Full transcript: Salman Bashir on current state of relations between India and Pak

New Delhi:  Ahead of a meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari on the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), Pakistan's High Commissioner to India Salman Bashir speaks to NDTV on the current state of relations between the two countries.

Here's the full transcript of the interview:

NDTV: Much is happening in the India-Pakistan equation. On the one hand we have had a development here with India's Supreme Court upholding the death sentence for the only terrorist who was caught alive in the Mumbai attacks. This development has come just hours before a possible meeting between India's Prime Minister and the Pakistani President, and of course we are just now a few days away for the scheduled visit of India's Foreign Minister to Pakistan to meet his counterpart there, to discuss the state of India-Pakistan equations, both the improvements, the progress and the roadblocks. We are joined now by Pakistan's High Commissioner to India, also the country's former Foreign Secretary, Salman Bashir. Pleasure to have you on the programme Sir. Let me start by asking you to take a step back and look at the big picture. We will get into all these specific questions in just a bit, but the big picture, you have been quoted as saying that there is now a sea change in the atmosphere here. You sense that much progress has been made, but if this progress has to be counted in terms of concrete, empirical instances, what would you count?

Salman Bashir: Well thank you first of all. It's a pleasure to be on your show and of course I welcome this approach, to take the big picture and stand by what I said refer to the sea change in the atmospherics. I really think where we are today we are much more comfortable, much more optimistic about the state of our relations.

NDTV: What has changed? Why has there been a sea change according to you?

Salman Bashir: Well I think, I would like to believe, certainly as far as Pakistan is concerned, that good relations of India are in Pakistan's national interest. I would like to believe that is the case here. So I think if you proceed on that basis then things start to sort of look a little bit different than what they were yesterday, and when I say sea change in the atmospherics, you said how do you substantiate it with the empirical evidence? Well I'll touch upon that a little later. But just look at the extent of the contacts, the frequency of the contacts; there have been several leadership travel meetings. All of them were marked by cordiality; by commonality of approach by I believe a very sincere expression of conviction. There it was in the interest of both sides to move forward together. I think that's the important thing to move forward together in a world that is changing very fast, and a region that is changing very fast, even the climate is changing very fast. So I think in all, that sense, it's not only the leadership, which has met. Our President has been here, our Prime Minister was here. There is a possibility of a meeting...

NDTV: Have the details been sorted out on that? Can we accept a meeting between President Zardari and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh?

Salman Bashir: I think both sides intend to make it happen. I hope these issues can be worked out. But what I'm saying here is that, so that's one, the leadership travel contacts. Number two, there is the Parliamentary contacts. We had a Parliamentary delegation this last week here, another one visiting starting actually Sunday-Monday, this coming Sunday-Monday. We have had the Lahore Chamber of Commerce delegation here. There is FPCCI trade show taking place in Mumbai over the weekend.

NDTV: And there is cricket coming up later.

Salman Bashir:
There is cricket coming up, the Foreign Secretary has been here, the Ranges delegation was here, the Maritime Agencies have been talking to each other. We have finished the second round of talks. We are looking forward very much to Honorable Minister's visit, Mr Krishna's visit to Islamabad. So all that adds to what I had said earlier, the changing atmosphere for the good and I think we must seize all this and all this adds to goodwill.

NDTV: The Indian Foreign Secretary Mathai said that the biggest confidence building, the biggest CBM between India and Pakistan would be to bring the accused of the 26/11 attacks to justice. I'm asking you this on a day when any motive for India, there has been an emotive response to the Supreme Court judgment upholding the death sentence of Ajmal Kasab, who as you know, is the only surviving terrorist in the 26/11 attacks, for where Pakistan stands. You have repeatedly said that it's up to the Judiciary in your country to take a view of the case and the trial, but would you concede that you can understand why Indians feel a great sense of disappointment, frustration even anger at the slow pace of this trial? At the fact that your Judicial Commission did come here, but its findings were not were not accepted by an anti-terror court in Pakistan.

Salman Bashir: Yes, I think the baseline here is that what we would like to do and what we share with everybody in the world, and particularly India, is that justice must be done and I think that's the important point. The rest is a question of detail. The findings of the Judicial Commission etc. they were...

They wanted to cross-examine the witnesses here.

Salman Bashir: We believed that would be picked up and we have asked for a re-visit and the possibility of the cross-examination. So eventually I think what we are all looking forward to is, and it's important, that justice be done.

NDTV: But are you disappointed as a senior diplomat? How long it's taken or without any concrete results?

Salman Bashir: Well I cannot really sort of say that the executives in Pakistan could fast track or fast-forward this. We are doing our very best in terms of the prosecution, and I think more cooperation bilaterally between the legal experts and between the two ministries concerned, that is the Home and the Interior could be helpful, so the objective is the same. Understand the impatience in this regard, but I can assure you, that all that is necessary, is being done by us.

NDTV: You suggested that the Judicial Commission now will be visiting again and there is a possibility that will be accepted by the Indian government. Has that being communicated to you?

Salman Bashir: Formal request has been made, yes.

NDTV: Now if it comes this time you would have obviously asked to cross-examine the witnesses here.

Salman Bashir: That was the issue even the last time they visited.

NDTV: Yes.

Salman Bashir:
And we were told that they will not be allowed and we still...

NDTV: Has that changed at all? Have you being given to believe that it would be different the second time around.

Salman Bashir:
I think experts here also, even when the Judicial Commission was here last time, Indian experts were saying that this may not hold because of the evidence act or whatever, you know the legal context. So that was proven and I think it is in the interest of justice that everything will be done, so that this thing is out of the way and we are able to make more progress.

NDTV: Now in your talks here, evidence has been shared by the Indian government, on the person now known as Abu Jundal; you know an Indian who is Zabiuddin, now known by the code name Abu Jundal. Abu Jundal has made in his interrogation, the point to Indian interrogators here, as reported by intelligence agencies which you are familiar with, this has been brought up by the Indian government and I know in talks with you, that sections of Pakistan's officials were also involved in this attack. How does the Pakistan government, how does the Pakistan state plan to respond to what India has placed on the table with regard to Abu Jundal testimonies?

Salman Bashir:
First of all I would like to categorically, emphatically dismiss the suggestion by an individual that has come across through whatever has been given in the media. Our Foreign Secretary was explicit on this. We do not accept this sort of an assertion made publicly on the one hand, so that is one point, but the more important point here is that our Interior Minister and India's Home Minister have been in contact. Rehman Malik has invited the new Home Minister to visit Pakistan. Mr Malik is prepared to fly over to Delhi anytime. All these point out to Pakistan's readiness to go that extra mile to do whatever is necessary, to work on these issues which pertain to terrorism. We are co-operating with every country in the world. I have seen reports here, which says Pakistan's acting as a victim of terrorism or playing out the victim phenomena. It's not a question of playing victim phenomena. You have a real issue right, you have got to deal with that issue and that issue is not specific to Pakistan, it is specific to the region, it is specific to the world .So if we are going to work on this, which I believe is important here, in terms of the Indian government and in terms of the Indian public opinion, I think the way forward is what has been agreed between our two Prime Ministers; that we need to cooperate and to cooperate means to cooperate between the channels, that is the Home Ministry and the Interior Ministry. There is an agreement that the FIA and the NIA will co-operate, that's the practical way of it, so I can, I can say it this time that we need to really activate these channels, make it possible for them to do what is necessary in the domain of countering terrorism.

NDTV: So when you say that you do dismiss some of these statements that have been attributed to Abu Jundal outright, when India raises this with Pakistan officially, and I know Pakistan has asked for evidence, for information, what will be the Pakistani response? Would you be willing to investigate some of these testimonies?

Salman Bashir: As I said we are prepared to co-operate and the cooperation has to be between the concerned people, that is the concerned departments of government.

NDTV: Which are the Interior Ministry and the Home Ministry.  

Salman Bashir: And the agencies, the NIA, the FIA, that's where it should be done and I think this point really needs to be understood here and I think it is important that we work on this together.

What would you like to say it to the Indians today, and I'm asking you this today because of the judgment that has come, because Indians are wanting to know? When you said that you understand their impatience on 26/11, when we see media reports saying that Zaki ur-Rehman Lakvi may walk free, that he is being able to use a cell phone in jail or that Hafiz Saeed is being able to walk free; you have said in previous interviews that the Jama'at ud Dawah is restricted. I have heard you say that, I have read interviews and quotes from you saying that. So to Indian's who want to know, that if this group is restricted by law, why is Hafiz Saeed able to act with impunity? What would you say High Commissioner?

Salman Bashir: See, restricted in the sense that there is Security Council Resolution 1267 that has been made applicable to the JuD, which has provisions regarding certain restraints to that extent. But I would really like to sort of point this out this notion that you just mentioned, that Zaki ur-Rehman Lakvi or these people are using cell phones, is patently false. Give me one evidence really where...

NDTV: American intelligence quoted this.

Salman Bashir: Yes, but let the American intelligence talk to us on this. I know for sure that there is no such possibility, so I think this is part of our continuing a sort of a propaganda thing that is self-defeating. I thing all this hype that is created, the zeal to paint Pakistan as the center of terrorism is totally misplaced. I think the Americans do what we have done in the domain of counter terrorism. I think our Indian fans also in the right quarters understand. I think it's important that the public narrative on this starts to match the reality.

NDTV: So these media reports that have quoted US intelligence are patently false, that's the word you used.

Salman Bashir: Absolutely.

NDTV: Let's steps back and look at the big picture again. Trade was seen to be a possible sort of bandage over other wounds, has it worked?

Salman Bashir: I can say there is great excitement on both sides specially with the process of trade normalization, you know, seeing the movement as I mentioned to you earlier. The Chambers, the trade delegations have been here; only last evening there was a women's delegation that is visiting. In fact they are returning today to Pakistan. So you see there is great excitement. There are sector specific delegations that have come from Pakistan trying to, just trying to study, to position themselves as opportunities open up on trade, I had an excellent meeting with Mr Anand Sharma, he's very positive, very upbeat. We hope that all that in terms of the road map that was agreed between the two sides marterialises, a lot has to be done in the coming months, weeks and...

NDTV: Do you believe that the economy and or, or the economics can change the course of politics? It used to be that politics change the course of the economics, but are we seeing a world where the reverse can happen?

Salman Bashir:
No but I think in a sense the world politics is, is not only now, for centuries, been driven by economics hasn't it?

NDTV: Yes.

Salman Bashir: So I think let's accept it in this, between in this spirit, I think let's try to work this.

NDTV: There's been disappointment that the visa regime between our two countries continues to be filled with obstacles and it's, it's so difficult really to just make a simple visit Delhi to Lahore is, is barely a 40 minute flight and yet the visa regime continues to be an obstacle. Are you hopeful that this time when the Foreign Ministers meet, we could expect a big ticket announcement on this?

Salman Bashir:
I think we could if this were to happen. I know that our Interior Minister has invited the Home Minister.

NDTV: Home Minister to visit.

Salman Bashir: ...to visit and to have this agreement signed, the good news of course as you know is that it's been finalized, so there is only a question of...

... signing on the dotted line.

Salman Bashir: ...signing on the dotted line.

NDTV: What's stopping that signature?

Salman Bashir: Well what's stopping is basically I think the Interior Minister and the Interior Ministry's view that this is a significant step, so it requires to be done at a political level, at least, for the presence of the relevant Ministers and so you know, to give it the sort of required projection.

NDTV: You said sea change between the two countries, but when we look at concrete big movements, then I would say that the last really important thing that happened between India and Pakistan was the Cease Fire Agreement, and the Cease Fire Agreement, I think 2003 or 2004 if I am not wrong, has held since then.

Salman Bashir:

NDTV: And through ups and downs and every other problem by and large that Cease Fire Agreement has held. Now why have we not been able to make a similar breakthrough, I understand Siachen is more complex, it's stuck, but why not Sir Creek? What is stopping a breakthrough on Sir Creek?

Salman Bashir: I think all these, these issues, Siachen, Sir Creek, Jammu and Kashmir, whatever, they are do-ables right, there have been instances recorded very, you know, correctly in the minutes of our respective Ministries...


Salman Bashir: ...where both sides reached an understanding and they didn't really follow up through, alright, on Siachen, that was the case. Sir Creek I think the possibilities, similarly both sides have been working on seeing how we can create more comfort for the Kashmiris, which has led to the CBM process, travel trade. I think we need to address these, these issues constructively and we also need to see how we can create scenarios where these issues have to disappear one day from the agenda, amicably, peacefully, constructively in the national interest and the rational interest.

NDTV: Since you call them do-ables and you will have the two political protagonists in Pakistan next week, which is SM Krishna and your Foreign Minister, what can we realistically expect other than continue to talk, which is progress in itself, and I am not saying that every talk has to end with a dramatic headline, and I know the media often creates more problems for the India-Pakistan equation then solutions. But given that, given that you will have the two protagonists here, and I am sure there could be some sort of announcement. For example the release of prisoners on both sides, you know what's happened between India and Pakistan is there's only individual cases that make the headlines, you know Dr Chisty. Here in India there is a great amount of concern about Sarabjit Singh, which may be a much more complex case from the Pakistani perspective. Is that an area where we can see progress next week?

Salman Bashir: I should think so, I think the prisoners issue especially the fishermen and those who are, have completed their sentences languishing in prisons...

NDTV: On both sides.

Salman Bashir:
On both sides they need to be, needs to be a sort of dealt with you know, with humanity, expeditiously, so it would be really my hope that at least this aspect would come in the discussion and that both side will agree to do something practical about it. We have been talking about it, there is the Consular Access Agreement that was signed in 2008, we need to really implement those understandings and more important, establish mechanisms, a way by which we could expeditiously, really both sides, deal with these humanitarian issues.

In India there's a great deal of excitement on the Sarabjit case and we had a whole lot of media confusion when we had somebody, whose name sounded similar, come back but not Sarabjit Singh. Has the Pakistan government reached any sort of decision on Sarabjit Singh's case? Is it, what is your position?

Salman Bashir: Well, honestly I don't know where exactly it stands at this point in time. Of course there have been appeals, mercy petitions, there's a legal process under our law, in our Constitution. I think, but I cannot give you a definite picture on this as of now.

NDTV: So it remains one of those areas that possibly would be referred to in talks. Pakistan has been very hopeful that the Prime Minister will visit Pakistan and that invitation from Islamabad has been accepted, in principle, by Dr. Manmohan Singh. But do you have any concrete dates at all from the Indian side, have you been given a time frame, are you hopeful it will happen this year?

Salman Bashir: Well, we would of course very much like that the visit take place this year if possible, if convenient to the Prime Minister. As you know he's held in very high esteem in Pakistan by the leadership, by the people. We are honestly, genuinely convinced of his sincerity. We entirely agree and entirely share his vision, we hope that this would be his legacy, peace between India and Pakistan and it would be appropriate to do what all what we can to make it happen.

NDTV: And you hope or you believe it will happen this year or is it a difference between hope and belief in this case?

Salman Bashir: Yes, I mean I cannot really speak for India.

NDTV: Obviously not, but I am just wondering if India has given any indication to you as to whether this visit can happen this year or is it a question wide open still?

Salman Bashir: Well, we have had conversations, let me put it that way, I cannot say it in a definitive way that it will happen this year or not, but we certainly hope it'll happen this year.

NDTV: What do you believe Sir, as a last thought, is the biggest obstacle and the biggest progress that India and Pakistan have made in the last few years according to you, because you've seen this as Foreign Secretary and now you're seeing it as High Commissioner? So you've been involved in many of the key deliberations between our countries over the last, many years I would say. What is changed for the better and what continues to hang and cast a shadow over the peace process?

Salman Bashir: I think basically what I believe has changed and which needs to sort of be translated and given out in the public domain, is a realisation that without good relations between our two countries, neither of us can fulfill the national aspirations. And one thing, which is shared, is development. If we have to develop if Pakistan has to go forward and develop we need stability, we need a stable, peaceful neighbourhood, we need more co-operation, both countries are resource rich, we have talented people. I think it is that enlightened vision of tomorrow that must determine our direction and our efforts today. And I would really hope and believe, and that is my mandate actually, being in a way sort of principally responsible for relations with India that, that will happen. I see you know, it is like building, get piece-by-piece or block-by-block. So to say, so on the whole, I think, trajectory is the right one. It is positive and constructive; so we need to keep a firm grip on the steering wheel, not get back.

NDTV: Not head to a car crash again. Let me ask you just about two things that have come up in India. Visiting Pakistan and recently, one is, of course, the issue of minorities in Pakistan, debated in India's Parliament, with many political leaders getting up and saying if minorities who have been prosecuted there should seek asylum here, the Indian government must give it at once. How does Pakistan view the fact that this has been debated here?

Salman Bashir: The fact is that all these issues, whether it's the question of rights of women or children or of disadvantaged persons in Pakistan, all of these issues also serve as very much in our Parliament. In the Army area, brought to the fore by the civil society, which is very strong, which is very active and of course India is a democracy so are we, number one. Two, I believe that democracies have an inheritability and self-correction, so what has happened is when these reports surfaced, the President himself, President Zardari took cognisance of this and he appointed a Committee and he has now directed those in government to initiate drafting new legislation, specifically pertaining to the minorities. And I think we have a very sensitive responsive to all this. Having said that and I would also like to say that the Constitution of Pakistan, government of Pakistan believes in granting, ensuring protection to promotion of the rights of all citizens including the minorities. We have a good track record of that actually. In terms of representation, terms of equal opportunities, we have don't quite a lot, but besides that, these reports that serve to stay here about large numbers taking asylum, these were not corroborated by the officials in Delhi.

NDTV: So it's your belief that, that was not the case, they did not come here to seek refuge?

Salman Bashir: I have heard nothing to that effect and in fact we all need to do more in terms of ensuring that our diversities, in terms of culture, religion whatever that adds beauties to our societies...

NDTV: Absolutely. Last question is, Indian officials, while dealing with our own troubles here in Assam, North East and Mumbai, we had Indian officials in the Home Ministry suggesting that some of these distorted images that had triggered rumours and agitations could be traced to online sites in Pakistan. I'm not saying messages I'm just talking about online images. Does the Pakistan government take cognisance of this complaint seriously? Have you responded to it officially?

Salman Bashir: Yes I think this, again I know it's probably not been flashed here or highlighted or even mentioned by the media here, but our Interior Minister Mr Rehman Malik picked up the telephone, spoke to Mr Shinde, and said that we are prepared, please share whatever you have, we are prepared to cooperate in this domain as well.

NDTV: And what has happened since then?

Salman Bashir: Nothing that I know of.

So it hasn't been brought up bilaterally as such?

Salman Bashir: It was not brought bilaterally, but I have seen, again media reports, today here in the newspapers, which say that perhaps the initial exuberance of blaming Pakistan was inappropriate.

NDTV: And it's not likely to come up bilaterally between the two countries?

Salman Bashir:
I mean, of course this is another area I'm talking about, Internet and all that; we need to cooperate in that domain as well. In a globalised world where there is telecommunication, the Internet and all that, cyber security, to ensure nationally, regionally, internationally, that the new technology which is powerful is not misused, is used for common good. It's technology is huge actually, so that the obvious benefits of it, but we've got to ensure that each country each society is able to benefit.

NDTV: We are grappling with the Internet riddle ourselves, I think, in the last few weeks as a country. High Commissioner Salman Bashir, thank you so much, thanks for talking to us.  

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