July 17, 2001
12 45 IST


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Details of Jaswant Singh's press conference

The Rediff Team in Agra

In the aftermath of the abortive Agra Summit, External Affairs and Defence Minister Jaswant Singh held a media briefing at the conference hall of Hotel Jaypee Palace, Agra, on Tuesday morning.

After reading out a prepared statement, the minister took questions from the media. Excerpts:

It has been alleged by the official spokeman for President General Pervez Musharraf that the so-called Agra Declaration was discussed and agreed upon by the two heads of state, but was later sabotaged by some 'hidden hand' in the Indian delegation, could you comment?

It would not be fitting for me to engage in any kind of rebuttal, or war of words, with the official spokesman concerned. I wish however to aver that there has always been complete unanimity among the members of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's Cabinet, and among the members of the official delegation that participated in the Agra Summit on India's behalf

This kind of rumour is best ignored. There is no need to lend credency with a rebuttal.

Do you think Monday's breakfast meeting between General Musharraf and senior editors had a destructive impact on the Summit?

On this much debated question, I will merely say that when we are in complex negotiations, the objective being lasting peace and amity between India and Pakistan, we cannot negotiate through the media.

What has been the impact of the remarks made by Sushma Swaraj on Sunday evening? Would it be true to say that these remarks, and the fact that Sushma Swaraj spoke out of turn, had a role in derailing the Summit?

I have heard reports that my colleague, Minister for Information and Broadcasting Sushma Swaraj, spoke out of turn, when she was not supposed to. I must point out that she is the Minister for Information, as such she speaks with all the authority of the government of India. There is no question of either her, or any other minister, speaking out of turn.

In the aftermath of the Agra Summit, do you as Defence Minister anticipate any escalation of hostilities along the border?

As far as incidents on the border go, I have said earlier that there has been relative peace along the Line of Control, but I did not say there is total peace. Incidents have happened, they continue to happen, it is regrettable. We will deal with them as they arise.

India had announced certain confidence building measures during the build-up to the Summit, will they remain in place?

We are committed to the confidence building measures we have announced, and will ensure that they are fulfilled. I cannot speak for Pakistan, or speculate whether they are as committed to those measures.

It is rumoured that Prime Minister Vajpayee has turned down General Musharraf's invitation to visit Pakistan, could you comment?

An invitation was extended by His Excellency the President of Pakistan. It was accepted by the Prime Minister of India, and the invitation and its acceptance both stand. The timing of the visit is now a matter of diplomatic arrangement, and it will be dealt with in due time.

You have called Pakistan's approach unifocal, but India is also pursuing the same approach by emphasising the issue of cross-border terrorism?

Just as Pakistan is fixated on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir, it is suggested that we are fixated on cross-border terrorism as the only issue. I must correct this. As far as we are concerned, Kashmir is only one of the issues, though it is an important issue. Similarly, as far as we are concerned, cross-border terrorism is only one of the issues, though it is an important issue. India believes in the totality of relationship between the two countries, we believe that all issues should be simultaneously addressed. We further believe that as we progress with increasing confidence and trust, there will be movement on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir as well.

What expectations did you have of the Summit?

As far as expectations are concerned, the invitation to President Musharraf was inspired by the expectation that there would be accomodation, understanding and movement forward.

In the build-up to the Summit, President Musharraf had given several interviews that were belligerent in tone. In return, you were equally belligerent in clarifying some issues. Given that both sides therefore were adamant about their respective stands, do you think that the Summit was held prematurely?

So far as the first part of the question is concerned, I must refute the suggestion that I was belligerent. As to the interviews President Musharraf chose to give prior to visiting India, surely that is his choice, his determination, and we do not wish to comment on that except to say that when it comes to discussions on bilateral international issues, particularly when it involves heads of governments and officials of countries, we do not and cannot negotiate through the media, that is our commitment.

I was very severly reprimanded by friends in the media who pointed out that whereas from the Pakistan side there were two or three media events each day, Prime Minister Vajpayee did not grant a single interview and neither did I. I was silent because it was not proper for me to talk of the ongoing discussions between two heads of state, that is not how diplomacy is concerned. When I chose to speak, as I am speaking now, it is to clarify issues of importance to India.

As far as preparations are concerned, we did suggest that there should be an exchange of officials prior to the Summit, we volunteered to send officials of the Ministry of External Affairs to Islamabad for prior preparation, as is customary in such engagements. Consistently, however, we received from Pakistan the response that such a visit and such prior preparation was not necessary, they did not want our officials to visit Islamabad, they did not wish to fix an agenda in advance, and they believed that fixing of the agenda was best left to the two leaders.

Having learnt this lesson, can we expect that there will be better preparation ahead of the Prime Minister's reciprocal visit to Pakistan?

I must share with you that the officials of my ministry had begun to despair of the constant demands made on them by way of preparation. The various ministries were not lacking in preparation. We were all fully prepared, all delegation members were fully briefed, the documentation was prepared weeks in advance and extensively discussed by all members of the delegation.

When India suggested a prior meeting between the two sides to prepare working documents to arrive at a possible agenda, we found sadly that Pakistan did not want it in that manner. As hosts, we can only suggest and we did suggest, almost to the last day, that prior preparations might be in order. We cannot dictate, we can only request.

Today, what are we left with, in terms of Indo-Pak engagements over say the next six months?

To use the phrase 'what are we left with?' suggests that everything has collapsed. That is not so. Ours is an ancient relationship, Pakistan is our neighbour, India remains committed to working towards lasting peace and cooperation with Pakistan, and this will continue to be our policy.

In practical terms, the invitation to the Prime Minister of India by President Musharraf is in position, it has been accepted, a due date will be fixed through diplomatic channels, and I am sure that there will be other opportunities, at other levels, to continue the interaction between the two countries.

During the negotiations, was there at any stage an acceptance of the centrality of the Kashmir issue? Given the differences between the two sides, what could be the basis for future engagements?

Jammu and Kashmir is an issue that needs to be addressed -- we recognise it and have spelt it out in so many words, even as far back as the Simla Accord. India remains committed to that, India's position remains constant on recognising that it is an issue, and that we are committed to addressing it.

Yes, we have conceptual differences with Pakistan, we recognise it as an issue, but we do not recognise it as the only issue, the core issue, or any other such designations.

As far as the Summit is concerned, I would not treat this as the end of the exercise. Our commitment to peace and amity remains constant, the caravan of peace will continue to roll on and I have no doubt that on some auspicious day, it will reach its destination.

Such Summits are supposed to promote new understandings, new insights. What have been your insights into the Pakistan regime?

Without going into specifics, I must say that our understanding has certainly improved, and that improvement is true for both sides. Such talks are always helpful in understanding each other's personalities, their thought processes, their concerns.

Now that bilateral talks apparently have failed, will third party mediation be resorted to?

No to a third party mediation -- we believe that two are more than adequate, three is a crowd.

Was this one of the problems between the two sides, that Pakistan attempted to bring in a third party into the dispute?

A certain confidentiality has to be preserved in case of such high level meetings and if I were to answer your question, I would be teetering close to breaching that confidentiality. But I will repeat that no, no third party is required, India and Pakistan are by themselves enough to deal with India-Pakistan issues.

Given the conceptual differences between India and Pakistan, is there space to take the relations forward?

Yes there are conceptual differences, but I believe that India and Pakistan's relations should not be denied by differences, we should be able to transcend them for the sake of the welfare of the two countries. I interpret my personal responsibility as one of constant endeavour to bridge the gaps of understanding and to reconcile differences.

Would you characterise the Summit as a failure? When it became impossible to agree on the wording of an Agreement, was there an attempt to reach an understanding on a joint statement, which would have been better than the complete silence?

I don't characterise the Summit as a failure, I merely term it as another step towards finding lasting peace and amity. I do not wish to speculate on whether a joint statement would or would not have been better, that is now the realm of the past.

Could you comment on the question of Prisoners of War in Pakistan camps?

It is a cause of concern. India has been relentlessly raising this question, it was raised even in Lahore. There was some understanding then, but unfortunately the government changed and the decisions taken then did not fructify into action. Now, President Musharraf has said that he will personally look into it and release any PoWs that may exist, I certainly hope he does that.

You talk in private, he talks in public. You talk of multiple issues, he talks of a single issue. Can you do business with this man (President Musharraf)?

I have just done business with him. I deal with the world as it is, not as it ought to be.

What are the implications of the Summit on the SAARC process?

As far as SAARC is concerned, even before the Summit began, Foreign Secretary Chokila Iyer was due to go for a special meeting of foreign secretaries to intiate the SAARC process all over again. It was then that the sad and tragic events invaded Nepal, the host country, and caused that visit to be postponed. I am sure the foreign secretary would have got fresh dates, and she will most definitely be attending.

Indo-Pak Summit 2001: The Complete Coverage

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