New Delhi: In an interview to NDTV's Barkha Dutt, External Affairs Minister SM Krishna has explained why he did not respond when the Pakistani Foreign Minister attacked India's Home Secretary at a press conference last week. Krishna also says that the talks with Qureshi were "by and large useful" and that they helped reduce the trust deficit between the two countries.
Here's the full transcript of that exclusive interview with India's External Affairs Minister.
NDTV: Mr. Krishna, there has been a lot of attention on your visit to Pakistan which, clearly, did not go as you had hoped for. But let me start with very beginning when you met with your counterpart Mr. Shah Mehmood Mr Qureshi. It became quite clear that the talks will go on much longer than had been scheduled. They ran into 6 hours eventually. When you saw the talks were going on longer then scheduled, did you see it as good sign or bad sign? And when did you get the first indication that something was horribly wrong?
SM Krishna: The talks as long as it lasted, I think it was (a) very useful discussion between me and Mr. Qureshi and we covered a number of subjects. We covered a number of areas of concern to our countries and because of the nature and complexity of certain problems, we had to devote more than normal time that is provided in such a discussion. When you keep talking in an atmosphere of friendship, in an atmosphere of trust, then there is naturally a tendency to prolong the discussions.
NDTV: So it wasn't unpleasant during the talks itself?
SM Krishna: Not at all, not at all.
NDTV: Usually when India- Pakistan talks get delayed, it is believed both sides are quarrelling over a joint statement?
SM Krishna: See, I have had conversations with Foreign Minister Qureshi. I met him in New York, I have again met him in Islamabad. I think he is one of those who are very refined, very polite and very seasoned, if I may say so. So I think I had no difficulty in communicating with him, and there was a spirit of friendship.
NDTV: So when you went into that joint press conference, both of you, after this marathon 6-hour session of talks, did you have any sense that the press conference would degenerate in the way it did? Did anything happen in the course of the talks that gave you an indication that both sides differ very fundamentally on key issues and that the press conference is not going to be a pleasant experience?
SM Krishna: Well, when two nations like India and Pakistan meet, they come together in terms of talks and when you meet the press immediately thereafter, naturally the atmosphere gets charged and we expected that. I expected that...
NDTV: To be as unpleasant as it was?
SM Krishna: ...the press conference is going to be a very difficult one and then we will need a lot of tact and patience to come out of that. I think even Mr Qureshi came out very well that press conference. As long as talks went on, it went off very well without any rancour and again in the press conference there was no rancour exhibited.
NDTV: You think there was no rancor at the press conference but many people in this country think that Mr Qureshi was out of line, when in response to a question on Haafiz Saaed, he actually chose to focus on Mr G K Pillai's comments on the ISI. Many people wondered why Mr SM Krishna let him do that. Why did Mr Krishna not rebutt him? Do you want to clarify why you remained silent?
SM Krishna: Well, in a press conference, you know, sometimes, because as I said, as I mentioned, that the whole atmosphere was charged, or surcharged. And the point that Mr Qureshi was trying to make - to draw a comparison between Hafiz Saeed and Home Secretary Mr Pillai - I think, that was the most ridiculous statement that one could hear of. Here is one person who is speaking venom, pouring venom against India, who day-in and day-out talks about jihad against India, and then Mr Pillai, who is one of the most upright civil servants we have in our country, you know. So I think that the comparison in itself was so ridiculous that I didn't feel like even attempting to scotch that.
NDTV: You felt you will be stooping down to a level?
SM Krishna: Yes. Certainly I felt it was unbecoming on my part to talk in those terms, to talk in those terms of comparison.
NDTV: But sir, you know the controversial things which Mr Qureshi said, one of course his own comparison, but he claimed that you agreed with him that Mr Pillai's comment were ill-timed. And since then you have spoken about how the Home Secretary need not have chosen that particular morning to make these comments. Do you believe that you went in handicapped? Do you believe that you went in to the talks handicapped, with your hands tied behind your back, because the Home Secretary had made the Headley interrogation report public the very morning that you were leaving for Islamabad?
SM Krishna: Well, the Home Secretary spoke the truth. The Home Secretary did convey whatever Headley had confessed, whatever Headley had told our interrogators, when a team of them went to US. I have absolutely no problem with that. I can live with that. But the only question is the timing.
NDTV: You feel it was a bit ill-timed?
SM Krishna: I would leave it at that the timing was...
NDTV: So when Mr Qureshi said that you agreed with it, that the timing of the Home Secretary's comments had in a sense cast a shadow on the talks, did you, in your talks, give him any indication that you shared the disquiet Pakistanis had about the timing of Mr. Pillai's remarks. Did you give him this assurance?
SM Krishna: Well, I think this came up in the discussion in passing. And I don't think that we looked at it from the seriousness of the angle.
NDTV: When you say the timing could have been different, do you believe that they should have waited after the foreign ministers talks?
SM Krishna: Well I have said what I have to say on that.
NDTV: Sir there is a perception that there is one set of problems between India and Pakistan and how to structure very complex dialogue, but there is absence of cohesion within the government here. For example the Home Secretary's timing that you talk about. Has the Home Ministry shared with Foreign Ministry the exact details of David Headley's interrogation report?
SM Krishna: Well whatever Headley has conveyed to our interrogators, I think it is classified information and I wouldn't like to divulge what transpired. But the earlier part of your question that is there understanding between various departments government, between various ministries of government of India, let me reassure you that there is total understanding between the Home Ministry and Ministry of External Affairs. We had a meeting of Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) before I left for Pakistan. It is the highest policy making body and there we discussed all this security angles, all this difficult relationship are discussed there.
NDTV: Have you conveyed to Mr Chidambaram or the Prime Minister that the timing of Home Sectary's remark made your job much more difficult? Is this something which has come up with the highest levels of government? This could have been handled little more diplomatically...
SM Krishna: We talk about so many things with each other and we certainly look at it from overall perspective.
NDTV: Why do you think the timing was problematic? Why do you think the timing of these comments ended up being a problem? Did it cast a shadow on the talks or did it make your job more difficult? Did it change the atmosphere?
SM Krishna: I do not blame that particular interview which the Home Secretary gave to an Indian news agency; it had nothing to do with my talks - either the failure or the success - depending upon how you look at those talks. I contend that the talks were very useful in trying to understand each other's position on various issues, and the very fact that the Indian Foreign Minister, after the Mumbai attack, went to Islamabad, had such prolonged meetings with the Foreign Minister and then a meeting with the President and the Prime Minister of that country has certainly contributed to reduce the trust deficit. In spite of all the...
NDTV: Hiccups and the problems?
SM Krishna: In spite of all the newspaper comments or the media comments about the outcome of the talks.
NDTV: You don't think the talks were a failure?
SM Krishna: I refuse to admit that the talks were a failure. The fact that I have invited Pakistan Foreign Minister Qureshi to come to India, in the latter part of the year and that he has accepted to come is yet another indication, that the talks have not failed; the talks are ongoing you know.
NDTV: Let's focus a little bit on the comments also made by the National Security Advisor (NSA) Shivshankar Menon this week, who also seems to say that Headley's interrogation shows that there is a connection between the official establishment of Pakistan and terrorism. So, you now have two statements out there Mr. Krishna. One, the allegation based on Headley's interrogation report that the ISI had a role to play in 26/11 and two, Mr. Shivshankar Menon making the larger point that there is a clear linkage, it seems, between the official establishment of Pakistan and terrorism. What does this do for your and your government's approach to the talks? Because in effect you are now talking to the official establishment of Pakistan about sections of the official establishment being involved in terrorism.
SM Krishna: Well, I believe just like many others in the country, there is no other alternative than to keep Pakistan engaged in talks. Whatever may be the revelations, well Headley has revealed something. The National Security Advisor has also put it in the right kind of perspective - about the assessment of the situation. But I feel that we should continue to keep talking to Pakistan because that is the only way that we can keep up this relationship and take this relationship forward. I am sure that at some point of time, Pakistan will realise the sensitivity of government of India. Based on Headley's revelations, I think there is so much of introspection that Pakistan needs to do and come out with a satisfactory response to government of India.
NDTV: Sir there has been one perception - that Mr. Shah Mehmood Qureshi may have come under pressure from the Pakistan military during the course of these talks and your meeting with him. You actually had dinner with him. After the press conference that all of us thought went so terribly, you both of you went into dinner. First, was that dinner pleasant? And did you convey any sense of hurt or dismay to him over dinner at least?
SM Krishna: No... actually neither Foreign Minister Qureshi, nor me ever felt the strain of the talks.
NDTV: That's quite extraordinary, because all of us felt the strain of it, I have to say.
SM Krishna: Even during the reception hosted by the High Commissioner of India, even though it was delayed and many of the important guests who had been invited for that reception had already left, but still me and my Pakistani counterpart did go to that reception and then meet a few handful of guests who were still there...
NDTV: And was it friendly, and easy between you?
SM Krishna: ...And then we had dinner, both me and Foreign Minister Qureshi.
NDTV: And there was no mention of what had happened at the press conference just minutes before?
SM Krishna: Well, we were there - both of us - at the press conference, then at the reception. We were there at the dinner.
NDTV: Did you...
SM Krishna: We had dinner together.
NDTV: So were you really startled when you returned to India the next morning where you found that Mr. Qureshi had had another press conference accusing you of being on the phone to Delhi the whole time, questioning your mandate, making it very personal. Did you feel a sense of insult or humiliation or hurt at the way that the Foreign Minister of Pakistan seemed to personalise his comments?
SM Krishna: Yeah, that was rather unexpected, shall I say, very unwelcome. Subsequently, Foreign Minister Qureshi has also said that I was not engaged in telephone calls...
NDTV: A person on the phone?
SM Krishna: So, I leave it at that.
NDTV: Has he tried to reach out to you in any way? There have been all kinds of reports that Mr Qureshi had picked up the phone and spoken to you, that he has written you a letter.
SM Krishna: No, I don't think so.
NDTV: No word from him at all?
SM Krishna: No.
NDTV: Not even in Kabul, did you talk at all in Kabul?
SM Krishna: Well unfortunately in Kabul, it was so rushed that I wanted to say hello to Mr. Qureshi.
NDTV: You wanted to, you were ready to say hello to Qureshi in Kabul.
SM Krishna: No but the...he was sitting on one end of the table, and I was sitting on the extreme right and he was there on the extreme left. So that's why we couldn't meet each other.
NDTV: But do you believe that one of the stumbling blocks in the talks is this difference between India wanting to focus essentially on terrorism and Pakistan now asking for a time bound framework to discuss other issues like Kashmir and Baluchistan. Are we willing to look at a time bound framework at all?
SM Krishna: Well you know there are certain issues where you can fix a timeline and there are certain other issues where it doesn't work, fixing a timeline because the nature of the question itself is so complex that there could not be a possible timeline. I think Qureshi also understands that.
NDTV: Did you feel he was under pressure from the Pakistan army? You also met with the Prime Minister, the President of Pakistan. Did you get a sense that while he questioned your mandate, his own mandate was not autonomous?
SM Krishna: No, I think it would be wrong to expect the Foreign Minister of India to speculate.
NDTV: You met with Hillary Clinton in Kabul. Did you get a sense from her on how Washington is observing this round of talks between India and Pakistan?
SM Krishna: Secretary Clinton's visit to Kabul assumed special significance because she was coming from Pakistan, after her meetings in Pakistan. So she was very well acquainted with Pakistan's point of view and then when I met her, we did discuss this. Then I suggested to her that an approach, a step by step approach, for resolving the problems between these two countries, seems to India to be the most reasonable approach, with which Secretary Clinton seemed to agree.
NDTV: Did the Headley interrogation, which has become such a thorn in the side of the talks, come up in your talks with Secretary Clinton?
SM Krishna: Yeah.
NDTV: The Headley interrogation report?
SM Krishna: Yes.
NDTV: Because so much of what we are now learning is based on this interrogation?
SM Krishna: Yeah, I think that's what I said when I earlier mentioned that Pakistan will have to do a lot of introspection in the light of Headley's revelations.
NDTV: Sir, there is a perception and you contradicted it earlier, but I just want to clarify it once again, that you said that there are no divisions within the different parts of government on how to approach talks with Pakistan. Yet, there doesn't seem to be any transparency around this interrogation report of Headley which was meant to be a confidential document to begin with, as you yourself said. But is every relevant part of government fully abreast of the details of this interrogation report?
SM Krishna: Well as long as it is necessary, the Home Ministry sees that the relevant ministry will be kept abreast of whatever revelations Headley would have made to the extent that it is relevant to that ministry, you know.
NDTV: There is a perception that the United States is upset that so much of this report has leaked into the public domain. Is that something that Hillary Clinton brought up with you, that this Headley interrogation was meant to be a classified document, now every day we see different bits of it in the media.
SM Krishna: But that is the fact. It is the FBI which has arrested Headley, and government of United States which provided an occasion for our team to interrogate Headley. As a result of that there is so much of speculation of what Headley said, what Headley did. But the fact remains that Headley was an important link in the 26/11 attack on Mumbai.
NDTV: Are we there now dealing with the reality that whereas earlier we were asking Pakistan to crack down on non-state actors within its control? After Headley's interrogation, we are also dealing given Shivshankar Menon's statements and earlier statements and the foreign ministry's statements, we are now dealing with sections of Pakistan's establishment involved in 26/11, is that our assessment?
SM Krishna: Well, that needs to be looked into very seriously by Pakistan.
NDTV: I want to end sir by asking you about Afghanistan because you were there for the Kabul conference. There is this perception that certainly Europe and Pakistan are pushing for reconciliation with the Taliban. Now having taken the position that India does not believe in the distinction between the good Taliban and the bad Taliban, are we concerned at the pace at which this reconciliation attempt, it seems to be inevitable hurtling towards bringing the Taliban back on board, or at least sections of it back on board into the mainstream.
SM Krishna: Well as long as it is Afghan led and Afghan driven, and Afghan owned, India has no particular problems. We have discussed with President Karzai, I have met him. And then he was here in Delhi. At that point of time I was away in United States. So we have a total confidence in President Karzai's leadership, and his ability to steer Afghanistan out of the present crisis that they seem to be facing. We want a stable, pluralistic Afghanistan to grow. And India's involvement in Afghanistan is of a very constructive type. We are trying to help them in our efforts - in their efforts to rebuild Afghanistan. And our effort has been appreciated by a large majority of the people of Afghanistan. One thing which I found in the course of my visit to Kabul was that there is so much of good will for India in that country. And I think...the many members of my delegation went into the bazaars and then they had an interaction with the Afghans, the ordinary Afghans, and the minute they come to know that you are an Indian, I think there is an instantaneous smile on their face. I think this is a good sign for India-Afghan relationship, the century-old relationship and the kind of affinity, trade relations that we have with that country I think needs to be given a further push and we would be willing to be of service to Afghanistan.
NDTV: Well Mr. SM Krishna thank you so much, it's been an eventful last ten days for you.