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'India Has the Resolve, strength and stamina to Resist This Terrorism': Vajpayee

'India Has the Resolve, strength and stamina to Resist This Terrorism': Vajpayee

Publication:  Washington Post
Date: November 9, 2001

Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee responded to written questions submitted to him by Washington Post editors.

Q: What concerns do you have about the American-led war against terrorism?
Has the U.S. campaign been defined too narrowly, not taking fully into account India's concerns about terrorism?

Vajpayee: The ongoing campaign in Afghanistan is against the perpetrators of the brutal terrorist attacks in the United States on Sept. 11, the al-Qaeda network and its supporters and hosts in Afghanistan, the Taliban. They are a major, but not the only, source of terrorism in the world. I see this -- and President Bush has also said this -- as the beginning of the war against the global terror network. The war against terrorism will have to be fought on a global scale, against terrorist groups everywhere. Safe haven offered by some countries with shelter, resources, training camps and arms have helped terrorist groups to build up a worldwide web of terror networks, with its hub in our western neighborhood. There is a strong, almost seamless, link between the terrorist groups operating against India and the United States. Therefore, if the aims of the war are to be achieved in full, the entire network will have to be destroyed.

Q: What specific steps have you seen the United States take since Sept. 11 to address India's concerns on terrorism? Do you consider them adequate? What further steps should the U.S. take soon?

Vajpayee: We appreciated the U.S.A.'s categorical confirmation, after the brutal terrorist attacks on Oct. 1 on the Jammu and Kashmir State Assembly [parliament], that terrorism everywhere would be condemned equally forcefully. I welcome the U.S. decision to proscribe the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, and Lashkar-e-Toiba. This would have a salutary effect on other terrorist organizations targetting India.

We also hope that, in the context of our collective campaign against terrorism, the United States would succeed in persuading Pakistan to stop sponsoring terrorism against India.

Q: Last month, American aircraft struck a dormitory in Kabul used by the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen. Was this attack based on information from India or conducted at India's request? Have there been other attacks on Afghanistan-based militants that India has sought from the United States?

Vajpayee: The killing in Kabul, of terrorists belonging to the Pakistani-based Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM), comes as no surprise to us. We have known for a long time that groups such as the HuM which have been created by Pakistan's intelligence agencies for terrorism in India, also have close links with the Taliban. Pakistan has been using the Taliban-controlled territories of Afghanistan for training and other support to terrorism, directed against India. The recent killing is merely one additional piece of evidence that highlights the close nexus between Pakistan, Pakistan-based terrorist groups and the Taliban.

Q: What concerns do you have about the Bush administration's policy pronouncements on Kashmir? Do you worry that the Bush administration shares Pakistan's view that the Kashmir issue is central to the Indo-Pakistani relationship and that the popular sentiments of Kashmiris must be taken more into account in addressing the issues?

Vajpayee: All U.S. administrations, past and present, have been aware of India's position on Jammu and Kashmir. They have also been aware of the fact that the state has had elections regularly to elect the people's representatives. The people of the State have suffered over the years from terrorist attacks which have claimed thousands of innocent lives. Thus, if there is a central issue in the India-Pakistan relationship, concerning Jammu and Kashmir, it is the cross-border terrorism, which we have had to counter.

Q: What role would you like to see the United States play in seeking a solution to the issue of Kashmir? What role would you like to see the United States play in settling the border dispute between India and Pakistan?

Vajpayee: The Shimla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration are bilateral agreements that have been freely entered into by India and Pakistan. These are the cornerstones of our bilateral relations, and commit both countries to address all outstanding issues peacefully, through direct bilateral dialogue. There can be no place whatsoever for any third party involvement, in any aspect of our bilateral relations. When two people can speak the same language, why should either side suddenly seek an interpreter?

Q: Bush administration officials said they have told both India and Pakistan to avoid escalating tension over Kashmir. What have you been told in this regard and what steps have you taken in response?

Vajpayee: The events of the recent years speak for themselves. We have always exercised restraint in the most difficult situations, just as we have taken every initiative for dialogue with Pakistan. When Pakistani forces crossed the Line of Control in Kargil in 1999, we did not respond through attacks on their territory. When calls for jihad against India are made from Pakistan, we do not respond with similar offensive rhetoric. We have already conveyed to the United States that we have no intention of complicating the current agenda and the operations in Afghanistan. We do, however, have a legitimate right to take whatever action we can in our country to thwart and respond to terrorism. This is what I had written to President Bush. Restraint, like dialogue, has to be a two-way process.

Q: India's apparent decision to open fire on Pakistani military positions across the line of control on the eve of Secretary Powell's visit to New Delhi was seen in Washington as an attempt by India to send a message to the U.S.? Was a message intended in this event, and if so, what was it?

Vajpayee: There is sufficient mutual confidence, openness and candour in India-U.S. relations today. There is no need for either of us to use any means other than speech or written texts to send messages to each other! A large group of terrorists were making a bid to cross our border from the Pakistani side. We took action to stop them. We have had to resort to this step from time to time to prevent large scale infiltration into India by terrorists from Pakistan.

Q: What concerns do you have that [Pakistan] President Musharraf is allowing greater latitude for the activities of anti-Indian militants to compensate for this participation in the anti-Taliban effort?

Vajpayee: Pakistan has not ended its sponsorship of cross-border terrorism in India. On Oct. 1, terrorists attacked the State Assembly in Srinagar. The leaders of a Pakistan-based terrorist group openly claimed responsibility for these attacks. This does seem to beat out what you have said. Pakistan must realize that it cannot support the campaign against international terrorism on one hand while sponsoring terrorist groups in India on the other.

India has the resolve, strength and stamina to resist this terrorism.

Q: Within a broad-based future government to replace the Taliban regime, how large a role must the Northern Alliance have? Many American analysts in Washington assert that the Northern Alliance alone does not have enough support in the south to win allegiance from Pashtuns and thus guarantee a stable long-term government. Do you agree?

Vajpayee: For peace and stability to be restored in Afghanistan, it is essential that a broad-based, representative multi-ethnic government is established, free from outside interference. The last decade of civil strife in Afghanistan was mainly on account of military foisting the Taliban regime on the people of Afghanistan.

As an important ethnic group, Pashtuns will naturally have to find adequate representation in any future multi-ethnic government in Afghanistan. However, the nature and structure of this future government will have to be decided by the Afghan people themselves. India have always had close historical ties with the Pashtuns of Afghanistan. Several Pushtun families, who escaped the conflict in Afganistan, have in fact sought refuge in India for the past 20 years.

Q: Would you accept a dominant role for Pashtun elements in the future Afghan government and could Pashtun commanders and tribal leaders who have supported the Taliban play a prominent role in this future government?

Vajpayee: There is a very strong consensus amongst the Afghan people for the establishment of a broad-based, multi-ethnic government, with adequate representation for all ethnic groups. As I have stated before, the exact nature and structure of this government will have to be determined by the Afghan people themselves. The Afghans are far too proud a people, to accept a government imposed from outside.

It would be a grave mistake to include any element of the Taliban in a future Afghanistan government. The international community cannot afford to live with an Afghanistan that continues to export terrorism and violent ideologies to the rest of the world.

Q: In your opinion, what are the main themes of Indian popular reaction to the war in Afghanistan? Are you concerned that opposition to the war domestically may constrain your own ability to act in alliance with the U.S. as the crisis unfolds?

Vajpayee: The Indian people have been victims of international terrorism for over two decades. We all understand that only strong measures are needed to root out the scourge of terrorism. The Indian people are acutely aware that the campaign in Afghanistan can at best be only one phase in a much longer and more difficult campaign that has to be joined if terrorism is to be defeated. Terrorism could not have acquired its current proportions without the active aid and abetment by countries who sponsor terrorism as instruments of foreign policy.

Q: Where is the BJP in its evolution? What steps must it take to become a clear majority party at the national level in India? Can that status be achieved, and how long will it take?

Vajpayee: The BJP is a political party in India with a distinct agenda. The popular appeal of this agenda can be gauged from the fact that the party won the largest number of seats in Parliament in the last two general elections in our country. We have joined together with other parties to form a coalition government. In doing so, each of the coalition partners has had to give up some part of its agenda. Such compromises are expected in a democracy.

I think the BJP has a dynamic agenda and will, in course of time, succeed in gaining an absolute majority of seats in our Parliament.

Q: President Musharraf has himself acknowledged that the American-led military actions in Afghanistan are generally unpopular with the Pakistani people but has continued to provide a range of support for the effort. How concerned are you about the stability of Musharraf's government?

Vajpayee: As a neighbor of Pakistan, we have always been concerned at the direction in which Pakistan's society has been moving. This is the direct consequence of the shortsighted policies pursued by Pakistan's military-dominated establishment ever since its creation in 1947. Pakistan must realize that the sponsorship of groups practicing terrorism and propagating extremist ideologies, eventually poses a threat to Pakistan's own long-term stability.

Q: How confident are you about the security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons? What steps would you encourage either Pakistan or the United States to take to secure these weapons? What preparations should be taken for the eventuality that the weapons could fall into militant hands?

Vajpayee: The question about the security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons should be addressed to the Pakistan government. It is not for us to answer for them. India has for years voiced serious concern about their nuclear weapon programme, its clandestine ways, their aims and ambitions, and the frightening identification of extremists and jihadis with those nuclear weapons. It is to be hoped that the official Pakistani claims about the safety and security of their nuclear weapons would be backed by actions on the ground and safeguards against unauthorised access.

Q: How would you describe for Americans India's nuclear weapons doctrine? How does that doctrine apply to this crisis? Does the possibility of an unstable Pakistani government raise new questions or concerns for India's nuclear policies?

Vajpayee: India's nuclear doctrine is purely defensive. Our minimum credible deterrent is based on no-first-use of nuclear weapons. We do not wish to get into any arms race and are fully committed to a unilateral moratorium on nuclear test explosions. Instability in Pakistan leading to unauthorized access to their weapons would certainly be a matter of grave concern. It is for this reason that India had suggested in Lahore in 1999 a set of nuclear C8Ms to begin with. We re-emphasized this at the Agra summit in July this year. However, we have not received any indication of Pakistan's willingness to respond.

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