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July 7, 2001
The Rediff Interview/Seshadri Chari
Theoretically, Seshadri Chari joined the RSS when he was just three -- the age he started going to a shakha and was introduced to the philosophy of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
In the early Nineties, Chari was appointed a general secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Today, as editor of the RSS mouthpiece Organiser, he is close to the powers that be and enjoys a ringside view of political manoeuvres since the National Democratic Alliance came into power.
In a forthright interview with Ramesh Menon, he spoke about the Agra summit. Excerpts:
One criticism against the summit is that there was not much deliberation before taking a decision to invite President Pervez Musharraf.
Yes, there was an element of suddenness with which it happened. The manner in which the cease-fire was withdrawn was no surprise. There were enough indications from the home minister, external affairs minister and defence minister. They dropped enough clues that the cease-fire had not produced the kind of results the government had expected.
Basically, the government expected the Pakistani side to respond positively to the cease-fire. The government also believed that Musharraf would be able to contain the forces within Pakistan who are overzealous in their terrorist activities in India.
Did Vajpayee actually believe that Pakistan would respond to the cease-fire?
Elsewhere in the world it has been proven beyond doubt that wars alone do not end terrorism. Pakistan has fought four wars with India and the proxy war has been going on for more than two decades. It has been done with a view to destabilize our peace initiatives. Knowing fully well that Pakistan may not be in a position to contain terrorism, India took the bold initiative to declare a unilateral cease-fire.
As expected, Pakistan did not respond positively and we were forced to decide not to continue the cease-fire offer. In this background, no one expected the Indian government to continue the cease-fire. When it was just a question of deciding on the cease-fire issue, the government, after due deliberation, took a conscious decision to convert the situation into an opportunity.
Sections of the Pakistani media and some others have remarked that India invited Musharraf as it was tired of terrorism.
We followed our peace initiatives with the Lahore bus trip. But the response from Pakistan was poor, to say the least. What happened in Kargil is history. But in spite of Kargil, we did not put a full stop to the peace effort. Peace does not mean travelling in a one-way direction. That the invitation to Musharraf is a sign of weakness does not hold water.
We are dealing with Pakistan from a position of strength. As a nation, as a civilization and as an economic power, we are superior to Pakistan. The government has taken a right step in the right direction. All political parties have welcomed it. That is also an indication of the strength of our democracy that is missing in Pakistan.
Musharraf seemed eager to come for the talks.
He knows that he was being invited in spite of being a military ruler. He assumed the post of president in a great hurry. Even if he were not president, India would have rolled out the red carpet for him.
Unlike India, Pakistan has always had either a military dictator or a civilian who is as good or bad as a dictator -- Ayub Khan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto, Zia-ul-Haq, Nawaz Sharief and now Pervez Musharraf. People who deal with India deal with governments, not individuals. This fact is recognised by the present Pakistani ruler.
As a person close to the government, how do you see the situation? How should the government move?
There are all indications available to believe that the Vajpayee-Musharraf talks will take off to a good start and pave the way for some sensible solution to the irritants between the two countries. But there are certain do's and don'ts on both sides to be followed.
If Pakistan is seriously trying to come out of the economic mess they are in, and want to get rid of the stigma of becoming a terrorist state, they better do something on the ISI front. It is not difficult for the Pakistani leader to do this.
But Musharraf is in the grip of various fundamental and terrorist groups. How is he going to do this?
He has to do it in the interest of democracy and in the interest of his country's economy. If they have some other design, God save them. A Talebanised Pakistan is not going to serve the interests of Pakistan. Look at what has happened in Afghanistan. Is Pakistan not also suffering because of this? If they do not tackle terrorism sooner or later, it will overpower their leadership. There is no point in Musharraf coming to India to talk to Indian leaders and then going back to his country and falling victim to his own mechanisms.
Musharraf knows it. He alone is in a position to contain terrorism.
What about the support that terrorism has from fundamentalist groups?
The trouble is that all Pakistani rulers have tended to be dictators with absolutely no belief or faith in democracy. It suits them. The general feeling that Islam does not recognise democracy is very strong among the army and the clergy. The army and the clergy form the backbone of the political bedrock of Pakistan. So Islam combined with the clergy and the army becomes a lethal combination for any democrat to operate and conquer. As the saying goes -- if you cannot beat them, join them. The ruler ends up joining them. And digs his own grave. This has been a problem in Pakistan.
What about anti-India campaigns? Are politicians responsible for igniting them?
The hate India campaign is what is keeping the country alive. It would be wrong to say that all Pakistani politicians are responsible for this. However, it suits many of them to be involved with it. They are caught in a strange situation. Political forces are too weak to counter those who run the hate campaign. So they join the campaign as it ultimately benefits them.
You were saying that there are some things India should not agree to...
The first don't is no thinning of the army along the border either in Siachen or in Jammu & Kashmir. We should not even discuss this problem of reducing the presence of the army in any of these places.
But this is a useless war. It is bleeding us.
So what? Siachen is strategic and is important for India.
Surely, we can work out some pact with Pakistan?
We have every right to protect Siachen and we will do it, whatever the cost. We must keep Pakistan as far as possible from Siachen. If that is going to cost us all our fortune, we should bet our fortune on it.
That sounds like a political statement.
It may. But it is a fact. Another thing we should be clear is that there should be no discussion on Kashmir. We cannot agree to any kind of outside involvement in Kashmir. Kashmir is an integral part of India and the only part of Kashmir we can discuss is Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Pakistan should learn to forget Kashmir and continue to live that way. We should be able to convey this loudly and clearly to the visiting dignitary.
Does the RSS feel this way?
Definitely. The RSS has adopted a resolution saying this. Even Parliament has adopted a resolution saying that Kashmir is an integral part of India, including Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Two prime ministers have declared from the ramparts of the Red Fort that the only unfinished agenda is getting back Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Narasimha Rao said that and by no stretch of the imagination is he a BJP supporter or a swayamsevak. The phrase, 'unfinished agenda', was coined by him. You can say that now it is the hidden agenda of BJP.
We have to be polite, but very firm.
What do you think will come out of the summit?
There is a lot of goodwill that needs to be generated. Both countries need to thaw their relationship -- especially after Kargil. Going by the current indications, the talks should achieve this.
There are other areas where we have to behave like mature neighbours. Leave alone the land, even on the sea coast there is a need to demarcate the boundaries of the two countries as it is affecting trade and commerce in both countries. There have been cases in history where the two Germanys have come together. Or two Koreas have come together. Why can we not dream of India and Pakistan coming together?
Is it possible?
Not only possible, but feasible. But the few necessary steps will have to be taken. The longest journey starts with the smallest step. There is nothing wrong if these two countries think in this direction.
The gas pipeline between Iran and India passing through Pakistan is going to be a major issue. What is the RSS view on it?
There is nothing like a RSS view as these are matters of state. But what is generally the opinion is that if it could be worked out, it will be in the interests of all the three countries. Pakistan only stands to benefit if the pipeline runs through it as it will get transit fees both from India and Iran.
But there have been demands that the pipeline should not run through Pakistan. Some RSS supporters are saying this.
I do not think the RSS is saying this. But yes, there is apprehension. That is because there has been no positive response from Pakistan. So, it is in the interest of Pakistan to create a sense of seriousness in their dealings towards India.
How can they do that?
One of the things Pakistan should do is to close down terrorist training camps across the border and end the proxy war. This will reduce Pakistan's military expenditure that they could divert for better things.
What if they do not?
The answer is: we have won four wars. Do I sound hawkish? (Laughs)
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