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Former Pakistan foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri was in Delhi to launch his book ‘Neither A Hawk Nor a Dove’. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint
Former Pakistan foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri was in Delhi to launch his book ‘Neither A Hawk Nor a Dove’. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

I think RSS is beginning to show Modi the way: Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri

The diplomat on the new low in India-Pakistan relations, and 'non-state actors' in the Kashmir cause

Former Pakistan foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri advises secret backchannel talks between India and Pakistan to resolve the present impasse between the two countries. In New Delhi to launch his book Neither A Hawk Nor a Dove, Kasuri, who was foreign minister between 2002 and 2007, said the national interests of India and Pakistan that includes political stability and economic prosperity, will prompt both countries to resolve the Kashmir dispute. Edited excerpts from an interview:

The launch of your book comes at a time when relations between the two countries have sunk to a new low.

Actually you know the timing is exquisite from that angle because I put across perspectives that are radically different, because people throw up their hands in despair. I give a radically opposite perspective; it tells you what can be done. Everything is documented, it has not been denied. Two people who can definitely deny this publically are prime minister Manmohan Singh and president Pervez Musharraf. If it is accepted, what does it tell you? It doesn’t mean that just Manmohan Singh and Musharraf agreed—not at all. This could not have been achieved without the Pakistan army and the intelligence being on board. It tells you that the two establishments can live with it. Why do I say that? People assume that all generals are warmongers. After they retire, they become the biggest peacemongers. They are professionals who know what is national interest. National interest is not just military preparedness. National interest is a much wider concept. It embraces political stability, which results in peace and calm on the streets, allows business to operate and brings economic prosperity. Politicians can kid or make fools of people in both the countries. National interest doesn’t change with the change in leadership because that is not defined by politicians, it’s defined by objective forces of economy, geopolitics, and that is why I feel this government—yours and ours—has no option. The statement emanating (on 5 September) from the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh) after the meeting between Prime minister (Narendra) Modi and RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat was very interesting.

That’s our sense that the RSS gave an ideological cover to the BJP to go ahead—that’s the popular perception.

So that’s the popular perception and I am not wrong completely in my analysis. My own feeling is that this (RSS) statement should not be underrated. I think it is not insignificant. I think the RSS is beginning to show Prime Minister Modi the way or provide the opening.

In your book you say that India and Pakistan had resolved 85% of their Kashmir dispute. Can it be resurrected today in the current context?

The question is not can it be resurrected. It’s the only one (agreement so far). The question is what is it that will happen—you can’t go to war again. My own analysis is that hopefully in a few months, the Indian government’s position will change. There is another thing. Prime Minister Modi has risen from humble origins to the highest office in the largest democracy in the world. Can such a man be without a sense of destiny? Wouldn’t he like to make history?

So how does one proceed?

My suggestion is that appoint backchannel negotiators as soon as possible without the media even knowing you have appointed them. Secondly, they should tell nobody about this until you make some progress, which is what we did. Third, the backchannel negotiator should have the Prime Minister’s ear on both sides.

There is a perception in India that Pakistan is internationalizing the Kashmir dispute, based on recent statements from politicians and the army chief.

The army is an institution, it’s not General Raheel Sharif or General Musharraf. It’s an institution, it does not matter who is heading it because there is continuity. Therefore, if General Raheel says one thing, I look at it tactically. It’s a tactical response, not a strategic shift. Look at what your ministers have been saying. Do you think there will be no response? Of course, if you don’t talk, what do you expect Pakistan to do? If you don’t want to go to war, the only other option is to internationalize the Kashmir dispute.

You state at one point in your book that “non-state actors" have hurt Pakistan’s interests and the Kashmir cause.

Kashmir is a human rights issue. Pakistan has never hidden the fact that it supported Kashmiris diplomatically and politically. If India doesn’t talk, then the best way for us is to give Kashmiris diplomatic and political support. Not the other type (militancy) because I think it’s counterproductive. Because what will it lead to? War. War will solve nothing.

So are you advocating abandoning terrorism as an instrument of state policy?

I have said in my book that we had opened demobilization deradicalization centres. What does that indicate? Kashmiris in Pakistan are important in politics. It has resonance in the Pakistan army. So no government in Pakistan can survive without espousing the cause of Kashmir. But the question is do you act in a manner where you end up hurting yourself or do you talk in a manner where everyone is a winner? If the other side refuses to talk, even in that state, I don’t think non-state actors are the answer. Then the only answer that the government of Pakistan has is...internationalize the dispute. It cannot afford to keep quiet.

An example is Ufa (the Russian city where prime ministers of India and Pakistan met on 10 July). Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, I have no doubt, wants to make peace with India, but I think he made a mistake by not mentioning Kashmir. How long did it (the agreement) last? The (Pakistan) adviser on foreign affairs had to immediately issue a statement that there will be no talks without Kashmir. You started sounding trumpets of victory here. So here’s a lesson: You must understand the other side. If you embarrass them, there will be no peace.

What will it take for the two sides to reach a resolution? The media exposure seems to undo everything. What does it take for both sides to be on the same page?

If you look at the 2005 (India-Pakistan) joint statement, it spoke of the irreversibility of the peace process. I strongly believe in it because there are people on both sides—the (2007) Samjhautha (train bombing) and the (2008) Mumbai attacks show that—there are those who do not want peace. So should you be a hostage to them? No. We have to make it clear to them that we want to continue. And the space for them will shrink. To deny that there are hardliners in India and Pakistan—I don’t think is fair. I think the RSS and some groups in Pakistan must start talking. That would be one way of doing things. Journalists—I am not trying to shift responsibilities—Pakistan and Indian anchorpeople, they attend each others’ birthday parties. On TV, I don’t know what happens to them. Like politicians, they have also acquired a constituency. You have to bash India, you have to bash Pakistan. This is terrible. I think some international NGO should bring Pakistani and Indian journalists together rather than Pakistani and India politicians together.

You are an optimist, so do you see India and Pakistan coming to some modicum of a solution in the next decade?

Pakistan will gain and let me be presumptuous and say India will gain. Pakistan is one of the most important countries—geo-strategically the way it is located. It can bring South, Central, West Asia and China all together. And I say in the book, we are a bridge to nowhere. We are not a bridge, we block the bridge. Our potential lies in opening the bridge. That is only if our relations with India normalizes. So we will gain. I advocate that when we have a real peace process, it is in our interest that we provide an opening to India. We will gain, India will gain. If you look at the region—Pakistan, India, China, Central Asia through various regional groupings and infrastructure banks that are coming up in an area where China and India are present, you can change the fate of half the world’s population. Don’t miss that opportunity.

You think it can be seized?

Because it is in India’s interest and Pakistan’s interest. So I think it can be done, if I didn’t think then I would not be optimistic. What is stopping them is superficial and artificial consideration, sometimes electoral.

What do you think of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant threat?

It’s terrible if it spreads. I told one of my interlocutors probably (then foreign minister) Natwar Singh, “Don’t be happy thinking that some of these Muslims are mad people destroying each other." Major schools of Muslim thought like the Deoband school are located in India. So I said to him when madness spreads, it will be Pakistan, India, Bangladesh—all the Muslims will think alike. Let us not radicalize Muslims. There will be no island of tranquility. With the Islamic State’s rise, there are Muslims who owe allegiance to the Caliph in Baghdad. We have to stop this radicalization. And one of the major ways of doing this is to resolve major outstanding disputes in the area.

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