The full transcript of BBC Hindi special programme Aapki Baat BBC Ke Saath with BJP leader in charge of its external affairs cell, the former minister for external affairs, Yashwant Sinha
Nagendar Sharma: Would the ongoing peace process between India and Pakistan, continuing for the last couple of years, lead towards solving the Kashmir issue in reality or would the two sides merely keep talking?
Yashwant Sinha: I think solution to any problem can only be found through talks -- if they proceed in the right spirit and ample time is devoted, any issue can be solved. But to think that the solution would be found instantly: in my view, that sort of thinking is not correct. I think Kashmir is not the only issue between India and Pakistan: Siachen, Sir Creek, trade and terrorism are equally important issues, and talks should continue on all these as well.
Listener from Delhi: Sir, I have been going regularly to Kashmir and I find that the environment has really changed there in the last five-six years. Then why do we insist on round table conferences and talking to separatists? Why don’t we allow this issue to die its own death and let the people of that state live in peace - as whenever the government takes a big step like talks etc., there is an escalation in violence which only harms the common people
Yashwant Sinha: I agree with you on the point that it is not important to hold such high-profile talks especially when it comes to Kashmir. This time, when the Prime Minister went to Srinagar, many violent incidents took place leading to loss of lives of many innocent people in the state. In fact, out of the organisations invited for this high-profile conference, many did not attend it and even the Prime Minister had to return to Delhi earlier than scheduled due to the situation in Kashmir. Therefore in sensitive matters, it is advisable to do things at a low key and without letting those opposed to it even notice it, instead of hyping and drumming it up, which proves counter-productive.
Listener from Kathmandu : Sir, India is viewed with respect in Nepal, especially after its support to the pro-democracy movement here. Now Maoists have begun talking to the government. Would the Indian government continue to supply arms to our country in the changed circumstances, and would Maoists also continue to get arms? Also why has the Indian government not reacted so far on the latest proposal? Does it mean India is not happy with it?
Yaswhant Sinha: Well, I am not here to speak on behalf of the government as I am in the opposition. However, the recent developments in Nepal -- the mass movement which led to installation of an interim government and restoration of parliament -- are certainly welcome steps. Talks between Maoists and Nepal government are at an early stage and it remains to be seen what the outcome would be. If the Maoists are ready to give up arms, they should be welcomed in the mainstream. The difficulty would be if they refuse to give up arms, such a situation would not be helpful for stability in Nepal. So far as the reaction of India is concerned on the resolution of Nepal Parliament, well, the UPA government must answer this.
Nagendar Sharma: Mr Sinha, at a time when India’s neighbours are facing difficult situations due to their internal crisis, be it Nepal, Sri Lanka, or even Pakistan and Afghanistan where the tension is rising. Does the absence of a full-time foreign minister hamper diplomatic intervention?
Yashwant Sinha: It is important for any government to have a full time external affairs minister. The Prime Minister can keep this portfolio for some time, there is nothing wrong with it. But at such a crucial time, not to have a Minister hampers diplomatic intervention at important forums and levels. Such an important and complex ministry cannot be allowed to be rudderless for long. A full time external affairs minister must be appointed without any delay, as the country has been without one for nearly six months now.
Listener from Kanpur: Sir, your government initiated peace talks with Pakistan, and they were held at many venues, but nothing tangible came out. Now the UPA government has been in power for two years, and they have been continuing from where you left, but it seems the two countries are moving around in circles. Can the people of two countries expect any tangible results?
Yashwant Sinha: Well, both India and Pakistan would have to give more time for talks between themselves. Let us not forget that Kashmir has been an issue between the two countries for nearly 60 years now. To think that an issue which has been there for six decades would be solved within six days or months would not be correct. Pakistan tries to make Kashmir the focus of talks, this is what India has to avoid. We never allowed that to happen, as we think that all issues between the two countries deserve to be the focus. I say, at times, the path being followed becomes your goal, this is what needs to be done by India and Pakistan. Ever since the talks began, the atmosphere of enmity has evaporated, many steps have been taken since then which have led to people of both sides feeling an improvement. Talks must continue, both sides should try and agree on as many things as they can and this is the only way which could lead to real improvement of relations between the two neighbours.
Listener from Kanpur continues: But sir, the fact remains that when Atal Behari Vajpayee went to Lahore, it was followed by Kargil. Even now when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh went to Srinagar for the round-table conference, there was large-scale violence, where are things headed to now?
Yashwant Sinha: Well, when Mr Vajpyee was the Prime Minister and I was the foreign minister, we travelled to Pakistan in January 2004 for the SAARC summit. The joint statement of six January, 2004 of India and Pakistan clearly says Pakistan would not allow its soil to be used for terrorist activities and violence would be controlled. All these were clearly stated. Now the problem is that Pakistan forgets its commitment after a few days, the challenge for India is to make Pakistan stick to its commitment.
Nagendar Sharma: But how would that be possible ?
Yashwant Sinha: That is possible by reminding Pakistan about its commitment each time we talk to them. In fact, India should reiterate this in the beginning of each round of talks. Talks would have to be continued with Pakistan, and if there is a deadlock on any issue, it should not treated as a setback. Recently, talks on Siachen did not yield any result, but there is nothing to be disheartened about, such talks should be held again. The key is to continue to talk, but we must put forward our viewpoint strongly and frankly, as sweet-talking is of no use. We should be firm and we should talk.
Listener from Sagar (MP): Sir, there is no denying that talks should continue, but can we expect results at the level at which talks are being held? We cannot keep on blaming Pakistan all the time, why don’t we own up our mistakes as well? Don’t you think these talks should be held at the highest level and their frequency should be increased to make them reach a logicial conclusion?
Yashwant Sinha: You have simplified the matter too much. It is not that simple. I agree that we have also made mistakes in the past, and I think that the mistake we made was in judging the real intention of Pakistan regarding the terrorist activities from its soil. Indian government should adopt a tough posture on terrorism, only then would we be able to force Pakistan to keep its commitment of January 6, 2004 regarding not allowing its soil to be used for terror activities.
Listener from Bihar: Sir, how long can the talks continue when results are not visible at least not on the surface, and common people cannot be faulted for the impression that the two nations are going round in circles without moving forward?
Yashwant Sinha: I fail to understand why we lack patience. What is required is the boldness to continue talks with sincerity. If we can continue to talk with China on the border issue, despite having fought a war with it, then why not with Pakistan? We had chances in the past to solve the Kashmir issue, but we did not do it. Now talks is the only answer.
Nagendar Sharma: Mr Sinha, which chances are you referring to?
Yashwant Sinha: It is recorded in history that we lost the chances we got for a final solution on Kashmir. First was when Pakistan attacked Jammu & Kashmir in 1947, Indian forces were able to push back Pakistani forces quite a bit. Similarly in 1948, had we not accepted the ceasefire, we would have been successful in liberating entire Kashmir from the control of Pakistan. Instead we made the mistake of taking this issue to the United Nations, which was not required at all. Then, during the Bangladesh war, after we captured nearly ninety thousand Pakistani troops, talks were held in Shimla, where instead of keeping the final solution pending, we should have said that we want the final solution now and it would have happened also
Listener from Kashmir: How should India proceed in talks in the present circumstances when Kashmir has seen escalation in violence?
Yashwant Sinha: We should clearly understand that on the one hand we have our relations with Pakistan and this includes talks on Kashmir issue, which should not have been internationalised, but now it is a reality. On the other hand is our state of Jammu & Kashmir. We should be talking to Pakistan on issues which concern both the countries, but the worry begins when the internal J&K issue is treated as tri-lateral. We have to avoid this situation, Indian government alone has the right to solve its internal matter, meaning talking to those who are outside the mainstream also in our state. In fact, we should question the locus-standi of Pakistan on Kashmir and ask them in which capacity do they talk about this issue
Nagendar Sharma: What should be priorities of government's foreign policy now?
Yashwant Sinha: Foremost and immediate priority of our foreign policy should be the immediate neighbours. Presently, many of our neighbouring countries are facing serious situations, and these could have a direct impact on us. When domestic crisis worsens, people flee their own countries and enter India as refugees, which could become a headache for us. Next priority should be on continuing border talks with China, as these are crucial for relations between two countries, which are important for the world as well.