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`India will not be used by any power’
King Gyanendra came out of his meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Jakarta last month saying arms supplies to Nepal would continue. India has not contradicted him. Are we going to resume sending weapons?
Natwar Singh: The supply of arms to Nepal is under constant review. In Jakarta, the Prime Minister spelt out our concerns about the post-February 1, 2005 events, that they were a setback to the democratic process which, he felt, should be resumed before anything could be done. And we had hoped the King would take some action. But then Mr. Sher Bahadur Deuba was arrested. The emergency has been lifted but it is still partial in many ways. Given the nature of our very close relations with Nepal, we have to be extremely cautious and very patient. It’s our hope and endeavour to see that normalcy returns.
And military supplies…
The question remains under review.
But has a first shipment of arms now been sent to Nepal, the tranche that was held back in February?
The details I don’t know. That only the Defence Minister will know.
On the issue of relations with the United States, your party opposed sending Indian troops to Iraq. On other issues too, you were critical. Now that you are in government, in what way are the UPA’s policies towards the U.S. different from those of the NDA?
Relations with the U.S. have improved considerably in the past 12 months — they have never been better. With regard to Iraq, our policy is governed by the unanimous resolution of Parliament in 2003. We have donated $10 million to the international trust fund for Iraq, and offered to assist them in civil service training, the framing of a constitution.
In the Opposition, the Congress had criticised the BJP for committing Indian support to the American missile defence programme. You asked whether the cost-benefit to India had been taken into account. However, the UPA is continuing with the NDA’s policy on this. What is the benefit to India that you see now?
I don’t think we have taken any decision on it.
But missile defence remains a component of the NSSP process.
Under the NSSP, currently we are only in the phase of being given briefings on the missile defence programme. No decision has been taken that we are going in for, say, the purchase of an anti-missile defence system. The interest part is, of course, quite obvious, because it is a technology which can have important uses for us, it is certainly in our interest to keep abreast of all these technologies. The U.S. is currently giving you briefings on this, including confidential briefings on the system. It is to our advantage.
Many countries say missile defence will fuel a new arms race, that it only encourages the other side to produce more missiles.
We’ve not taken a position on this.
When President Musharraf was here, he said converting the Line of Control into the border is unacceptable to Pakistan, redrawing the LoC is unacceptable to India and that both countries favour soft borders. Do you think this provides a framework within which the issue of Kashmir can be discussed?
The composite dialogue is going extremely well. For example, in his Jakarta speech, General Musharraf said relations were improving so well they could be an example to the rest of the world. I must say that without his personal involvement, it would not have been possible to have the bus service started. During his visit here, the two leaders got on very well. They also know there are certain things which can’t be done overnight. We have also said we are hoping the commitment made on January 6, 2004, will be honoured by the Pakistani side… There is some terrorist activity going on, but the overall Indo-Pak. scene looks more promising than it has done for many decades.
Why is that? Have we changed, or have the Pakistanis changed?
I think the global scenario has changed. And I also think the change in the atmosphere in both countries at the peoples’ level also helped a great deal. We know the difficulties, they know the difficulties. But if contacts increase — President Musharraf himself said, “Why only a bus across the LoC, why not trucks with goods?” We have also asked them why our goods can’t go through Pakistan instead of through Dubai, which is a loss to both countries.
Some people in the U.S. and India say China is a `strategic threat’ to both countries and that Washington and Delhi need to coordinate their policies. How do you see this evolving triangular relationship in the next 20 years?
I think our relationship with the U.S. in no way affects our relationship with the Chinese. We have very good relations with the U.S., very good relations with China. These relations are getting better, if you just take the trade figures. We don’t subscribe to this theory that any country is using India as a counterbalance for another country… India would not like to be used by any power. We have to look after our own national interests.
The `guiding principles’ on the border settlement with China give rise to the possibility of territorial adjustments in the future. Do you think a change in the map of India is something that would be acceptable to public opinion?
We are looking at a boundary settlement from the overall perspective of bilateral relations. The first stage of the work of the Special Representatives was completed with the signing of the agreement on the guiding principles. In the second stage, the SRs have been asked to hold discussions to reach a consensus on the agreed framework of the boundary settlement. It would be premature now to talk of the outcome of the discussion of the SRs. Whatever the outcome, it will be within the limits defined by the political parameters, the guiding principles laid down by both sides.
How does the Government look at the prospects of resuming the peace process in Sri Lanka?
We are looking at a solution that takes into account the concerns of all the people of Sri Lanka. Our view with regard to Eelam is well known; it has not changed. We are for the sovereignty, territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. We are concerned about the LTTE having built an airstrip and having two aeroplanes and there’s news about more coming.
Will India resist U.S. pressure on the Iran-Pakistan-India gas tie-up and go ahead with the pipeline?
I said so at my press conference with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice when she made the views of the U.S. known. I said we have very good relations with Iran, we have no problems with Iran. The pipeline is mentioned in the statement issued in September  in New York by the Prime Minister and President Musharraf. Our Petroleum Minister is going to Pakistan very soon. The earlier impression was that India was the stumbling block. We are not. Our energy needs are going to increase exponentially in the next 20 years and there’s no other way but to have this kind of an arrangement.
On the reform of the U.N. Security Council, is India proposing an “Option C” as opposed to “Option A” and “Option B” [both without the veto] proposed by the High-Level Panel or is India willing to go along with Option A?
We have, along with Brazil, Japan and Germany, made our position well known. We are hoping to table a resolution and are hoping to have a very large co-sponsorship for the resolution before the General Assembly meets in September. A lot of people think this is a matter for the Security Council to decide. No, this is a matter for the General Assembly to decide with a two-thirds majority. There are 54 nations from Africa, they are very important players in the expansion process. Our position has, so far, been that India should be in the Security Council with a veto. A third view is that the veto should be abolished, which is unlikely. There is another point of view that there could be an informal arrangement that no one country can veto, there should be two or three. Given the world scenario today, with the U.N. having 192 members, it will be very difficult for any of the P-5 to exercise their veto against the popular mood for change. We are also realistic enough to know that the present five will not like the veto to be extended to other members.
[The] Prime Minister has said that we are against any discrimination between the old and the new. The African view is the same. What we have to remember is that these five permanent members have to go back to their respective parliaments … If the U.S. Senate doesn’t ratify, there’s a new situation. Now, from what Secretary-General Kofi Annan told us, his expectation is that howsoever strong the reservations of one permanent member against a new one … in today’s climate it would be difficult to exercise the veto. At the most, that power would abstain.
Why doesn’t India stick to its earlier stand that the veto, per se, is undemocratic and should be done away with?
It’s not excluded. The discussions are going on at various levels, at various forums and they will be further intensified in the next few weeks. You can’t even rule out, and I am taking the extreme position — the contradictions are so great, the differences so obvious, that nothing may happen. And, that’ll be a great tragedy.
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