Monday, January 5, 2009

Interview /Pranab Mukherjee/India Today, January 26,2009

Excerpts from the interview.

Q. Mr Foreign Minister, you have tried coercive diplomacy to isolate Pakistan but it’s not working. You seem to have lost the diplomatic war against Pakistan.
A. I do not believe in the use of words like coercion. It is not a diplomatic war, it is diplomacy. The issue here is effective action against terrorism to prevent further outrages
and to neutralise and eliminate the infrastructure of terrorism. A definite de-hyphenation of the perpetrators of terror and its victims has to take place. We are doing what every other responsible country would do after a situation like this.

Q. But what is your threshold? Will you wait for another attack to take action?
A. No, this will not happen. You should understand that diplomacy takes time. It’s not a quick-fix method that one has to just switch on or off. Sometimes, it can be a delayed
process, but it has to be tested.

Q. Sometimes one feels that you have outsourced your diplomacy to the US and the West.
A. That’s not correct. We are telling everybody that you must put pressure on Pakistan as this is not about Indo-Pak relations. These issues need not be seen through the prism
of this relationship. In fact, they are a part of global terrorism and should be confronted collectively.

Q. You gave them evidence spanning 40-50 pages. And yet their President says this is merely information.
A. I must tell you candidly that Pakistan has been in denial mode till now. Information is collected on the basis of evidence. When a crime takes place, the first thing that the police records is an FIR. Only after that is the investigation carried out. We have not given them mere information but material from where they can proceed for further investigation. These are tactics to divert attention from the main issue.

Q. What do you want from Pakistan?
A. We want them to hand over those Indian fugitives who have run away from here. They should try the perpetrators of Mumbai. A fair and transparent trial should be held, not
a sham. The prosecution should be done properly. They should punish them. Only then will we be satisfied.

Q. Are you saying that Pakistani nationals who are involved be tried over there? Won’t you try them here?
A. Yes, this can happen. The trial should be transparent. We have caught Ajmal Kasab. But there were others who were a part of the conspiracy. They should be caught and tried
there. The authorities there should not let them go scot-free.

Q. Don’t you want them to be brought here?
A. If they can hand them over to us, we will only be too glad. But if they don’t, at least they should hand over those other criminals who have committed offences here, escaped
the law and taken shelter there.

Q. But did you really expect Pakistan to do anything?
A. I hope that pressure will help Pakistan discharge its responsibility which it is obliged to do as a party to various international norms and decisions.

Q. You are saying that everyone is putting pressure, but the US is planning to triple its civilian aid.
A. I can’t explain the conduct of other countries. This is a reality we have to live with.

Q. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband came here and disagreed with you on the Pakistan Government’s support to terrorism.
A. I told him that we disagree with his perception.

Q. Pakistan says it wants a joint investigation.
A. I would ask the Pakistani leadership this question because President Zardari himself wanted international agencies to investigate Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. I don’t think any joint investigation will work.

Q. Do you think the international community will allow India to go in for a military option?
A. All options are open. I will only say that the appropriate option will be exercised at an appropriate time.

Q. Is Pakistan a failed state?
A. I will not use the specific word, but there are various centres of power in Pakistan and there is a lack of coordination.
Q. Your junior colleague E. Ahamed has said that we should snap all diplomatic ties with Israel.
A. A man has various identities. Ahamed is an important leader of his political party. He has just expressed his views.

Q. A.R. Antulay also gave a handle to Pakistan by questioning the things that happened in Mumbai.
A. Firstly, he did not give a handle to Pakistan. He merely explained his own doubts. Once the home minister replied to the issue, and explained the situation, he was satisfied.

Q. All your ministers speak in different languages at some point of time. For instance, the home minister talked about curtailing visas, snapping off commercial relations. Didn’t he speak on the issues concerning your ministry?
A. For him the question of options was theoretical. I have chosen not to spell out the options and this is a policy which I am going to adopt. If somebody theoretically explains these options, I don’t think it is against the policies.

Q. Mr Mukherjee, the Left parties withdrew support to your Government, but do you think the Congress and Left can form a post-poll alliance to keep the NDA out?
A. It has been said that politics is the art of the possible. Therefore everything is possible.

Q. So will you be open to new coalition partners?
A. So far as the pre-elections coalition is concerned, those who are currently a part of the UPA Government are expected to stay. The post-election partners will depend on the numbers. But we will choose them without compromising the basic principles of the party.

Q. What issues will dominate in these elections? Will terrorism be a major one?
A. Performance, development and leadership will be the key issues in the upcoming polls.

Q. Leadership plays an important role, but questions are being raised about your statement about Rahul Gandhi being the candidate for the prime minister’s post.
A. I was responding to the questions at the Pravasi Bharatiya Sammelan. Someone asked me why India has an aging leadership. I gave a number of examples, like that of Praful Mahanta, Omar Abdullah, and I said Rajiv Gandhi became prime minister when he was 40 and then I said, who knows Rahul Gandhi may one day follow in the footsteps of his father.

Q. So you are not ruling out Manmohan Singh as the next prime minister.

A. Of course some of the UPA partners have stated that we will fight under the leadership of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Congress President Sonia Gandhi has also said that.

Q. So are you saying that the next elections will be fought under the leadership of Manmohan Singh and there is no doubt about that?
A. Yes, positively.

Q. What is the future of the omnipresent Pranab Mukherjee
A. I am reminded of a line from an old song, Whatever will be, will be, the future is not ours to see.

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