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PBS Interview

'There Can Clearly Be Dialogue'

The US Deputy Secretary on the hysterical international and press coverage of the recent Indo-Pak stand-off.

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'There Can Clearly Be Dialogue'
Full text of the interview on PBS' Newshour at Washington, DC, June 10, 2002.

Ms. Warner: Deputy Secretary Armitage joins us now. Welcome, Mr. Secretary.

Richard Armitage: Good evening, Ms. Warner.

Ms. Warner: Good evening. India today reopened its airspace to Pakistan. Is the crisis over?

Richard Armitage: Well, I don't think when you have nearly a million men shouting and glaring and occasionally shooting across a disputed border that you can say the crisis has passed, but certainly tensions are down.

Ms. Warner: Musharraf has previously pledged to stop the infiltration. He has even said he'd stop the infiltration. India never credited those pledges. Why did India seem to believe it more coming from you?

Richard Armitage: Well, I believe that both the Indian leaders and the leadership of Pakistan are responding to the international concern expressed about the need to avoid this crisis, first of all. Second, I believe, as you've seen from Indian official statements, the Indian Government now agrees with the West that infiltrations are down, and I believe they give President Musharraf credit for having done that.

Ms. Warner: Tell me, were you able to show them for instance, US intelligence reports showing the infiltrations down?

Richard Armitage: I was able to talk, I think convincingly, with our Indian colleagues about the fact that both the US and Great Britain find that the infiltrations are down, and it seems now that Indian intelligence agrees with us.

Ms. Warner: Before you left on the trip, how close did you think these two countries really were to going to war and perhaps even with the danger of that sliding into a kind of nuclear conflict?

Richard Armitage: Well, I think that the international community, and particularly the press, was more hysterical on this issue than we were; but clearly there was an escalatory trend that didn't seem to have an end point short of war. There was a feeling in the US Government that if we could get a break, if we could call for a halt in the escalation, then good, solid, reasonable leadership on both sides of the problem would find ways to de-escalate, and this apparently has happened.

Ms. Warner: Tell us a little bit about your meeting with Musharraf. The reports are that you talked very bluntly with him, that you had an intelligence dossier showing army and Pakistani intelligence support for the militants in Kashmire, that you even said that if this didn't stop the US might have to move its bases from Pakistan to India. Are those reports correct?

Richard Armitage: Well, I don't know where you got those reports. I didn't carry any dossiers at all. I had a very straightforward and frank discussion with President Musharraf, who is a man of great dignity and honor, and very straightforward. But we didn't have to waste much time with small talk. We got right into the hopes and aspirations of the people of Pakistan, as well as the problems, and most particularly the possibility of al-Qaida using the Kashmir situation to actually bring about a war between Pakistan and India, and the absolute need to avoid this.

Ms. Warner: So how do you read now his intentions and his capabilities when it comes to really cracking down on this infiltration?

Richard Armitage: We value the assurances that President Musharraf gave to the US Government, in effect to the President of the United States. We think he will exert every effort to stop the infiltration. I think even the most ardent nationalists on the Indian side would say that President Musharraf cannot stop everything, but that he needs to be seen as exerting every effort in his capacity. And I think we'll see that.

Ms. Warner: Do you think that exposes him to political danger at home?

Richard Armitage: Well, I think clearly there's a domestic backlash of some sort. But I well recall that prior to the January 12 speech which President Musharraf made there were pundits who were saying that no leader in Pakistan could say what he said and still hold his streets together. He made a very valiant speech and he held things together very well, and I think the same will be true this time.

Ms. Warner: Now did you have equally straightforward talks with the Indians in terms of the need for India to reciprocate?

Richard Armitage: I had very straightforward talks with all of the top Indian leadership ad seriatim, ending up with the Prime Minister. They were full and frank. There's a great variety of opinion in the Indian Government, as one would expect of a great democracy, so there was a full airing of the situation, I can assure you.

Ms. Warner: And so what is your understanding of what India is prepared to do if it becomes -- it seems to be convinced that Musharraf is serious here?

Richard Armitage: I have seen today that India has reestablished commercial air links and allowed overflight from Pakistan. They have named an ambassador to be the High Commissioner to Islamabad, and my understanding is that the fleets have started to sail back south. These are very good beginnings, and I'm sure if the Indian Government is convinced that things are moving in the right direction regarding the assurances of the Government of Pakistan, one could expect further de-escalation.

Ms. Warner: Now Pakistan of course wants really to open a dialogue, they keep saying, about all the issues between them, including the future of Kashmir. Do you think India is ready to do that?

Richard Armitage: I think it might be a bit premature to start that tomorrow; but as things de-escalate, clearly there can be a dialogue. I'll note that in 1972 when both countries signed the Simla accord, they both acknowledged that the question of Kashmir was a bilateral issue. They have had dialogue in the past on this issue. I expect in the future they will be able to engage in it.

Ms. Warner: But Pakistan would also like some international mediation. Do you see that kind of role?

Richard Armitage: I don't think mediation is in the cards right now, but clearly the recent crisis has put Kashmir on the international agenda in a way that it has never been before. And there will be a lot of international attention to attempting to find a resolution to the question.

Ms. Warner: On the immediate Kashmir crisis, the two countries have -- they both seem to be talking about some sort of monitoring or verification along the Line of Control, but they have conflicting proposals. What do you see as a workable solution there and did you discuss that with them?

Richard Armitage: I've discussed the monitoring proposal with both sides. From the Pakistani point of view, they could have Indian and Pakistani monitors as long as there was an international component. Their feeling is it's very difficult to take people who have been shooting at each other one day, and make them join hands and jointly monitor the next.

From the Indian point of view, this should be strictly a bilateral monitoring mechanism, with only Indian and Pakistani troops taking part. I suspect things will clarify over time, but there's no resolution to that yet.

Ms. Warner: Do you see a US role?

Richard Armitage: I think we've already had a role in moving back and forth to India, so that will continue. I don't right now see the need for US monitors.

Ms. Warner: And what about the sharing of intelligence in terms of being able to at least from the air monitor or verify what's going on.

Richard Armitage: No, I think that this is very much something that can be considered, and if there's a willingness from both sides to engage in it, I think the United States would be delighted.

Ms. Warner: If this de-escalation works, what will it take to make it stable enough that it just doesn't flare up again in six months. We have all these periodic flare-ups between India and Pakistan.

Richard Armitage: Well, we've had 55 years of periodic flare-ups between India and Pakistan. I think that the highest order on the agenda is to have a regional de-escalation in terms of al-Qaida and terrorist presence, and terrorism as a way to accomplish political objectives. And after that, as happened both in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, then I think the regional situation will be much better and be much more conducive to a logical discussion of the future of Kashmir.

Ms. Warner: Speaking of al-Qaida in that region of the world, the alleged "dirty-bomber" plotter that was revealed today was arrested flying back to Chicago from Pakistan in early May, apparently held meetings with other al-Qaida officials in major cities in Pakistan, Lahore and Karachi. Does Pakistan really remain still a hotbed of international terrorist activity, not just against India or in Kashmir, but against the US?

Richard Armitage: I think the way you put it, that Pakistan is a hotbed of international terrorist activity, is not the way I would describe it. Certainly Pakistan has jihadist elements in its society, and certainly they've been a neighbor to Afghanistan, and a lot of that trouble has crossed the border. But I would note that Pakistan has been very helpful in a number of occasions, and has arrested many bad elements. I fully expect that that cooperation will continue, and I fully expect that Secretary Rumsfeld and President Musharraf will talk about further cooperation from Pakistan in the future.

Ms. Warner: Secretary Rumsfeld does get to the region tomorrow. What is his brief?

Richard Armitage: I think, first of all, he will stop in Delhi to talk to Indian officials about their appreciation of the last few days over the Line of control, and he'll be traveling on to Pakistan to share those views with President Musharraf. I think clearly there are other strictly bilateral issues -- the war on terrorism -- Mr. Rumsfeld will want to talk to President Musharraf about.

Ms. Warner: All right, Secretary Armitage. Thanks very much.

Richard Armitage: Thank you.

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