As I have said many times before, we cannot wish away the fact that Pakistan is our neighbour. We should be good neighbours. If we live in peace, as good neighbours do, both of us can focus our energies on the many problems – our abject poverty that confront millions and millions of people in South Asia. If there is cooperation between us, and not conflict, vast opportunities will open up for trade, travel and development that will create prosperity in both countries.
It is, therefore, in our vital interest to make sincere efforts to live in peace with Pakistan. But despite the best of intentions, we cannot move forward if terrorist attacks launched from Pakistani soil continue to kill and injure our citizens, here and abroad. That is the national position. I stand by it.
I have said time and again and I repeat it right now again: it is impossible for any government in India to work towards full normalisation of relations with Pakistan unless the Government of Pakistan fulfils, in letter and spirit, its commitment not to allow its territory to be used in any manner for terrorist activities against India.
This was a commitment made as my friend Shri Yashwant Sinha has mentioned to my distinguished predecessor Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and it has been repeated to me in every meeting I have had with the Pakistani leadership. The people of India expect these assurances to be honoured and this government recognizes that as the national consensus.
The attack on Mumbai last November outraged our nation and cast a deep shadow over our relations with Pakistan. The reality and the horror of it were brought into Indian homes over three traumatic days that still haunt us. The people of India demand that this must never happen again.
Over the past seven months, we followed a policy, using all effective bilateral and multilateral instruments at our command, to ensure that Pakistan acts, with credibility and sincerity, as we would expect of any civilised nation.
Soon after the attacks, the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions on the Lakshar-e-Taiba and its front organisations, including the Jamaat-ud-Dawa. It also imposed sanctions on four individuals connected with the organisation, including one of the masterminds behind the Mumbai attacks, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi.
We exercised great restraint under very difficult circumstances but made it clear that Pakistan must act. On 5th January 2009, we handed over to Pakistan the details of the links to Pakistan that were revealed by our investigators. Some action followed and Pakistan formally responded to us on two occasions regarding the progress of their own investigations — in February 2009 and then just two days before my departure for Paris and Sharm-el-Sheikh.
The latest dossier is a 34-page document that gives details of the planning and sequence of events, details of the investigations carried out by the special Federal Investigation Agency team of Pakistan, a copy of the FIR lodged and the details and photographs of the accused in custody and those declared as proclaimed offenders. It provides details of the communication networks used, financing of the operation and seizures made in Pakistan including maps, lifeboats, literature on navigational training, intelligence manuals, backpacks, etc.
The Pakistan dossier states that the investigation has established beyond doubt that LeT activists conspired, financed and executed the attacks. Five of the accused have been arrested, including Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and Zarar Shah, and thirteen others have been declared proclaimed offenders. A charge sheet has since been filed against them under Pakistan’s Anti Terrorism Act and other relevant laws. We have been told that the investigations are nearly complete and that the trial will now proceed. We have also been asked for some further information. We will provide this shortly.
This is the first time that Pakistan has ever formally briefed us on the results of an investigation into a terrorist attack in India. It has never happened before and I repeat this is the first time. It is also the first time that they have admitted that their nationals and a terrorist organisation based in Pakistan carried out a ghastly terrorist act in India.
The reality is that this is far more than the NDA government was ever able to extract from Pakistan during its entire tenure despite all their tall talk. They were never able to get Pakistan to admit what they have admitted now. So the UPA government needs no lessons from the opposition on how to conduct foreign affairs or secure our nation against terrorist threats.
But while noting the steps Pakistan has taken, I have to say that they do not go far enough. We hope that the trial will make quick progress and that exemplary punishment will be meted out to those who committed this horrific crime against humanity. We need evidence that action is being taken to outlaw, disarm and shut down the terrorist groups and their front organisations that still operate on Pakistani soil and which continue to pose a grave threat to our country.
In the final analysis, the reality is that, despite all the friends we have, and we should have as many friends as Shri Mulayam Singh ji has said, when it comes to matters relating to our national security and defence, we will have to depend on ourselves. Self-help is the best help. There is no substitute to strengthening our defence capabilities, our internal security structures and our emergency response mechanisms. I wish to assure the House that the government is giving these matters the highest priority and attention.
Several important steps have been taken to modernise, rationalise and strengthen our defence, security and intelligence apparatus. A detailed plan to address internal security challenges is being implemented in a time-bound manner. The government is maintaining utmost vigil in the area of internal security. Measures have been taken to ensure enhanced information and intelligence sharing on a real time basis. A policy of zero-tolerance towards terrorism, from whatever source it originates, has been put in place.
In the area of defence, steps are under way to substantially improve our coastal and maritime security. Large acquisitions of major weapon systems and platforms have been approved for the modernisation of our Army, Navy and Air Force. There has been a special focus to improve the welfare of the Armed Forces personnel.
We will spare no effort and no expense to defend our nation against any threat to our sovereignty, unity and integrity. This is the sacred and bounden duty of any government of this great country.
We do not dilute our positions or our resolve to defeat terrorism by talking to any country. Other major powers affected by Pakistan-based terrorism are also engaging with Pakistan. Unless we talk directly to Pakistan, we will have to rely on third parties to do so. That route, I submit to this August House, has very severe limitations as to its effectiveness, and for the longer term the involvement of foreign powers in South Asia is not something to our liking.
I say with strength and conviction that dialogue and engagement is the best way forward.
This has been the history of our relations with Pakistan over the last decade. Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee took a decision of political courage to visit Lahore in 1999. Then came Kargil and the hijacking of an Indian Airlines plane to Kandahar. Yet, he invited General Musharraf to Agra and again tried to make peace. The nation witnessed the terrible attack on Parliament in 2001. There followed an extremely difficult phase in our relationship. The armed forces of the two countries stood fully mobilised.
But, to his great credit, Shri Vajpayee was not deterred, as a statesman should not be. In 2004, he went to Islamabad, where a Joint Statement was issued that set out a vision for a cooperative relationship. I must remind the House that opposition parties supported these bold steps. I, for one, share Shri Vajpayee’s vision, and I have also felt his frustration in dealing with Pakistan.
In my meetings with President Zardari in Yekaterinburg and with Prime Minister Gilani in Sharm-el-Sheikh, I conveyed, in the strongest possible terms, our concerns and expectations. I conveyed to them the deep anger and hurt of the people of India due to the persistence of terrorist attacks in India.
I told them that the operations of all terrorist groups that threaten India must end permanently. I urged them to make no distinctions between different terrorist organisations. I said that it was not enough to say that Pakistan is itself a victim of terrorism. They must show the same political will and take the same strong and sustained action against terrorist groups operating on their eastern border as they now seem to be taking against groups on their western border.
Both President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani assured me that the Pakistan government was serious and that effective action would be taken against the perpetrators of the Mumbai carnage.
Shri Yashwant Sinha asked me what had changed between my meeting with President Zardari and the meeting with Prime Minister Gilani. In between came the dossier which showed progress though not adequate progress. Shri Sinha also asked me do we trust Pakistan. Let me say that in the affairs of two neighbours we should recall what President Reagan once said – trust but verify. There is no other way unless we go to war.
I was told that Mumbai was the work of non-state actors. I said that this gave little satisfaction and that it was the duty of their government to ensure that such acts were not perpetrated from their territory. I told them that another attack of this kind will put an intolerable strain on our relationship and that they must take all possible measures to prevent a recurrence.
After I returned from Sharm-el-Sheikh, I made a statement in Parliament, which clarified and elaborated not just the Joint Statement issued following my meeting with Prime Minister Gilani, but also what we discussed.
I wish to reiterate that the President and the Prime Minister of Pakistan know, after our recent meetings, that we can have a meaningful dialogue with Pakistan only if they fulfil their commitment, in letter and spirit, not to allow their territory to be used in any manner for terrorist activities against India. This message was repeated when the Foreign Ministers and Foreign Secretaries met.
I stand by what I have said in Parliament — that there has been no dilution of our position in this regard.
An interpretation has been sought to be given to the Joint Statement that we will continue to engage in a composite dialogue whether Pakistan takes action against terrorism or not. This is not correct. The Joint Statement emphasised that action on terrorism cannot be linked to dialogue. Pakistan knows very well that with terrorism being such a mortal and global threat, no civilised country can set terms and conditions for rooting it out. It is an absolute and compelling imperative that cannot be dependent on resumption of the composite dialogue. In the Joint Statement itself, the two sides have agreed to share real time, credible and actionable information on any future terrorist threats.
When I spoke to Prime Minister Gilani about terrorism from Pakistan, he mentioned to me that many Pakistanis thought that India meddled in Balochistan. I told him that we have no interest in destabilising Pakistan nor do we harbour any ill intent towards Pakistan. We believe that a stable, peaceful and prosperous Pakistan living in peace with its neighbours is in our own interest.
I told him then, and I say it here again, that we are not afraid of discussing any issue of concern between the two countries. If there are any misgivings, we are willing to discuss them and remove them.
I said to him that I had been told by the leadership of Pakistan several times that Indian Consulates in Afghanistan were involved in activities against Pakistan. This is totally false. We have had Consulates in Kandahar and Jalalabad for 60 years. Our Consulates perform normal diplomatic functions and are assisting in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, where we have a large aid programme that is benefiting the common people of Afghanistan.
But we are willing to discuss all these issues because we know that we are doing nothing wrong. I told Prime Minister Gilani that our conduct is an open book. If Pakistan has any evidence, and they have not given me any and no dossier has been given, we are willing to look at it because we have nothing to hide.
I believe that it is as much in Pakistan’s vital interest as it is in ours to make peace. Pakistan must defeat terrorism, before being consumed by it. I believe the current leadership there understands the need for action.
I was told by the parliamentarians who accompanied Prime Minister Gilani that there is now a political consensus in Pakistan against terrorism. That should strengthen the hands of its leaders in taking the hard decisions that will be needed to destroy terrorism and its sponsors in their country.
Our objective, as I said at the outset, must be a permanent peace with Pakistan, where we are bound together by a shared future and a common prosperity.
I believe that there is a large constituency for peace in both countries. The majority of people in both countries want an honourable settlement of the problems between us that have festered far too long and want to set aside the animosities of the past. We know this, but in the past there have been hurdles in a consistent pursuit of this path. As a result, the enemies of peace have flourished. They want to make our alienation permanent, the distance between our two countries an unbridgeable divide. In the interests of our people, and in the interest of peace and prosperity of South Asia, we must not let this happen.
That is why I hope and pray that the leadership in Pakistan will have the strength and the courage to defeat those who want to destroy, not just peace between India and Pakistan, but the future of South Asia. As I have said before, if they show that strength and that courage, we will meet them more than half way.
There are uncertainties on the horizon, and I cannot predict the future in dealing with neighbours, two nuclear powers. We have to begin to trust each other, but not blindly, but trust and verify. People say that we have broken the national consensus. I refuse to believe that we have broken the national consensus.
For the present we have agreed that the Foreign Secretaries will meet as often as necessary and report to the two Foreign Ministers who will meet on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. The two Foreign Ministers have met even before the Joint Statement in Trieste. I met President Zardari in Russia. So in operational terms the effect of the Statement that the two Foreign Secretaries will meet as often as necessary followed by the Foreign Ministers is no more than what we are doing at present. Does it involve surrender or a sign of weakness?
As neighbours it is our obligation to keep our channels open. Look at what is happening in the world. The US and Iran have been sworn enemies for thirty years, and yet they feel compelled to enter into a dialogue. Unless we want to go to war with Pakistan, dialogue is the only way out. But we should do so on the basis of trust but verify.