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'We Are Victims Of Terrorism'
Interview with former Indian Prime Minister Inder K. Gujral

Inder Kumar Gujral was Prime Minister of India from April 1997 to November 1997, when his United Front coalition collapsed. A seasoned diplomat and former Foreign Minister (widely credited with having done more to improve India 's relations in the region during his 10 months as foreign minister than previous governments had done in years), Gujral recently discussed India-Pakistan relations with TIME Asia associate editor Aparisim Ghosh. Edited excerpts from the interview:

TIME: Are you satisfied with the way the current government is approaching relations with Pakistan?
In several ways, when you look at the present government's policies, you see the continuation of what I was doing--at least until Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee's visit to Lahore. Then came the Kargil episode, which showed Pakistan's attitude. In the minds of the present rulers of Pakistan, the Kargil chapter has never been closed. Vajpayee feels a personal frustration. He went to Lahore, breaking with his political ideology and going much further than any other Indian politician, and got a slap in return. Even then, he did not give up. During the Kargil episode, he continued backstage diplomacy with Pakistan. Then came the second slap--in the form of the coup in Pakistan. And now it is clearly emerging that the main reason for the coup was also Lahore. So, when it comes to relations with Pakistan, Vajpayee doesn't have many options left. General Pervaiz Musharraf has adopted a posture--collaborating with the Taliban, inducting the Taliban into the Kashmir issue--that is causing a great deal of anxiety not only for India but for the entire region. Still, Vajpayee has said he is willing to talk to Pakistan, provided he gets a credible signal. We are hoping that the present rulers of Pakistan will realize that it is not possible to wield the gun and think in terms of negotiations at the same time.

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TIME: You say India needs a signal. General Musharraf has said repeatedly that he wants to talk to Prime Minister Vajpayee, that he is willing to open negotiations anytime, anywhere.
It is not a question of when and where he wants to talk: we are not looking for a room, or a capital of a country where we can meet. Musharraf's main problem is that he is sustaining terrorism. He has to reduce that and give credible evidence to the people of India that he is really distancing himself from terrorism. Terrorism is the issue here It is not possible to have a gun in one hand and sit at a conference table.

TIME: It doesn't seem likely that Pakistan will make the gestures India wants. What alternatives are there? Is mediation completely out of the question?
The question of mediation and negotiation--bilateral, trilateral, whatever--can come up only when we have confidence in each other. And confidence is possible only if this level of terrorism is reduced, if not eliminated.

TIME: But a mediator's job usually involves dealing with two sides that don't trust each other.
It is not a question of trust. We are victims of terrorism. We face it every day. How can any Prime Minister say "I'm going to talk [to the other side] tomorrow," when yesterday 19 dead bodies came home and 20 might follow today.

TIME: The Indian government now seems to be reassessing its policies in Kashmir. There have been reports recently that the government is keen to reopen talks with leaders of the secessionist movement there. How much credibility would you attach to these efforts?
Considerable, because I think ultimately whether we talk to the Hurriyat Conference [an umbrella body of secessionist groups] or to other elements, it is internal dialogue, which any government in Delhi should always be willing to do. I encourage talks, not only with the Hurriyat but also with all sections of civil society. A lot of people have suffered--students, academics, traders, tourist agencies. All these should be brought to the negotiating table, if not together, then separately.

TIME: I was in Kashmir in October and I came away with the impression that the people there are distrustful of Delhi.
The word "people" is a very vague term. Last year was a record tourist season in Kashmir--with 200,000 visitors. In the past 20 years, that many people never went to Kashmir. But in those three months last year, not a bed in a hotel was available, not a houseboat was vacant, and not a restaurant seat was available. This rush continued even when the Kargil incident came up because tourists felt that Kargil was very distant.

TIME: Which months were these?
May till about October. Now, a simple question can be asked: Would tourists go and stay in a hotel or houseboat, if they were distrustful of the owner or the manager? If the insurgency were indigenous, the tourists' lives would have been in danger. But there was not a single incident--not a single tourist was abducted or killed, or injured or harmed. I think that a small group of people want to create distrust. But, as in societies everywhere, there is a silent majority. During my tenure as Prime Minister, I went to Kashmir and saw large numbers of children and women filling the shops, and buying shawls and carpets. Then came the elections [in October], and again terrorism was revived--nobody can come out to vote when he is threatened that he will be shot down. The majority grew silent again. You said you were there in October?

TIME: There were no tourists anywhere to be seen?
No, no. October is not the season for Kashmir; there were no holidays in India.

TIME: The people I met--hotel and houseboat owners, for example--said that things had been going fine until Kargil happened.
Kargil was meant to generate the impression that the whole of Kashmir was burning, and that people were in disquiet. When Punjab was burning, there was a popular perception that every Sikh was against India. Then what happened? Haven't things settled down? Those in power [in Punjab's state government] were once believed to be pro-insurgency. The same thing can happen in Kashmir.

TIME: Ten years after the rebellion began, there still are armed soldiers in Kashmir's cities. The government says that most of the insurgents come from across the border. If that is the case, then shouldn't the army be removed from urban areas and be deployed along the border?
No, it is a multidimensional thing. The Line of Control is threatened all the time, but insurgents keep creeping in. One doesn't know in which house and which street the next man will be shot. So you have to deploy far more soldiers than you would do in conventional warfare.

TIME: If we can digress a little bit; the nuclear tests [in May 1998] took place after your stint as Prime Minister. What is your take on it? Were they necessary?
In my time, the biggest single challenge was whether or not to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. I went all over the world, to talk to President Clinton and other heads of government, and explain why India was not in a position to sign the CTBT. And the reason basically was that the CTBT would have limited our option of nuclear testing whenever we needed to. When President Clinton and I met in September '97 in New York, he asked me about the CTBT. I asked him: "President, what would you do if you were Prime Minister of India in these circumstances?."

TIME: What was his answer?
Well, he gave me a very patient hearing and said, "Yes, I understand." I said: "You know Indians believe in the Third Eye--and I have it." Then I said: "Whenever I go to the UN building and pass the chamber of the Security Council, my Third Eye reads a signboard there. It says, "You can come in only if you have either the money or the Bomb." And I said to Clinton: "President, money is very difficult to make." What more could I have told him?

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