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Devil's Advocate: Ex-NSA says N-deal is a must for India

Apr 27, 2008 09:26 PM IST India India
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What does Brajesh Mishra, former national security advisor, think of the Indo-US nuclear deal and developments in Pakistan? Karan Thapar asked him on Devil’s Advocate. Karan Thapar: As a former national security advisor are you satisfied that if India goes ahead with the deal it won’t in any way damage or constraint its strategic nuclear deterrent? Brajesh Mishra: Well, after the talks I've had with various representatives of the Government of India at a fairly high level and some scientists, I'm convinced that there is not going to be any major impact on the strategic programme through the deal. If there is any impact on the programme it is because we have other constraints, like lack of fuel. That is a possibility but not through this deal. This deal doesn't stop us from continuing our strategic programme in the way we have tried to do in the past. Karan Thapar: Are you satisfied with the Government’s claim that the deal won’t in any way lead to India losing its rights to carry further nuclear tests? Brajesh Mishra: There is no doubt about it that there's no bar on India undertaking nuclear tests. Of course exercising that option means a lot of hardships, economic and otherwise, because sanctions will inevitably follow. People talk about the Hyde Act not permitting nuclear tests but that is not really true. It is the 1954 Act of the US Congress and the mother of all Acts—it imposes conditions and sanctions on those who undertake nuclear tests. We're not barred from undertaking tests if we're ready to pay the costs of sanctions, etc. Karan Thapar: So, both in terms of future nuclear tests and in terms of any damage done to India’s strategic nuclear deterrent you are relatively satisfied that if India signs the nuclear deal there will be no deleterious effect in either case? Brajesh Mishra: Yes, as far as the testing is concerned there is really no bar and as far deterrence is concerned, knowing the conditions in this country and knowing what has happened in the past, I would say I am more or less satisfied. Karan Thapar: Do you accept that if a future Democratic President in America were to sign the CTBT, which many believe would be likely to be the case, he or she would inevitably set in motion a chain of events which would leave India also signing and thus foreclosing forever the option of nuclear tests? Brajesh Mishra: But why do you think it is only a Democratic candidate who might do it. There is a possibility that a Republican President would seek Congressional approval for ratification of the treaty. Karan Thapar: So whenever an American President signs CTBT a chain of events would be set in motion which would lead to India singing as well and therefore the option of nuclear tests would be closed forever at that time. Brajesh Mishra: The US has already signed it, the question is of ratification. Since one is fairly certain that the Democrats will continue to control both Houses of the Congress I would say the ratification will come through. In that case will India stand in the way of the treaty coming into effect—I doubt it. Karan Thapar: Therefore, in due course—possibly within two-three years— America will ratify CTBT, India will be forced to follow through and the option of nuclear tests will be closed. PAGE_BREAK Brajesh Mishra: It is bound to be closed. But unlike the NPT, which was a discriminatory treaty because it allowed some countries to have nuclear weapons and not others, CTBT is applicable to all. There is no discrimination in CTBT. Karan Thapar: Which is why it would be impossible for India to hold out. Brajesh Mishra: India cannot hold back. India will have to sign it and we will have no argument to go against it. Karan Thapar: Given that what you have just said are political parties mistaken in rejecting the Indo-US nuclear deal on the grounds that it would stop India from carrying out further nuclear tests or on the grounds that it does damage to India’s nuclear deterrent? Brajesh Mishra: Well so far as these two questions are concerned, in my view we are not restricted from carrying out tests and, more or less, the programme we had devised before we left the NDA government is on-going. Karan Thapar: So it follows to reject the deal on these two grounds is mistaken? Brajesh Mishra: Rejecting is too strong word. Rejecting is too strong a thing to do and I would not agree with it. Karan Thapar: On these two specific issues has the BJP consulted you and sought your advice? Brajesh Mishra: I have not been consulted by the BJP in the last four months or more. Karan Thapar: Even though you were National Security Advisor of that government. Brajesh Mishra: I had resigned from the party before I took over, so my connections with the BJP were severed at that time. Karan Thapar: You have an authoritative opinion and they have not sought your advice. Brajesh Mishra: Well, you may consider it to be authoritative opinion, I may consider it to be (but) they need not. Karan Thapar: Do you accept the view that if the nuclear deal is not passed while George W Bush is the US President, it is unlikely the same favourable terms will be offered to India by any successive administration? Brajesh Mishra: Yes, my view is the following. In any negotiation you have two parties. If you want to renegotiate any clause or aspects of the treaty, the other party is equally entitled to it. A new administration, whether Republican or Democratic, may have some other ideas regarding the treaty. It will become very, very difficult to renegotiate the treaty and have the same treaty for you to sign. Karan Thapar: So if you want the same treaty on the same favourable terms, it is now or never? Brajesh Mishra: It is now. It is now. Karan Thapar: How serious a loss of face it would be for India if the Government were unable to clinch the deal? Brajesh Mishra: In my view it will be a severe loss of face for the Government both domestically and internationally. Having promoted the deal in India and abroad—after all, our negotiators have been talking to various countries in the NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group)—having promoted the deal so much and so strongly, not to go through with it is a loss of face for the Government of India and for India. Karan Thapar: Would it also be a serious set back for India's hopes of acquiring dual use technology and India's hopes of being able to develop a civil nuclear energy sector? PAGE_BREAK Brajesh Mishra: Obviously dual-use technology will not be available to us if we don't go through with this and, of course, it's a set back. Karan Thapar: And we also won't be able to develop civil nuclear energy effectively? Brajesh Mishra: I am not a scientist, so I am not able to say what we will be able to do or not. But I do believe that the three-stage programme we have will suffer a setback. This is my belief but I am no scientist. Karan Thapar: So, in other words, your advice is that this is a deal we need, let's go for it? Brajesh Mishra: I think we should go ahead with the deal. Yes. Karan Thapar: Should the Government go ahead with the deal even if the BJP and the Left remain adamantly opposed to it? Brajesh Mishra: That's a political question. It is a political decision that they have to take. My personal view is that given the harmful effects of not going ahead perhaps we should go ahead and do it. Perhaps. But I am not a political man. Karan Thapar: Let us view the developments in Pakistan. How do you view the outcome of the recent developments in the country and the installation of a PPP-PML-ANP coalition government? Brajesh Mishra: The elections in Pakistan by all accounts were free and fair. It has brought about a situation that for the first time in decades, there is hope for democracy in Pakistan. The democratic forces have defeated once again the fundamentalist and the extremist forces in the elections. The results also indicate grave dissatisfaction with the previous regime and indirectly disenchantment with the army. We have a possibility to look forward to a democratic Pakistan in the coming years. My idea is that the democratic parties which need to take on, in one way or the other, either by negotiating or coercive methods, the fundamentalists and the extremists need the support of the armed forces. They cannot do it without the support of the armed forces. And we have seen it in last one or two years that the armed forces have not been able to do it by themselves. It is the combination of the democratic forces and the armed forces that has to tackle the problem of extremism. I think it is in India's interest as it is in the interest of the EU or US and others to get the armed forces to fully support the civilian regime. As far as India is concerned, the leader of PPP has already spoken to you. Mr Nawaz Sharif has signed the Lahore Declaration in 1999 with prime minister Vajpayee. I say that the democratic Pakistan wants to have very good relations with India and wants to proceed further with India, which is in a way good for us, and we should encourage that. All in all, India should not fight shy in saying that, we are happy with the democratic Pakistan and that we want all the democratic forces there to support the democratic regime to tackle and take on fundamentalism and extremism. Karan Thapar: You said a very important thing that we should not fight shy of supporting democratic forces and helping them and encouraging them. How should we do that? Brajesh Mishra: I just said that we should try and have a coordinated approach with the US, the European Union to see that the armed forces are fully with the democratic forces. Karan Thapar: In this coordinated approach, should we also involve China, because that is the third country. Brajesh Mishra: Of course China should come in, it is a very good idea. China should come in. Karan Thapar: So you are actually suggesting that the governments of India, America and China, the countries that have certain influence on Pakistan should coordinate to ensure that the armed forces and democratic forces in Pakistan stay united and together fight terrorism and Jihadi elements in the country. Brajesh Mishra: And this is nothing strange. Because what I am saying is in support to what the population of Pakistan, the electorate of Pakistan has already done. Karan Thapar: This would be encouraging the verdict that the population of Pakistan has given in the country. Brajesh Mishra: That is exactly the point. PAGE_BREAK Karan Thapar: The only anomaly could be the question that can China which is a totalitarian country play a role in encouraging democratic forces in Pakistan? Brajesh Mishra: Yes, why not. They themselves say that they have a democracy of a kind. It may not be a vested democracy but I don’t see them opposing the democratic position in Pakistan. Karan Thapar: Should the initiative of creating this three party concerted action be taken by Indian government? Brajesh Mishra: I believe so, yes. We are affected by events in Pakistan. We should do it. Karan Thapar: So, we should in a sense be the first to get in touch with Washington and Beijing. Brajesh Mishra: If we are not already doing that... Karan Thapar: Well there are no signs of doing it and there are no acknowledgements of doing it. If there are any whatsoever, they are behind the scene. So if we are not doing it, you are saying that the Indian government should get in touch with Washington and Beijing, meet, coordinate policy and the three countries should together work effectively to support democracy in Pakistan. Brajesh Mishra: Yes. And we don’t need to tom-tom about it and we don’t need to go public and say what we have done. Karan Thapar: So we need to be strategic and silent? Brajesh Mishra: No. But we need to be discreet about it. Karan Thapar: Discreet but effective. And the reason why discussion is important is because you don’t want the Pakistanis to feel that they are pressured. Brajesh Mishra: No, the reason is that I don’t want any force in Pakistan to say that the US was meddling in Pakistan or any other country is interfering. No. That is not my idea. My idea is to support the democratic forces there, which have already given a verdict. I don’t want to give a chance to the extremists in others that India is meddling in our affairs. PAGE_BREAK Karan Thapar: I understand. Let me take you to some comments that Asif Ali Zardari made in an interview. He said that India and Pakistan should no longer feel hostage to the UN resolutions on Kashmir. Instead they should set the Kashmir issue aside for later, for the wiser generation to handle and get on with building up their relationship. He may not be able to live up to all of that as a politician. But that apart, how important a statement was that? Brajesh Mishra: It is a very important statement. What has been happening in the last four years? The two governments have been talking on Kashmir and at the same time, there have been other movements between the two countries. So, what Mr Zardari is saying is a continuation of the policies that have already been put in place there. It is important to remember this because one must not come to the conclusion that Mr Zardari is taking a position which is opposed to the position taken earlier by Musharraf. It is not a good thing to do. Karan Thapar: Is it not right to interpret Asif Zardari as if he is taking a position in opposition to Musharraf's earlier positions? But nonetheless, the implication of what Zaradri said, not just the tone, but in content was that Kashmir is not a core issue, in the sense of being a stumbling block. It can be put aside. You can make advances elsewhere and then you can come back and sort out Kashmir with the benefit of advances in the relationship that have taken place. Brajesh Mishra: Well of course, Mr Zardari has to decide whether it can be set aside or not. My view is that people of Pakistan are ready. They have been ready for some years to move forward the relationship between India and Pakistan. Karan Thapar: In other words, Asif Zardari is only reflecting a popular mood? Brajesh Mishra: In my view, yes. Karan Thapar: He is the first politician courageous enough to reflect what is already the mood of his people? Brajesh Mishra: In my opinion, Mr Nawaz Sharif was also working towards that end. Karan Thapar: Asif Zardari said one other critical thing. He said the way to improve relationship through trade. When the two countries develop inter-dependence they will have a permanent stake in close relationship. Does that sound like a wise strategy? Brajesh Mishra: I think it is part of a strategy. My view in context of what Zardari has said is that in a climate of improved relationship between India and Pakistan the problem of Kashmir will acquire another dimension than what is now. Karan Thapar: But that is the right way to go down to? Brajesh Mishra: In my view, yes. Karan Thapar: Build trade, build all variety of contacts and then come back and tackle Kashmir. Brajesh Mishra: For example, Pakistani movies being shown here. Our movies—I believe there will be little more liberalization about Indian movies being shown in Pakistan. That kind of contact. Karan Thapar: The builds the right atmosphere, then you can tackle Kashmir. Brajesh Mishra: Quite right.

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