By MediaCorp News correspondent MEDIACORP NEWS | Thursday, 26 July 2007
What issues are likely to be on the agenda for the 2009 elections?
It is too early to say anything definite by way of answering this question. The next parliamentary elections are nearly two years away. It is quite possible that they are held earlier.
Broadly speaking, one thing is certain: The performance of the incumbent government of the United Progressive Alliance will be surely put to the test. And it will not be possible for the ruling coalition or for the leading constituent in it – namely, the Congress party -- to win a renewed mandate on the basis of its performance so far. I shall not say anything more since it is not proper for me to sound polemical on foreign soil while speaking about domestic issues. Suffice it to say that my party, the BJP, and its allies will bounce back to power whenever the elections are held.
A look at some of the issues in South Asia – with a focus on the India-Pakistan peace process?
India is committed to the peace process with Pakistan. Indeed, it was our government, during its six-year tenure between 1998-2004, which made the most earnest and repeated efforts to establish lasting peace with Pakistan. We persisted with our efforts in spite of Pakistan’s betrayal in the form of an armed aggression in Kargil in 1999. We were willing to resolve all outstanding issues between India and Pakistan, including the issue of Kashmir, through dialogue.
The stumbling block, however, was Pakistan’s support to cross-border terrorism in India. For a long time, the rulers in Pakistan, including President Musharraf, maintained that the terrorist campaign in Jammu & Kashmir was in fact a “freedom struggle”. However, Gen. Musharraf had to change his stance on this matter in January 2004 when, along with our then Prime Minister Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, he issued a joint statement in Islamabad committing Pakistan, for the first time ever, not to allow any part of its soil, or territory controlled by it, to be used for terrorist against India.
This was a big breakthrough. Unfortunately, Pakistan has not kept its word. The anti-India terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan is still intact. Terrorist activities, inspired by religious extremism, continue to be carried out in India.
Unless this is stopped, I see no possibility of the peace process with Pakistan producing any durable results.
As far as the rest of South Asia is concerned, we are seriously concerned over the rise of fundamentalist and militant forces in Bangladesh, which are hostile to India. The uncontrolled influx of illegal migrants from Bangladesh into India is also a very serious threat to our national unity and security.
We are closely watching the situation in Sri Lanka. We would like to see an early end to the ethnic violence in that country, along with a just resolution of the problem between Tamilian and Simhalese people within the framework of a united Sri Lanka.
The situation in Nepal has not fully stabilized. We support the democratic movement in Nepal. However, the rise of Maoist forces in Nepalese politics is neither good for Nepal nor for India. Their active links with the left extremist outfits in India, who resort to indiscriminate violence both against security forces and the poor themselves, is well documented.
To sum up, we would like to see peace, stability and democracy thrive in all of South Asia.
What about events that always threaten to derail the fragile peace process? Can a complex issue like Kashmir be resolved through dialogue?
Barring the continuing terrorist campaign in India from across the border, there is nothing else that can derail the peace process. My answer to your second question is: Yes, even a complex issue like Kashmir can be resolved through dialogue. It requires time, patience and mutual trust. Therefore, what we have been telling our friends in Pakistan: “Do not think that an issue that has a long history can be solved overnight. Let’s build our bilateral relations on many other fronts and create an atmosphere conducive even for resolving the Kashmir issue.”
What do you make of the global fight on terror? You’ve often talked about terrorism in the East.
Yes, I have indeed often talked about terrorism in the East. Don’t we remember the two horrific bomb blasts in Bali – first in 2002 which claimed 202 lives and again in 2005, in which 26 persons were killed? Al Queda is known to have active links in several countries in South-East Asia.
But what is happening in this part of Asia is in some ways the same as what is happening in other parts of Asia and elsewhere in the world. Even Pakistan, which is the source of global terrorism, has not been spared by this menace. This was evident from the recent violent stand-off at Lal Masjid in Islamabad.
Therefore, I strongly believe that global cooperative efforts to combat terror have to be intensified. I must add, however, that the US war on Iraq, far from aiding the global fight against terrorism, is having a counter-productive effect.
How do you view India’s relationship with the United States?
The US is a valued friend and partner of India. We attach great importance to our relationship with the United States. Economic, technological and diplomatic relations between our two countries have grown enormously over the past one decade. Its perception of the Kashmir issue has also undergone a significant change.
Our two countries share many values and ideals in common, such as democracy, pluralism and human rights. Indo-US friendship can serve as a reliable factor for stability and progress in Asia and beyond.
What about ties with China?
China is our neighbour, with which we share not only a long border but also a long history of cultural and spiritual exchange. China is a great nation, and its recent accomplishments are praiseworthy. We desire a peaceful and mutually beneficial cooperative relationship with this important neighbour.
As a matter of fact, ties between India and China are becoming steadily stronger and multi-dimensional. Bilateral trade is growing rapidly. Two-way investments are also on the rise. Most importantly, our two countries have put in place an institutionalized mechanism for resolving the vexed boundary dispute through dialogue.
I am optimistic that India and China, as two great and ancient nations in Asia, will work together for mutual good and for the larger good of the world in the decades to come.
You are in Singapore for a global meeting of the Sindhi community. What do you think of the growth of this Diaspora?
Yes, I am here on an invitation from the World Sindhi Conference. But I would not like to talk about only this Diaspora. Sindhis abroad are a part and parcel of the wider Indian Diaspora.
I consider the Diaspora Community to be that part of India which lives outside India but which has inseparable emotional, cultural and spiritual ties to India. Be they Sindhis, Tamilians, Punjabis, Gujaratis or from whichever part of India, we are proud of their all-round achievements. They have scripted countless success stories in business, education, science and technology, management and other professions, even arts and literature. And they have made their mark in every corner of the world.
They are the true ambassadors of India in the world.
I am particularly gratified that our government, between 1998-2004, took several momentous steps to bring the Indian Diaspora closer to India. The decision to grant Dual Citizenship to Persons of Indian Origin in several countries was one of them.
Here I would like to make a special mention of the achievements of people of Indian origin in Singapore. They are an important part of the beautiful diversity of Singapore. They have contributed to the progress and prosperity of Singapore in every field. At the same time, they maintain close emotional, social, cultural and spirituals links with India.