We are not excited about going to war: Salman Khurshid
We expect the media to be reasonable and not try to score points, provoke and push us in the direction of a war, says an articulate Salman Khurshid. After he took over from octogenarian SM Krishna as the External Affairs Minister, he has brought dynamism into how India conducts itself with the rest of the world. He spoke to Hardnews on a wide range of issues. Excerpts:
Sadiq Naqvi Delhi
After the coup that ousted former president Mohammed Nasheed in the Maldives and its fallout, do you think more Indian pressure would have avoided the situation that prevails today?
We have good wishes and aspirations for them. But the decision has to be their own. We can aid, advise, persuade about what we think is good for them and the region, but beyond that I cannot say, more pressure, less pressure and so on. The idea of a sovereign country — you cannot base it on your concept of what they should do just because it is good for you. One’s self-interest is most important but you have to balance that with the policy of non-interference and the policy of sovereign countries to do what is in their best self-interest. We are always respectful and careful about this.
Where do we stand on the Indo-Pak peace process?
It is for the people on both sides to decide where we stand. We have shown restraint, being conscious of the security of our own people. We have exercised restraint because a lot of investment has been made in the peace process and it has certainly made some strides. If we could talk to Pakistan after war, we can certainly talk to Pakistan when things are not going smoothly. There was a danger of the peace process getting derailed, but it wouldn’t have been in anybody’s interest.
In Afghanistan, many people foresee a civil war after the withdrawal of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in 2014…
I don’t think these doomsday prophecies will help anyone. We should be pragmatic. There is an elected government in Afghanistan. There is involvement of so many important countries and they have their troops on the ground. They will continue in development and cooperation as indeed we will beyond 2014. Efforts are being made to find a peace solution which is Afghan-driven and we are supporting it. We should neither be overtly sanguine nor should we be making doomsday prophecies that after this there will be an apocalypse.
They are talking to the Taliban. Is that a step in the right direction?
Is there a choice? They must have made an assessment. After all, who has suffered the most because of the Taliban? The Afghans. Now the Afghans in their collective wisdom think that the time has come for some kind of negotiated settlement which can absorb most if not all of the Taliban into the political process and the reconstruction of Afghanistan. We must go by the Afghan point of view.
China has aggressively entered the Afghan theatre. India has been consistently there and is widely seen as a stabilising force. How will you consolidate this positive footprint?
We will continue our work. We have no reason to be apprehensive of China’s participation.
Many see Pakistan’s Gwadar port going to the Chinese as a major setback for India. How far have things moved on the Iranian Chahbahar port?
We are going ahead on the Chahbahar port. We should not see things in the short term and in a narrow perspective — that we can build Chahbahar but they cannot build another port. You have to factor in your assessment of the situation in the region and the consequences. I don’t think we should press panic buttons and go into serious depression.
After the attack on the Israeli diplomat in Delhi and India’s position at the UN, did Indo-Iran relations suffer a setback?
No, we have a very mature relationship. We appreciate that they understand we have a principled position. There are divergent priorities in some areas but the fact that we are friends and we understand each other and can have our own reasons to take an autonomous position on issues is a great thing for the world. India and Iran share their worldviews and their aspirations candidly and openly. We value our friendship with Iran. It is not just a sentimental friendship: it is based on geo-politics, the economic interest on both sides and it’s a friendship based on history. We would want to consolidate that. Our commitments to the UN are in their own place.
There were reports that you offered to mediate between Iran and the West....
We did not offer to mediate. We are in conversation with everyone. If two people are not able to talk and if there is a third person who is able to talk to them, that person should be willing to talk in case there is need. But you don’t go around offering mediation. That is not India’s style. We are especially placed in an advantageous position of being able to talk to both sides. If that will be of any help to the world and peace and stability in the region, India will be happy to contribute.
India recently supported the French intervention in Mali. Do we expect more such endorsements on humanitarian grounds?
Not the French intervention, we supported the UN intervention. We don’t go for unilateral assistance or unilateral efforts. We go where that unilateral effort is backed by a UN decision. We were in the Security Council so we were party to those decisions.
What do you make of the disturbing situation in Syria?