NEW DELHI: India-Pakistan relations are “chronically accident-prone”, says former External Affairs Minister K. Natwar Singh, who feels that the future lies in the past as the two countries carry too much baggage. He says Pakistans one-point programme is Kashmir but there is “Kashmir fatigue” in the world.
Singh, 87, also says that India made a fundamental mistake by going to the United Nations on the Kashmir issue and asserted there is no solution to it “as everything has been tried”.
“The fundamental mistake was to go to the UN on the Kashmir issue. (Prime Minister Jawaharlal) Nehru was pushed into it by (Governor General) Mountbatten. We went to the UN under Chapter 6, which is on disputes. We should have gone under chapter 7 which is on aggression,” Naatwar Singh told IANS in an interview.
He said every Indian Prime minister and Foreign Minister thinks he can resolve the Kashmir issue and smoothen Indo-Pak relations.
“The fact is there is no solution for Kashmir, everything has been tried. The other fact is that Indo-Pak relations are chronically accident prone. The future of Indo-Pak relations lies in the past. Both countries carry too much baggage… I don’t see any change in our relationship. It is cheese and chalk… as simple as that. It’s a great pity,” he said.
India had in September this year called off a meeting between the foreign ministers of two countries on the sidelines of UN General Assembly after the brutal killing of security personnel in Jammu and Kashmir by militants and Pakistan‘s “glorifying a terrorist and terrorism”.
India and Pakistan have not had a composite or sustained dialogue for the past 10 years to solve outstanding issues, including Kashmir, though there have been some interactions between their leaders.
India had called off the composite dialogue process within days of the Mumbai terror attacks of November 2008 and has repeatedly said that terrorism emanating from Pakistani soil remains a hurdle to its resumption.
In 2015, the two countries agreed to launch a “comprehensive dialogue” but it was junked following the terror attack on the Pathankot air base.
Natwar Singh said nothing significant should be expected from meetings between leaders of two countries.
“What could they talk? You can’t give an inch, they can’t give an inch. You meet and shake hands but there is nothing substantial. As I said, we have all tried. It is not realistic because if we really became very close friends, there will be question mark on the existence of the country.”
Natwar Singh said Pakistan’s one-point programme is Kashmir, but there is “Kashmir fatigue” in the world.
“You go to any part of Pakistan, this is a subject. You go to Chennai, nobody speaks of Kashmir. Their diplomats are really brilliant but they spend so much of their time on Kashmir. There is Kashmir fatigue in the world. We must accept the fact that it is the Army that calls the shots (in Pakistan).”
Asked about the way forward in India-Pakistan relations, Natwar Singh, whose last diplomatic posting was as India’s envoy to Pakistan and then Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs, said that status quo would continue.
“If Indo-Pak relations genuinely improve, became cordial and friendly, then the people of Pakistan will ask why do we need such a large army? The army is not going to give up. And the retired officers have a foundation — Fauji Foundation — in which all have shares, they have land, property, industry and everything.”
He said the Army “was an industry” in Pakistan. “Since the assassination of Liauqat Ali Khan (Pakistan’s first Prime Minister) when there has been a civilian government, it is the army that has called the shots.”
“(Zulfikar Ali) Bhutto tried to challenge (this). He put Zia-ul-Haq (as Army chief) whom he thought was a non-entity. Zia hanged him,” Singh said.
Referring to the present Pakistani Prime Minister, Imran Khan, Natwar Singh said that the cricketer-turned-politician is a nice man and is popular.
“But the moment he tries to take an initiative, which is not acceptable to the army, he will be out. We have to accept what is, that’s all.
He said Modi made gestures towards Pakistan, halted there, went to the house of former Prime Minster Nawaz Sharif but the bilateral relations are still accident prone.
“We would like to have good relations with them. We will like to have a stable and strong Pakistan but it is a very unstable country,” he said.
Natwar Singh, who was for long associated with the Congress and later was forced to quit following a UN report, said it was not possible to fundamentally depart from the framework of foreign policy laid by Nehru and the Modi government has not done so.
Recalling his meeting with Modi ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Natwar Singh said he told him that the Prime Minister is ultimately the Foreign Minister.
“I said it is not possible for anybody, any Prime Minister in the future to fundamentally change the framework of foreign policy laid down by Jawaharlal Nehru. If it was possible to change it, it would have been changed. So, I don’t think fundamentally he (Modi) has departed from it.”
Asked if the Modi government was getting too close to the US, Natwar Singh said: “No, he has been quite clever. He has been to Russia, he has been to China.” However, he said the Modi government should have handled its relations better with Nepal.
Natwar’s Singh’s latest book, “Treasured Epistles”, a collection of letters from some noted personalities, including former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, was published earlier this year.
Asked how did he rate Indira Gandhi, Natwar Singh said he would put her second behind Nehru, her father.
Natwar Singh was a junior minister in the Rajiv Gandhi government and External Affairs Minister in the first Congress-led UPA government. He resigned in the face of allegations, which he denied, after his name surfaced in the Volcker report that looked into the United Nations oil-for-food programme.