments. What is important it this is a positive signal but I think what we need to do is to ensure that multi-dimensionally the atmospherics improves. We did hit a low point obviously a few days ago and I think it is important that we get back to a level of atmospherics that can be described as near normal, that the LoC remains peaceful and that there is no incident that is counterproductive. Then we can think of moving forward in a meaningful way.

Karan Thapar: In other words, you want a period of time to prove that the LoC which is peaceful at this moment, is actually genuinely peaceful and this is not an abberation. And secondly, you want an improvement in atmospherics and then move forward.

Salman Khurshid: Isn't that sensible, you know, is it not sensible not to hasten and rush into things that you are not fully prepared for, and that where any failure, or any disappointment can lead to implications that are not necessarily very productive.

Karan Thapar: So there is a real sense in which you are waiting to judge the sincerity of the Pakistani response, because you want to judge it in terms of peace on the LoC and you also want to judge it in terms of improvement of atmospherics, then you will go forward.

Salman Khurshid: Well, except for that I don't want to necessarily label the word sincerity to get reaction to someone saying, well you show your sincerity. I don't think we should get involved in that kind of exchange. I think it is important that in totality the situation looks more acceptable, looks more peaceful. And then, of course, it is another matter if you say, if it is peaceful then what do you need to do. I think what we need to do is step-by-step move in a manner that doesn't allow something like this to happen again.

Karan Thapar: Let me try and understand the thinking that lies behind what you said. Would you accept that Pakistan's offer of talks is a significant shift from its initial position that the beheading should be inquired into by the United Nations and therefore, what Pakistan has done is to try and reach out.

Salman Khurshid: Well, I think that can be described as correct. We have a very long established position and that position is that these issues must be dealt with bilaterally between Pakistan and ourselves. In which manner, at what level these are things that are worked out from time to time.

Karan Thapar: But do you accept that these statements from Pakistan is a significant shift from its own original, initial position.

Salman Khurshid: Well yes, I think, it is a departure from what we heard in the first couple of days, and that was, we had made it very clear, that was very clearly not acceptable to us.

Karan Thapar: Now you have said that meaningful talks can only happen when the environment or the atmospherics are right. Separately, the Pakistan High Commissioner Salman Bashir in an interview to The Times of India has said that Pakistan will be prepared to consider Indian's demand for an enquiry into the beheading. Is that a step that will help create the right atmosphere, the right enviornment?

Salman Khurshid: I think the right environment is both factual thing and it is also a matter of perception. I think, both of those have to go hand in hand.

Karan Thapar: Into which category does Salman Bashir's statement fall..

Salman Khurshid: Well that's a stated position so I think it is important.. it is anticipating a fact, it is proposing a fact. But what we need to do is to actually put all this at a point where some conversation begins. There hasn't been a conversation; we have been talking through media. When we reach the stage where a conversation can begin, at which ever level, that is when one can talk about it..

Karan Thapar: You know, you talked about perceptions, you talked about needing to wait for conversations to begin, at the moment as you say, you are talking through the media. You have said that you need the right environment for dialogues. Many people turned around and say actually dialogue change the environment. Are you not putting it the wrong way around?

Salman Khurshid: I agree that is true. It is true that dialogue leads to an environment, but there is a minimal environment you need for a dialogue and that minimal environment can come in many ways. Sometimes it comes with passage of time, sometimes it comes with another incident that leads you to believe in them..

Karan Thapar: A statement from Pakistan Foreign Minister, an official statement, which is more than just talking through media is not sufficient to change that environment.

Salman Khurshid: I have said that when the environment changes, both sides will know that it has changed. And I think it is important, this is not a private conversation that takes place between two countries, it is something in which two nations are involved.

Karan Thapar: What I'm trying to understand is, what more do you need, you had an official statement, you concede it is a significant shift from the initial position Pakistan took, yet clearly it is not enough for you to respond by saying yes we will talk - so what more are you looking for?

Salman Khurshid: I'm not saying we won't talk, I'm not saying we will talk. All I'm saying is that this is a good positive signal. Now let's see what happens. I don't know.. It is not the Foreign Minister alone who decides everything; you have got to have a sense of compatibility and a sense of acceptability in terms of what the government's perceptions are.

Karan Thapar: You say it is not the Foreign Minister alone who decides everything - is there therefore a sense in which your colleagues in Cabinet are holding you back? That may be PM and you are keen to say yes but your colleagues are holding you back.

Salman Khurshid: No why should anyone hold anyone back, but we have to ensure that we share a perception and that somebody on their own, alone on their own are not going to move out in a manner in which others will not know that we are going in the right directions.

Karan Thapar: I will tell you why I asked whether your hands are being restrained by your colleagues in government, or in the Congress party because many people believe that the lack of decisiveness in your response to the Pakistani offer of talks, or your reluctance is a reflection of the fact that your government was boxed into a corner both by the statements made by the Opposition leaders as well as by the war-mongering debates in TV. Is that why you are restrained?

Salman Khurshid: Can I give you an answer in one word, and the answer is no. It is unfortunate that out of context debates take place in the media, but then media is free; you have to take the good and the bad of the media. But we are not going to be influenced by the media necessarily by jingoist conversation that takes place on some sections of the media.

Karan Thapar: Your own initial response, and I'm quoting you, "the situation demands very responsible, sensible and moderate behaviour, we are not going to be pressurised by wild call for revenge and reaction". Days later suddenly the Prime Minister says, at Army day, "it is not business as usual". There is a remarkable shift from you're your moderation to your hardline almost belligerence.

Salman Khurshid: Not at all, see the thing is you either have a response in one single word that we don't have to repeat in which you will get bored to death, or you have ways of describing the position that we have taken.

Karan Thapar: What happens when that way of describing goes from moderation to belligerence.

Salman Khurshid: There is no belligerence, I'm sorry, this in not belligerence, this is a very carefully crafted statement saying that you have to take very seriously what we had suffered and till you take it seriously how can we move it forward.

Karan Thapar: So there is no sense in which the government's reluctance to respond to Hina Rabbani Khar. Your hesitation to respond is for the fact that you are boxed to a corner by the opposition and the media.

Salman Khurshid: We are not boxed to a corner. We are taking a decision which we believe is in the national interest. We are taking a decision in a very objective and sensible manner and I think it reflects truly what our duty and obligations are at this time. And I do believe that it is important that we take steps carefully so that you don't slip.

Karan Thapar: Except that you seem to be talking steps deliberately slow and not just carefully with reluctance and hesitation.

Salman Khurshid: Consciously, not deliberately. And I think when you are dealing with sensitive matters of such high importance, you should be conscious of what you are doing.

Karan Thapar: Is there a sense, I want to use my phrase agonies over how to respond to Hina Rabbani Khar, that actually the peace process is on pause, on hold.

Salman Khurshid: I don't think so. I think the peace process is going well what our indication is that we have got back on track quite a bit. I don't even know to what extend we had gone off track, but there certainly was a sense that we were slipping, and I think we have gone back on track considerably and that is a good sign. And we would want that to continue. Obviously time will tell if we are back on track or not.

Karan Thapar: So if I can interpret what you are saying, you are suggesting that relations are back to near normal, not fully normal, there is a bit more needed.

Salman Khurshid: See, we were still not completely devoid of engagement. There are standard levels of engagement that continued. Don't forget that we did have a very good conversation between two of our DGMOs. Now the DGMO conversation is not something new, that is the standard practice that we already have in place. But that conversation was meaningful was positive, and it went in the right direction, for I say these are good signals.

Karan Thapar: Now, Hina Rabbani Khar and Pakistani Foreign office are undoubtedly hearing you as you speak in this interview, what message should they take from what you said. Should it be that you need a little bit more time, you need perhaps the atmosphere, little more time for the environment to improve before you respond more definitively.

Salman Khurshid: See I don't need to amplify what I have said. Now, I will just repeat what I have said. These are good signals, we seem to be moving in the right direction, but I think it is important that we move carefully, step by step, so that we don't make a mistake again. Now what is wrong with that? This is not belligerence, this is not reluctance, this is just sensible, positive behaviour.

Karan Thapar: Foreign Minister, let's change focus and talk about how you responded as a government to this crisis. After an initial period of restraint and sobriety, you put visas for the elderly on hold, you sent back Hockey players, you cancelled plays in both Jaipur and Delhi - can you today with hindsight and reflection, accept that those were silly jesters and a mistake.

Salman Khurshid: Karan, let me share with you the government didn't formally reflect on any decision that could be described as a decision that led to any of these events.

Karan Thapar: Then how did these things happen.

Salman Khurshid: A lot of this was done normally by organisers themselves.

Karan Thapar: But the visas being put on hold?

Salman Khurshid: No visa has been put on hold, only one element of visas was quarried by some of our agencies and it is only a matter of postponing.

Karan Thapar: Except for the fact that the query by the agencies happened on the day it shouldn't have happened. And people say agencies don't leave quarries for the last moment that is an excuse for deferring something.

Salman Khurshid: It was not an excuse, it was actually a genuine concern about putting something right. It was a genuine concern may be the time gives it an impression that it was done for a reason.

Karan Thapar: Do you know what you are suggesting minister, you are suggesting that the putting on hold the visas, the sending back of Hockey players, the cancellations of plays was not a well thought out decisions it was things that individuals did arbitrarily, or individually.

Salman Khurshid: Not arbitrarily, keeping the context in mind, keeping the development that had taken place and their responsibility, as far as the Hockey players are concerned, there is a responsibility of the organisers..

Karan Thapar: But there was no decision by the cabinet as a whole to change these steps.

Salman Khurshid: That was not a decision by the Cabinet at all.

Karan Thapar: Was in fact the Cabinet consulted for aware.

Salman Khurshid: Well, the Cabinet is not consulted on somebody organising a match and deciding whether a match can't be held at a particular place.

Karan Thapar: Or plays?

Salman Khurshid: There is no decision that we have taken.

Karan Thapar: So all of this came as a bit of surprise to you.

Salman Khurshid: It is not a bit of surprise, there are things that happen, you get information. I am talking to you, have I talked to the Cabinet to be able to talk to you, no. This is a part of a normal process, and normal mandates that people have.

Karan Thapar: Let me put it like this, many people have been very critical of these steps, do you think on reflection they shouldn't have been taken.

Salman Khurshid: I think, it is not fair on me to judge someone who has a free mandate to decide what to do under organisation under which they exists.

Karan Thapar: I'm not asking you to judge, I'm just asking you to comment.

Salman Khurshid: I can't, it would be unfair. I should be having him sitting here explaining why they have taken a decision, and in that case I can either say, with hindsight I would either think this is wrong or right.

Karan Thapar: People will be disconcerted by the fact that these things just happened without the government being consulted.

Salman Khurshid: Government doesn't and should not get involved in decision that related to range of activities, which are people-to people contact, provided that the broad platform of people-to-people contact is something that we have agreed upon.

Karan Thapar: I will tell you why people worry because when you start targeting sports, culture, and visas when there is side by side reluctance to respond to Pakistan's offer to talks, what you end up doing is demoralising the pro-India constituency in Pakistan and encouraging the anti-India hardliners. And that's not wise for India to do.

Salman Khurshid: Well, it is a good sound advice that you are giving us, we would not count for a moment a position in which we discourage peace constituencies either in India or in Pakistan. You can be quite sure of that.

Karan Thapar: Alright, a second issue, there is no doubt that it was unacceptable and unpardonable for Pakistani soldiers to behead an Indian soldier, but how do you respond to the view that this happened in retaliation of killing of a Pakistani soldier and the injuring on another one by Indian firing two days earlier.

Salman Khurshid: See, I don't think that we can now go into this debate of tit for tat. As far as this issue is concerned we consider it to be a tactical issue concerning local operations of the Army..

Karan Thapar: But a retaliatory as well.

Salman Khurshid: No.. As far as we are concerned this word retaliation we do not accept, we do not encourage. But there is a responsibility upon the Army at the border or the Line of Control to do what is that time tactically necessary to do. And it can be handled at that level; it is normally handled at that level..

Karan Thapar: You have slightly sidestepped the core of my question which was this, that the beheading of the two Indian soldiers, many people believe, was retaliation of the earlier killing of one Pakistani soldier and injuring of another by firing from the Indian side.

Salman Khurshid: This is not the first time somebody has died at the Line of Control, we have had many more deaths in the past. The good thing is that the deaths had come down dramatically and radically. Firing does take place at the Line of Control when something gets out of hand, and there are causalities as well, but we don't treat this as civilised people, we don't take this as an occasion for taking revenge and that too in such an unacceptable way.

Karan Thapar: There is no doubt that the beheading of the Indian soldier was gruesome, macabre, utterly unpardonable, but there is a sizable evidence which clearly suggest that Indian soldiers have also beheaded Pakistani soldiers not just at Kargil, but also in the recent past. Shouldn't you as a government bear that in mind when you handle this crisis?

Salman Khurshid: Well, as far as I'm concerned this is a tactical issue and the Army can handle, has been handling, and will continue to handle. We shouldn't get involved in how the Army handles its own truth.

Karan Thapar: No I don't mean in terms of Army handling, I mean in terms of political response. The Pakistani did something gruesome but there is enough evidence and proof that we have done similar things in the past.

Salman Khurshid: We are not just in order to overcome something, unacceptable that has happened now, we are not going to reopen every think going back to 1950. We are not going to now bring out everything and say what about that and what about that. We have to look forward, but something has happened right now, we can't give the impression that nothing causes concern to us. This is something that was of an extreme nature, this is something that has caught public imagination in a manner which I do believe is something that we needed to respond to and we have.

Karan Thapar: What I'm really suggesting is that no doubt this was something of extreme nature, barbaric, unforgivable, but given that in the past including according to military sources who spoke to the Hindu just last year, Indian's have beheaded Pakistani soldiers. Should we bear in mind that both sides have done unforgivable things to each other. And should that be at the back of our minds when we respond to this.

Salman Khurshid: I don't know, I can't set the agenda now, I can't tell you exactly right now what is that we will accept as part of a conversation, if a conversation takes place. When the DGMOs talk to each other, I'm sure all facts on both sides are available, they are familiar with the today, and they are familiar with the history of what has happened, and then they come to a conclusion. We are very happy that the DGMOs have been able to communicate and that the communication has been proven to be of a positive nature.

Karan Thapar: One last issue, there are some people in India who believe that what lies behind this gruesome beheading of Indian soldier is a new intervention, and a new assertiveness on the part of Pakistan Army. And they believe it is linked to the issue, it is linked to the fact that Pakistani Army has resolved some of its internal issues with the America. Do you share that assessment or do you disagree with it.

Salman Khurshid: Why should we interfere with the internal matters of Pakistan. Obviously when we deal with any country, we analyse whatever is the prevailing atmosphere, what are the contributions that different segments and sections of their society are making. We factor that into our responses. But for us to publically talk about something that relates internal affairs of another country is uncalled for.

Karan Thapar: One last question. How do you view General Kayani, do you see him as enimical to India.

Salman Khurshid: Well I don't, I will tell you one thing, general perception in the past has been is that we are better off with civilian governments, and therefore we felt that if Pakistan was to complete five years of civilian rule of an elected civilian government that would be a good thing for the entire region. And we do believe, and the Prime Minister has said this many times that democracies don't fight each other. And therefore, hoping, expecting democratic governments to strengthen their base is something India considers to be positive.

Karan Thapar: Well, the quick rollback to what you are saying is that India believes that it is important that Zardari completes times term.

Salman Khurshid: No, I think what is important, is that democracies strengthen, it is not for us to specify democracy being strengthen in a particular way, but democracy should be strengthened and I think that is what we have been saying.

Karan Thapar: Is Kayani inimical to India, or is he someone you have factored in.

Salman Khurshid: You got to ask him, you interview everyone, why don't you ask him in an interview.

Karan Thapar: Salman Khurshid that is a very cleaver reply. A million thanks for this interview.

Salman Khurshid: Thank you very much.