There are many facets to Salman Khurshid. India’s external affairs minister belongs to its Muslim minority. Khurshid, who is vocal about building and maintaining peaceful relations with India’s neighbours, sat down with Khabar South Asia December 17th to share some of his thoughts on regional diplomacy.
Khabar: How do you see relations between India and Pakistan? What progress have the two countries made?
Khurshid: The relations with Pakistan are dependent on dismantling the terror infrastructure and … the trial of the Mumbai terror attackers. These are very critical issues and Pakistan needs to address them. There are lot of goodwill signals coming from the prime minister of Pakistan and other people, which we will welcome, reciprocate and respond [to].
Despite opposition from the right-wing political parties in India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met Nawaz Sharif in New York. It was agreed that the Line of Control (LOC) would be brought into some semblance of peace as the ceasefire had been repeatedly violated. Nevertheless, things at the LOC have quietened, which is a welcome step.
Khabar: Kashmir is always considered a stumbling block in relations between the two countries. Has there been any progress in this long-standing problem?
Khurshid: Of course, Kashmir is an issue between India and Pakistan. It is a bilateral issue and this is not news. I personally feel that Kashmir is part of the definition of India; Kashmir is not needed for the definition of Pakistan
We are very clear that Kashmir is part of India, and it cannot be taken away under any circumstances. The prime minister has said that no Indian prime minster can ever accept the redrawing of the boundaries. We are ready to discuss anything short of that.
Khabar: Do Kashmiris have any role in talks?
Khurshid: Kashmiris don’t have a role in talks with Pakistan. They can talk to India as they are part of India. Every Indian has a right to talk to us and Kashmiris are also welcome.
Khabar: During your recent visit to Sri Lanka did you convey your concerns about Tamil representation in government? Is the India government ready to assist Sri Lanka to calm Sinhalese concerns about a northern Tamil political power base?
Khurshid: Our concern is that the Indo-Sri Lanka agreement with former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi should be respected. The Sri Lankan government sought our help, and, in response to that, we were promised that there would be devolution of power from the centre to states — like it is in India.
Sri Lanka is a sovereign state. It is for them to decide about their country. We were assured that the 13th amendment would give Sri Lankans, Tamils and other ethnicities the right to live with dignity and honour.
Khabar: What are your views on relations with Bangladesh, especially the issue of Teesta River water sharing and the Land Boundary Agreement? Why is India not honouring the treaty?
Khurshid: We want to honour the agreement, there are certain issues related to state government (West Bengal) and they have some reservations. We are continuously convincing them. After all, we should not override the state. Hopefully, this will be settled amicably between the state and the centre. (Khabar South Asia)