Pakistan's new Ambassador to India Salman Bashir has said it was "unbelievable" and "incredible" to allege his country's state institutions' involvement in the Mumbai attacks, days after New Delhi demanded further action following LeT terrorist Abu Jundal's revelations.
Speaking to Karan Thapar on Devil's Advocate, he stated that Pakistan was looking at a new way of conducting its ties with India.
Here is the full transcript of the interview:
Karan Thapar: Hello and welcome to Devil's Advocate. What is the present state of India-Pakistan relations? That is the key issue I shall discuss today with Pakistan's new high commissioner to India, the country's former foreign secretary Salman Bashir. Hi, commissioner, let's start with terror and Abu Jundal. India has shared with Pakistan some of Abu Jundal's testimony – how do you respond to what you have been told?
Salman Bashir: Karan, first of all thank you for giving me an opportunity to be on your program, the first day after presentation of my credentials. I am so happy to be privileged. I think, let's take this important conversation at 6000 feet and look at the state of relation. Of course, answering your question directly, Abu Jundal and all we have said we really believe it that we ought to be in a cooperative board and to work all these, what relates to terror that deflects both India and Pakistan together.
Karan Thapar: Let me ask you two specific questions. How do you account for the fact that Abu Jundal had a Pakistani passport, two Pakistani identity cards and he was assisted by Pakistan in going to Saudi Arabia?
Salman Bashir: The same night, when there was this disclosure in media about Abu Jundal's arrest, we had offered to the Home Ministry, to the Government of India, our readiness to work on this together. And the Foreign Secretary repeated that, I think, really the way forward on Abu Jundal, and whatever pertains to all these domain, is to interact more to cooperate more, because I think the objective is the same.
Karan Thapar: The second critical question is, how do you account for that fact that Pakistan lobbied with Saudi Arabia to have Abu Jundal deported to Islamabad and not sent to Delhi despite the fact that Rehman Malik has publicly accepted that Abu Jundal is an Indian citizen.
Salman Bashir: I have seen media reports to that effect. I'm not in a position to corroborate that...
Karan Thapar: Which bit you can't corroborate.
Salman Bashir: About Pakistan lobbying Saudi not to let him come to India. I have seen nothing to that effect.
Karan Thapar: So it may be true, it may not be true.
Salman Bashir: Absolutely.
Karan Thapar: But the interesting thing is that you are not denying that Pakistan didn't lobby.
Salman Bashir: No, my point here is that on these matters we ought to have a degree of objectivity and that degree of objectivity, and I believe both of us are serious, can come when concerned people meet and, you know, deal with these matters.
Karan Thapar: Third, Abu Jundal has made it clear that elements of Pakistan's officialdom who are involved in 26/11, thus corroborating what David Headly had said earlier – how do you respond to that?
Salman Bashir: Elements of Pakistan and state that's what the media has been saying, attributing to Abu Jundal. We have taken note of all what has been said. And my answer again is the same - let the two sides get together to work through this and I think you can't take the word of an individual or you know, what is being said out in the public domain and give it more credence than the actual conversations that the officials track.
Karan Thapar: Last week when your new Foreign Secretary, your successor Jalil Abbas Jilani was in Delhi, he rejected any claim that elements of Pakistan's state were involved in 26/11. But at the same time he also said that Pakistan would investigate information given by Abu Jundal. So let me ask you, will you investigate, check and conform that members of the Pakistani state were not involved or do you reject that out of hand?
Salman Bashir: Well first of all, I think, there is a prospective of the context got...it's important to get it right. Pakistan has been affected with terror much more than any other country in the world. Our GHQ has been attacked, our public places have been attacked, closed to 40,000 people have been killed. So terror is enemy number one in Pakistan.
Karan Thapar: Absolutely and no one in India will deny it accept it think they would point out, as you must have heard, that the terror Pakistan faces is inflicted on Pakistan by Pakistani sources. We in India are a victim of terror inflected by Pakistani sources on us that people say is a critical difference.
Salman Bashir: I think, everybody knows and everybody sort of believes that this is a global phenomenon and it is a virus which afflicts perhaps many societies.
Karan Thapar: Might not the epicenter of that virus be Pakistan?
Salman Bashir: Well that is blind imitations sometimes of the detracts that behaved from time to time. But I don't think that is a fair assessment.
Karan Thapar: Let me bring you back to my question. Given that your Foreign Secretary has said that Pakistan will investigate all the information made available by Abu Jundal, will you investigate and check that Pakistani state actors were or were not involved or would you reject that out of hand?
Salman Bashir: I would say that we have asked on the official track for information and of course we have many time said that we are ready to cooperate. We have the Home Secretary, Interior Secretary talks going on. Our Home Minister is quite prepared to take up these himself with the Home Minister of India. So I think on the Pakistani side I can assure you that we are mind full of responsibilities...
Karan Thapar: I hear your answer very clearly High commissioner, you repeatedly have said in this interview that you want to cooperate. Does that mean that you will in fact check and investigate to conform that state actors are involved or is that one aspect of Adu Jundal's testimony which you reject out of hand ab initio.
Salman Bashir: As I said if our own Army headquarters are attacked, if ISI offices are attacked then I think it is really unbelievable, incredible to allege that Pakistani state, institutes have been involved in this. We ought to look at the situation very objectively in our respect of national interests.
Karan Thapar: I understand and I'm concluding from your answer that you will investigate every bit of information provided by Abu Jundal but not the clam that Pakistani state actors were involved. Have I understood you correctly?
Salman Bashir: Anybody, whether it is state-non state, terrorism is something that is apparent to our ethos, our values, to nationally, to Pakistan. So let's not reach prematurely to conclusions that are not warranted.
Karan Thapar: Now you have repeatedly said that Pakistan wishes to cooperate with India on the issue of terror that was the point made specifically by your new Foreign Secretary as well. Pakistan has offered a joint investigation into Adu Jundal's testimony – what response did you get from India?
Salman Bashir: Well let me make that clear. I think the two foreign secretaries had a very good conversation, good dialogue, which also included points raised by India pertaining to Abu Jundal specifically and other matters pertaining to terror. And I would expect that this would be followed up by officially sharing of information if India so wants, with the relevant Pakistani authorities. Because what we are seeing is a lot of press coverage of what is being attributed to Abu Jundal but nothing has been given to us.
Karan Thapar: But was India receptive to the offer or suggestion of a joint investigation?
Salman Bashir: I think this point was not specifically addressed by the Indian side.
Karan Thapar: So you are still awaiting a formal reply to this offer?
Salman Bashir: I would say so.
Karan Thapar: Let me finally come to two other aspects connected to terror. First, India feel deeply frustrated by the slow 26/11 trials in Pakistan. In under three years the judge has changed five times and American intelligence believes that Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi has accessed mobile phone in jail so he can stay in contact with LeT cardres. Is Pakistan serious about this trial or is it a sham?
Salman Bashir: Pakistan is very serious about this trial and anything that has got to do with terror. But we also are very serious about judicial processes. And as you know Pakistan has a very independent judiciary, number one. Number two, I think, I ought to mention, you know, if we get to cooperate like this particular issue at least 25 plus documents have been exchanged by both sides, 12 dossiers from India, 13 from Pakistan. That's the real stuff that is how we should proceed. Now judiciary has its own parameters and the fact is that the prosecution that is the government has done its best and will continue to persist to ensure that justice finally prevails.
Karan Thapar: You know, your judicial commission visited India few months ago, your were able to meet some of the people, get witness, evidence from them. The belief in India is that in fact your government is not pushing as hard, as fast as it could.
Salman Bashir: Well, I think, I would not like to say anything regarding subjective assessments. But the point is that some of these thinks like the Samjhauta thing that took place in 2007 is yet under investigation. And I think we ought to look at the spirit, we ought to be fixated on the objects that we need to achieve and not get into forensics of a particular situation.
Karan Thapar: The second critical point that worries people in India is Hafiz Saeed. I accept that at least on two occasions you have detained him and the courts have released him. But the truth is he is back again spewing venom, threatening jihad against India. Given that in January 2004 Pakistan committed itself to ensuring that there would be no anti-India activity from Pakistani soil. Can you not restrain Hafiz Saeed?
Salman Bashir: We was under preventive detention, maintenance of public order and it continued for sometime till he was actually released on the orders of the Lahore High Court.
Karan Thapar: But you know why the Lahore court released him on September 2009 when he had actually been arrested under the anti-terrorist act because his organisation Jamata-ul-Dawa was not banned under the act. That was the lacuna that permitted the Lahor court. And the said party is even today, the JuD is not banned under the act, so that lacuna continues.
Salman Bashir: On that aspect, I think, I ought to be explicit both the LeT and the JUD are restricted and prohibited under law.
Karan Thapar: Well they are under, what Rehman Malik calls, a special watch list, but he concedes that the JUD is not banned under the antiterrorist act.
Salman Bashir: The JUD's activities are sort of restricted under the Pakistani act of law that pertains to international, you know, this 1-2-6-7 Security Council resolution.
Karan Thapar: So once again you are saying that Pakistan is doing everything it can to restrain Hafiz Saeed but you have to operate within your laws.
Salman Bashir: That is unfortunately the dilemma. The civil societies have to operate with in the limits of law.
Karan Thapar: High Commissioner let's now talk about the wider India-Pakistan relationship. In February 2010 when you came to India as foreign secretary, you dismissed India's evidence on terror as a piece of literature. Last month your successor Jalil Jilani said and I quote, "Pakistan will support India in its fight against terrorism," that's the line you have taken very eloquently right through part I of this interview. So let me ask you, is this just a softer kind of language or is this indicate a change in attitude?
Salman Bashir: Well Karan first of all let me clarify on the literature, it was just in a manner of speech and I had sort of explained that.
Karan Thapar: I fully accept that.
Salman Bashir: But it doesn't mean in any sense to denigrate what we have to say and we have to take seriously and we take it seriously. Number two, well this is the most interesting side in our conversation today, I would say there has been a sea change in Pakistan-India relationship scenario. I think, if you would permit, I can say for Pakistan with great degree of certainty that at all levels, the leadership, state institution, the people of Pakistan, they realised that it is in the self interest of Pakistan to have the best of relationships.
Karan Thapar: You really mean it when you say sea change? That's dramatic language.
Salman Bashir: That's the atmosphere. I think the atmospherics have witnessed a sea change. Let me say that it was in Thimpu when both our Prime Ministers met and had a plus one hour conversation and then later they called us and briefed us. And it was Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who said that we should invest in building trusts by having frequent visits, exchanges at all levels. I think that is happening and that is huge in terms of where we were.
Karan Thapar: High Commissioner you mentioned how the leadership in Pakistan is keen to improve the relationship with India. I noticed in April when President Zardari came to India he was reported to have said Manmohan Singh that India and Pakistan should emulate India and China and boost trade. Just 10 days later foreign minister Khar in her interview to Hindustan Times said our intention is to solve the Kashmir problem but let us start with less complicated problems. And in a mere next five days General Kayani publicly said that it was important for India and Pakistan to invest in peaceful co-existence. Does any of this suggest that there is a shift in how Pakistan perceives its relationship with India?
Salman Bashir: You mentioned India-China model, there is also the Pakistan-China model, there is also the China-Japan model, you know we have models in the present day and age. I think the world has changed, changing fast, the region is changing fast. There are lot of opportunities between Pakistan and India.
Karan Thapar: But to be specific, is Pakistan looking for a new way of conducting this relationship? Is that what I should understand from President Zardari's comments, Foreign Minister Khar's comments?
Salman Bashir: That's certainly I would say is a sincere intent but of course it takes two to tango.
Karan Thapar: But there is sincere intent on Pakistan's part to look for a new approach for relationship with India?
Salman Bashir: I think we are well on the way in terms of looking at the new approach, the two Prime Ministers met several times, President Zardari was here, they have had very good conversations. So I think on the drawing board the theoretical construct is almost there. Now it is for people like us who are in this business to give it more form, shape, meaning…
Karan Thapar: You said a very important thing. You are saying not just in forms of rhetoric and atmospherics but also in form the theoretical constructs on the drawing board, the fundamentals of the new changed relationship already there, it's now for the diplomats to take it further.
Salman Bashir: Absolutely.
Karan Thapar: I have understood you correctly?
Salman Bashir: Yes.
Karan Thapar: In this contest I want to put something, which I noticed about Kashmir which has been a flash point in the relationship between India and Pakistan. Again going back to February 2010, when you came as the foreign secretary you said and I quote, "Kashmir was discussed extensively, one cannot be dismissive about the issue of Kashmir." In contrast, earlier this month when Jalil Jilani came, he was much more relaxed about Kashmir, in fact the phrase 'core issue' wasn't heard once in public. Many Indians looked at the joint statement that was issued and saw Kashmir was point number six under terror. The question I want to ask is all this, is all of these misleading, or is this a suggestion that both countries are learning to handle Kashmir with less acrimony and more accommodation?
Salman Bashir: I agree with you, I think yes.
Karan Thapar: You are absolutely certain about it?
Salman Bashir: Yes.
Karan Thapar: Now, would an early visit by the Indian Prime Minister to Pakistan help cement the change in mood rhetoric that you talked about?
Salman Bashir: I think there is an in principal understanding, agreement, acceptance of the invitation extended by Pakistan to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to visit. I certainly agree that a visit by the Prime Minister of India would go a long way in not only cementing, but also taking the relationship forward.
Karan Thapar: High Commissioner, a pleasure talking to you.
Salman Bashir: Thank you.