Central & South Asia
Interview: Pranab Mukherjee
India's foreign minister discusses the Mumbai attacks with Al Jazeera's Riz Khan.
Last Modified: 27 Jan 2009 22:16 GMT

Mukherjee has said that 'all options are open' in India's dealings with Pakistan
In his first interview with international media since the Mumbai attacks, in which more than 170 people were killed, Pranab Mukherjee, India's foreign minister, tells Al Jazeera’s Riz Khan how the attacks affected his country and what he believes must now be done.

Riz: Minister, people say America changed completely after 9/11. In what way do you think India has changed after Mumbai?

Pranab: It has rudely shocked the Indian people. The depth of outrage which the Indian people, political forces, intelligentsia from all walks of life felt that is unparallelled mainly because of the audacity, ferocity and also the duration of the terror attack.

India is one of the worst victims of terrorism for almost two decades but this attack in many respects was unprecedented.

Mumbai is especially known to be able to bounce back even after the troubles it has had in the past. In what way is it different this time?

So far as the people's approach and spirit of accepting the challenge is concerned, they immediately came back to normalcy and that is characteristic of the people of Bombay. Therefore in that way there is no difference.

But the depth ... of the sense of outrage is enormous all over India and not merely in Mumbai. This may be because of technology ... people watched for almost 60 hours over the television screens all over the world. So that’s why it had a very deep impact on the minds of people.

India claims that Pakistan is not doing enough to catch those who are responsible for the attack. Is it that they are not doing enough, or can't do enough?

Yes, one way you can make a differentiation that they are deliberately doing or that they are incapable of doing, but as far as India is concerned, the net impact is the same, whether somebody is capable or not capable, the impact is that the perpetrators ... are launching terror attacks from the territory of Pakistan.

The infrastructural facilities there, used by them, committing crimes in India, not necessarily in this case but in a large number of cases in the past. 

Going back to Pakistan and taking shelter there – these do not give us any comfort to make a fine distinction whether the state authority there is doing it deliberately or they are incapable of taking any action. The impact is the same, the result is the same.

So your statement that "all options are open with Pakistan" obviously has a lot of people speculating what India might do or what India might be willing to do.

As far as you see it, what is the limit of action that India is willing to take?

We expect Pakistan to act.

Whatever is to be done from our side we are doing so ... but Pakistan is to act because the handlers and the planners were from Pakistan. Therefore, we expect Pakistan authorities to fulfil their commitments.

Not once but twice, at the highest level, the president of Pakistan committed to the Indian prime minister – once in 2004, January, and again it was reiterated in September 2008 - that Pakistani territory would not be allowed to be used by the terrorists, but it has been happening.

Therefore ... we are demanding from Pakistan only three things: dismantle the infrastructural facilities, take strong actions against the perpetrators of terror attacks and look for the fugitives of the Indian law who have committed crime here and have taken shelter there.

How do you respond when Pakistan says it is a victim of terrorism? It's a victim of terrorist attacks and extremists, and many accept that Pakistan itself is developing very large lawless areas which are out of the control of the government. What's the option?

But that does not mean that Pakistani authorities or Pakistani government will shrug their responsibilities. After all how do we function in the international community, in the community of nations?

Every country is responsible to protect its territory, to protect its citizens and also to ensure that their territory is not misused by miscreants to cause trouble in the neighbouring countries.

Whatever be the nature of the state, complexities of the situation, these responsibilities cannot be avoided.

The media of course covered what was going on, and as you say it was an unusual situation – more than sixty hours of coverage on TV, people across India got to see what was happening.

How do you avoid a complete collapse in relations with your neighbour, because people here might call for blood because they see it with a very emotional view and don't try to be a little more pragmatic about the fact that not every Pakistani is responsible for what happened?

We never said that ... We have never accused, we have stated elements emanating from Pakistan.

We have excellent relations with people-to-people. Normal diplomatic relations are continuing.

In a broader sense, how do you find the new leadership of Pakistan? Are people like president Asif Ali Zardari and prime minister Gilani, are these people who India can do business with?

It's not a question of the individual. Individually they may be very fine. I have no complaints against any individual but as I am repeatedly saying, I expect the government to act.

Whether it's a military regime, whether it's a democratic regime, we are the victims of a terror attack. During president Musharraf, who was a military ruler - of course he got the mandate as far as their constitution that is a different thing - but during his period our parliament was attacked, during the democratic regime, terror attacks on Mumbai take place – what’s the distinction?

Now president Obama says that he is going to focus on Afghanistan. That's a key area for him and of course India believes that the focus should be on Pakistan. Who has it right? Where do you think the focus should be then? I mean that if Afghanistan and Pakistan are interlinked in some of the problems, he is looking Afghanistan and you are looking at Pakistan.

Of course the terror problems of Afghanistan and Pakistan are emanating mainly from the same areas - the border areas.

Therefore, we ourselves have articulated that problem of Afghanistan to fight against terrorist forces cannot be de-linked with appropriate measures taken in Pakistan and believe that involvement and full co-operation from Pakistan is necessary.

Are you optimistic that things can improve with the political, or at least foreign policy, agenda that the new president in the US has?

Let us hope so. There is no harm in hoping.

India lobbied very successfully for the new envoy to the region, Richard Holbrook, to avoid really including Kashmir and India in his brief and focus more on Afghanistan and Pakistan, now doesn't that limit what he can do? Doesn't that limit what kind of regional influence he can have to improve relations?

You know, so far as India is concerned India is interested in improving its relations with all its neighbours.

We believe in the very basic fundamental truth that we can change our friends but we cannot change our neighbours ... and it is in the interest of the region that we can create an atmosphere which will be tension-free with the neighbours. But at the same time neighbours are also to play a role. 

The attacks in Mumbai provoked outrage around the world [GALLO/GETTY] 
India is having excellent relationships with all our neighbours. We are having good relationship with Pakistan, except for these terror attacks.

In the last four years, particularly the last four years I am mentioning, there has been substantial improvement. We are talking of trade; we are talking of economic co-operation. In fact, when the attack took place, Pakistan's foreign minister was my guest. We were having a discussion just a couple of hours before that attacks began in the hotels.

Therefore it is not that we have completely cut off our relations ... what we expect is that the issue should be focused. The issue is not the India-Pakistan relationship ... the issue is how to tackle the problem of terrorism, how to tackle the problem of terrorism emanating from Pakistan. The elements which are operating from Pakistan and how to eliminate those elements.

Much of what you are raising here has its root in the conflict that India has had with Pakistan over Kashmir. And President Obama has said that Kashmir is on his radar and that India, as a rising economic superpower, should live up to its status in that respect and do something. To what extent do you see that there is pressure for some kind of resolution when it comes to Kashmir?

First of all, we should have to understand certain facts very clearly. Kashmir is an integral part of India like any other province or state of India.

If somebody believes that Kashmir is not a part of India, I am afraid no Indian is going to accept it ... In respect to Kashmir not once, but on several occasions both Pakistan and India agreed that this will have to be resolved through bilateral dialogues.

That is why we have built up a mechanism - which we call [the] composite dialogue mechanism ... [but] it is quite obvious unless these issues which we have raised and the perpetrators of the terror attack are dealt with and brought to justice, [the] situation cannot be as usual.

Has the issue of Kashmir become too much of a raw nerve for both Pakistan and India? Recently the UK foreign minster David Milliband was in India and he made a major statement on the issue of Kashmir, saying that the resolution of the dispute over Kashmir would help deny extremists in the region one of their main calls to arms and allow Pakistani authorities to focus more effectively on tackling the threat on their western borders.

I am afraid that this is nothing to do with Kashmir. Terror attacks are to be taken separately and it is part of the fight against global terrorism.

For us there is not a problem. People of Kashmir are regularly voting. Very recently in a massive number they have voted, they have elected a government. they have their constitution.

The Foreign Secretary of the UK has made these observations and during our talk I made it quite clear to him that we do not share his perceptions.

Now on the issue of US relations with India, India’s lobby power in the US seems to have increased a lot. It’s seems to have become far more focused. Some people are saying that it's almost comparable to the Israeli lobby that exists. Is that a fair assessment?

I am not agreeing with that type of assessment but surely I would agree that our relationship between India and the USA has increased substantially and the latest example is of the signing of the civil nuclear co-operation [pact] and the amendment of their atomic energy act ... [which] has removed the isolation of India in the nuclear trade, which we were suffering for the last 34 years.

I was in India when Hillary Clinton as the first lady with President Bill Clinton came to India, and she has now, as the secretary of state called and said to take the relationship between India and the US to a new level. What do you see that new level to be?

Of course I had a talk with her, a telephone conversation. I congratulated her and she also wished that we would like to work together. The relationship is expanding.

It'll be multi-faceted – it is already multi-faceted, and naturally, it’ll be further different, further expanded. That is the new level she is talking about.

Minister, how do you see India’s rising status on the world stage? It might actually become some kind of negotiator, some kind of mediator, a bigger voice in some of the conflicts taking place around the world.

In fact, in our modest efforts we try to maintain peace, tranquillity in our immediate neighbourhood but also in the extended neighbourhood.

I am just giving you an example when there was trouble in one of our Himalayan countries, our neighbour Nepal, we persuaded the political parties which resorted to guns and violence, the Maoists in Nepal, that they give up violence [and] participate in the mainstream national political activities.

They agreed, listened to our advice and now in collaboration with other democratic parties they formed the government, they are leading the government.

In our immediate neighbourhood, [within] the architecture which we have formed - SAARC [the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation] - we are the maximum contributors for economic development.

Our interaction with ASEAN [the Association of South East Asian Nations] ... is to contribute our efforts in the overall global development and by development I do not merely mean economic development, but also in maintaining peace and tranquillity.

Our interaction with Africa - almost all 54 African countries - has expanded substantially. A large number of African students are coming and having various types of training in educational facilities in India.

We are presenting ourselves as a help or as a friend and we are not imposing anything which they do not want. We want to be collaborative in the efforts of development.

Do you see India with its rising status being more of a global player when it comes to intervening or perhaps negotiating in international issues? Is that an interest of yours?

You know we have some relations with Israel but I must not say that we share many international perceptions or that we have many common perceptions  ... you must keep in view that we established full fledged diplomatic relationship with Israel recently.

National elections are coming up in India. Of course you are a leading figure in the Congress Party, a veteran politician here and highly respected. How do you think the Congress Party will do this time?

I am hopeful, of course as a party man, always we work for the success of the  party ... the latest provincial assembly results indicate that Congress has good chance.

And do you feel that the wave of post-Mumbai - the wave of the mood of the Indian public - might work against the Congress Party?

The elections which were held immediately, and the one particularly in Delhi was held when the attack was going on, and the election results have been quite successful and it was in favour of Congress.

Three consecutive terms Congress won the provincial elections, which is almost rare in any province in any part of India.

Of course, a lot of people are looking to the economic state of their own countries to see where their governments might go.

In India you were actually a member at one time of the board of governors of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and of course India, to some degree, was sheltered from the financial distress the world has had. At least it’s got, many people feel, a buffer and better potential.

How do you see the shape of India economically in the coming years, looking at what’s going on around?

Well you know for the last few years we are having a steady economic growth and our annual average GDP growth was nine per cent.

In fact, it was the second highest growth in the world economy but as our economy is linked with global developments, as every country is linked today with other countries ... we cannot insulate ourselves totally to the global developments and therefore the financial crisis will have some impact on our economy.

This year our projected growth has come down from nine per cent to around seven per cent. The exact figure will be known after couple of months.

But at the same time our economy is not going be affected as adversely as many other countries because our economy is directed substantially towards domestic demands and domestic expenditure.

Of course, India’s growth is phenomenal. A lot of people predict that within four decades India's economy will be bigger than United States but the disparity is still huge here between the rich and poor.

To what extent in that period of time can you see some sort of equality emerging, some kind of trickle down - at least that there is less of a gap between the rich and the poor?

We no longer believe in the trickle down theory. We do believe that poverty, deprivation, lack of development is to be attacked frontally. Therefore the growth strategy that we are contemplating is of inclusive growth.

State intervention is more effective. Investments from the state sectors are much more compared to other sectors. That is the developmental strategy we are having and it is paying good dividends.

I can give just one example – perhaps India is the first developing country to give the legal right to the rural unemployed youth to have the job for at least a hundred days for a minimum fixed wage.

This legal right we have given to the unemployed youth in the rural sector to address the problem which you are talking about and we are expanding these types of programmes.

Is that factored into the economic growth of India? Because of course when you start creating these kind of programmes it will have a visible impact on the economic shape of India.

It will have good impact, it will not have any adverse impact. It did not stand in the way of attaining nine per cent of GDP growth.

One thought as we do this interview, you are about to head off to Sri Lanka, which of course  is going through a bit of a transition with the government making some headway against the Tamil Tigers and taking over a lot of the areas the Tamil Tigers held.

How do you see the relationship with Sri Lanka going and how do you regard what's happening right now with Sri Lankan Government's push against the rebels?

We are concerned about the plight of the civilian population, we have no sympathy for any terrorist organisation and the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] is a banned terrorist organisation.

India has outlawed the Tamil Tigers as
a 'terrorist' organisation [AFP]
It is banned in India because one of the top leaders of them is an accused ... [of being] involved in the assassination of the former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.

But we are concerned about the plight of the civilians who have become the hapless victims of the conflict of LTTE and the Sri Lankan armed forces.

We are requesting the government of Sri Lanka that they ensure the safety and security of these civilians, ensure them food, shelter and medicine in which they are of utter need. Of course some food relief material we have sent through the international organisations. Our high commissioner there is fully involved in it.

In 1987 an agreement was signed between India and Sri Lanka to ensure the ethnic rights of the minorities in Sri Lanka within the frame work of the Sri Lankan constitution and maintaining the territorial integrity.

We are suggesting ... [the] implementation of [the] 1987 act - where there is an important component of self-governance to the people of the ethnic minority - so that the legitimate aspirations of the ethnic minority are fulfilled within the frame work of the Sri Lankan constitution without affecting territorial integrity.

Al Jazeera
Topics in this article
Featured on Al Jazeera
'Justice for All' demonstrations swell across the US over the deaths of African Americans in police encounters.
Six former Guantanamo detainees are now free in Uruguay with some hailing the decision to grant them asylum.
Disproportionately high number of Aboriginal people in prison highlights inequality and marginalisation, critics say.
Nearly half of Canadians have suffered inappropriate advances on the job - and the political arena is no exception.
Women's rights activists are demanding change after Hanna Lalango, 16, was gang-raped on a bus and left for dead.
Buried in Sweden's northern forest, Sorsele has welcomed many unaccompanied kids who help stabilise a town exodus.
A look at the changing face of North Korea, three years after the death of 'Dear Leader'.
While some fear a Muslim backlash after café killings, solidarity instead appears to be the order of the day.
Victims spared by the deadly disease are reporting blindness and other unexpected post-Ebola health issues.