Indian Defense and External Affairs Minister Mr Jaswant Singh on Q&A
Q&A Transcript of the Interview with Indian Defense and External Affairs Minister Mr Jaswant Singh on10/2/2001
Zain Verjee: Mr. Minister, Welcome to show, good to have you with us. Let me start by asking you, you talked to President Bush… What did you talk about?
Jaswant Singh: Well we talked about the current situation of course. And we talked about this common challenge to humanity. I had occasion to call on Vice-President Mr. Cheney as well, earlier this morning and to both of them, I shared a view point that,… in fact what Tuesday's 11th of September does, is to create as definitive and defining an ideological divide in the world, as was created upon the onset of the Cold War. And this is as challenging a task to the human community, which believes in certain values of democracy and freedom and free speech and a certain way of life of men, women and children. That, they must surely stand up in an unambiguous fashion, in this long fight against terrorism until it is removed in its totality from the face of globe.
Zain Verjee: Did the Unites States present you with any evidence or proof of the connection to Al-Qaeda or of Osama bin Laden with the attacks of September the 11th?
Jaswant Singh: In fact it is the other way round, of course we spoke about what the United States has, which I'm not at the moment free to share
Zain Verjee: But did they show you any proof?
Jaswant Singh: Yes indeed and we have more proof to show in that regard to the United States of America than United States has to share with us.
Zain Verjee: Are you convinced that Osama bin Laden is definitely behind those attacks?
Jaswant Singh: Oh yea I'm absolutely convinced that Al Qaeda which is the fountain head of great many other organizations is behind all this and that Osama bin Laden has been financing along with others not only Al Qaeda but also the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
Zain Verjee: You also delivered a letter to President Bush from Prime Minister Vajpayee. Here's what a part of it had to say: "Incidents of this kind raise questions for our security. Which, as the democratically elected leader of India, I have to address in our supreme national interest. Pakistan must understand that there is a limit to the patience of the people of India." A direct threat to Pakistan, sir?
Jaswant Singh: Not…I mean… its as specific as one can get under the circumstances. This is deliberately engineered, Jaish-e-Mohammed which is responsible for that act is controlled directly by the regime in Pakistan as also by Al-Qaeda. And you cannot continue to challenge India and continue to test its patience. Principally with the objective of throwing out of gear the present international effort against Al-Qaeda and terrorism. And it is necessary for the Prime Minister to say what he has said. There were two letters really. There's an earlier letter which I was carrying and which I delivered. There is a second letter, which really was letter sent to me and through quick transmission after the incident on the state legislature of Jammu & Kashmir. And, please if I might say so the state legislature is a representative of democracy. It was not simply an attack against a physical object only. It was an attack on the representation of the democratic functioning of the state of Jammu & Kashmir functions.
Zain Verjee: Ok, I would like to bring in something that someone on the streets of Delhi wanted to ask you. Please take a listen.
Man on the street: What I would like to ask Mr Jaswant Singh is that why don't you directly ask the American government about the terrorists camps if you know where they are, why don't you ask them directly, these are where the camps are and go for them. And if the Americans are hesitant then why doesn't India go on its on and let the Americans at least support us from behind.
Zain Verjee: Mr Singh, there's the question. Your response, you said you had the proof , if you do then why don't you go and get them.
Jaswant Singh: Well we don't want to overload the present agenda. We have already shared with the United States of America all evidence about these camps. I can perfectly understand what my citizen on the street has asked me via CNN. This is a question that I'm asked as a democratic representative in Parliament too and will be asked. It is a legitimate question. We don't do it because we are at the moment with great patience, permitting the international community to address itself to the immediate which is the Al-Qaeda. And we are confident that simply addressing the Al-Qaeda will not solve the problem, until all manifestations of terrorists and terroristic activity are eliminated and we have shared these views and this evidence with the United States of America.
Zain Verjee: Sir, in other words you want the United States to deal with the issue of Kashmir and you accuse Pakistan of sponsoring terrorism.
Jaswant Singh: No,
Zain Verjee: Is that what you are implying?
Jaswant Singh: Not at all. What I'm saying is that United States has a priority in addressing itself to Al-Qaeda. With or without United States of America we have been meeting the challenge of terrorism in the state of Jammu & Kashmir, we will continue to do so. We will greatly appreciate if the international community and United States what we are doing and shares what we are doing. But is not like asking the United States of America to pluck my chestnuts out of the fire.
Zain Verjee: Question again sir, for you from the streets of Delhi. Please take a listen.
Man on the street: Our aircraft was hijacked and because of that this person Maulana Masood Azhar, he was released or so many people are dying in our own country. The moment this air-crash happened in America, the way they have taken action, the way they have taken things so seriously, so aggressively. Why India can't take that?
Zain Verjee: Referring there to the hijacking there in 1999. What's your response to that?
Jaswant Singh: Oh I was very much a part of that…
Zain Verjee: No, no your response to the question sir… (Jaswant Singh: I am…) why didn't India take any action aggressively?
Jaswant Singh: Aggressive action, we have all these years. If by aggressive action it is expected of India to mount an assault on Pakistan, then it would in fact sub-serve the purpose of terrorists. I have to create an international climate, which I think I have managed to do. Once that international climate is created then we will work jointly for the elimination of terrorism.
Zain Verjee: Sir, as you yourself pointed out, you were certainly a part of dealing with the hijackers in 1999. But, you also agreed to let go the leader of the group Jaish-e-Mohammed that claims the responsibility for the attack yesterday in Srinagar, Maulana Masood Azhar. That's the same man your government released, because of negotiations on that hijacking. So, in fact the Indian government encouraged terrorism by letting him go.
Jaswant Singh: It is always an extremely difficult choice. Your judgment on what the Indian government did or did not do is based on the better hindsight of retrospect. At that moment the government was faced with the grim possibility of a hundred and seventy eight odd passengers being blown up, that was the end of 1999.
Zain Verjee: But doesn't that still show India's somewhat weak response to terror?
Jaswant Singh: it was not a weak response. If you recollect what the terrorists had started with, was demanding a release of 36 of those that were in prison and some 360 billion dollars and a great many other things. And we whittled that down to three, and 3 for 178 I understand, was a difficult choice for the Government of India to make.
Zain Verjee: But one of those three killed at least 38 yesterday.
Jaswant Singh: Yes he did and soon after he reached Pakistan, he established.. not only sought shelter in Pakistan he…
Zain Verjee: But my point here is, the Indian government here let him go.
Jaswant Singh: Indian government had no option at that moment.
Zain Verjee: So do you regret your choice?
Jaswant Singh: Ah.. for any government any governance, it is always a difficult decision to take. Here are 178 lives and the possibility of wrong that the release of Masood Azhar would cause in time, over time. And under those circumstances, I do believe, which were the most difficult circumstances possible, Kandhar, the aircraft was possibly at the safest place that they could have sought anywhere in the world. And under those circumstances the government acted correctly.
Zain Verjee: Certainly as you say, a most difficult choice for the Indian government. But, one nonetheless that perhaps persuaded that the hijackers that a big democracy like India is really a paper tiger and therefore the United States can also be a target. So, yes it was hard choice, but there were severe consequences to that. And India was part of creating those consequences.
Jaswant Singh: I disagree with that….
Zain Verjee: Why?
Jaswant Singh: For example for you to say that India was a paper tiger. United States of America for all these years continued to think and work on the basis that they…the terrorist activity, that is now concentrated in certain parts of the world, will never visit the United States of America. I continue to tell my friends, it will, mark my words. We have been fighting this battle almost alone. And for you, now to say that because we have taken certain steps therefore the Tuesday September 11th incident took place is really to stretch the point. Instead of pointing your finger to where the blame really lies, to put your finger and blame a democracy …
Zain Verjee: Then where does the blame really lie?
Jaswant Singh: The blame really lies with countries that continue to encourage, promote…
Zain Verjee: So you are blaming Pakistan in other words?
Jaswant Singh: Without any doubt. There's no ambiguity in that. How can Jaish-e-Mohammed come about in Pakistan, but for the support of the Pakistan establishment? How can the Taliban have existed for all these years but for the fact.…
Zain Verjee: But Pakistan says they only offer moral support and they're supporting freedom fighters.
Jaswant Singh: They themselves know it does not wash. They know there is evidence now that the global community has. A state that becomes the sponsor of terrorism…that is why we do not wish to do anything to further complicate the challenge that the United States has to meet. A problem cannot be a solution. And a country that is a part of the problem is now being attempted to be used by the United States of America towards a solution. Good Luck.
Zain Verjee: Last question for you sir, what steps can you take to remove terrorism from India and what policies can you suggest very briefly and that a question from someone in India.
Jaswant Singh: It is, because for a democracy to combat terrorism the continuous recourse to ..and the law of the land must prevail there must be no draconian measures is always difficult, is always time consuming it tests the patience of the country, it also test the resolve. There are no instant answers, like instant coffee and therefore what India has to continue to do with added resolve what it has done for the last twenty years.
Zain Verjee: India's Minister for External Affairs And Defense, sir, Thank you Mr Jaswant Singh… for joining us on Q&A.
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