KARACHI: Senior Indian politician Jaswant Singh on Thursday refuted the impression that Pakistan and India came close to a nuclear war during the military standoff in 2002, while observing that the nations of South Asia should look forward and work towards expanding a ‘constituency of peace’ in the region.
He made these comments during a wide-ranging interview broadcast exclusively on DawnNews TV, in which the former Indian finance and external affairs minister talked about the raging controversy that has been ignited by the release of his book, Jinnah: India-Partition Independence, in India, as well as a host of other issues.
‘I do not subscribe to nuclear apartheid. India has a sovereign right’ to pursue its nuclear doctrine ‘as does Pakistan’, the former Bharatiya Janata Party leader told Jawed Naqvi, Dawn’s Delhi correspondent, when asked about the nuclearisation of South Asia.
He dismissed the impression that Pakistan and India were at the brink of nuclear war as a ‘canard’ spread by the US ambassador to Delhi at the time. ‘We did not come close to nuclear war,’ he said emphatically.
In a departure from the hawkish tone he often applied while in office, Mr Singh said he ‘wished Pakistan and Bangladesh the best. I want to work towards expanding the constituency of peace, not repeating the mistakes of the past and blaming each other,’ although he admitted relations between Pakistan and India ‘experienced frequent fractures’.
Asked about the fate of secularism in India, he said the ‘destiny of India Nehru spoke of had not been realised’, while repeating the claim that Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel and the Indian National Congress had in fact contributed to partition.
It is in fact these remarks in his latest book that have caused a furore in India and led to Jaswant Singh’s expulsion from the BJP.
Regarding the burning of his book and the ban it faced in certain Indian states, Mr Singh said he felt ‘wounded’ as if an ‘innocent child had been burnt’.
In reply to a question regarding the 2001Agra summit between then president Pervez Musharraf and then Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, Jaswant Singh alleged that Mr Musharraf’s ‘grandstanding’ at a press conference before the document was due to be signed put off his colleagues in the Indian government and scuttled the agreement.
As for the confusion that arose last month after prime ministers Yousuf Raza Gilani and Manmohan Singh signed the Sharm el-Sheikh agreement, Jaswant Singh said: ‘Better drafting could have helped’ prevent the ‘incident’. ‘We have to tread the path very carefully. There are unseen hidden traps.’
He added that both nations must stop living in the past as ‘we cannot change geography now’.
He said that a federal India was both Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s and M.K. Gandhi’s dream, but ‘we let the country be cut up. Patel and Nehru agreed to what Jinnah demanded but in a truncated form. Today we would have been a global power’.
Asked if he could work for a liberal polity considering the fact that he had up till recently been associated with a right-wing political party, Mr Singh said that ‘A liberal mindset needs to return to South Asia if we are to thrive and poverty is to be alleviated. But it has to be our own interpretation of liberalism. Not a western concept.’
He also claimed the classification of the BJP as a right-wing outfit was ‘simplistic’.
When asked if he regretted playing an instrumental role in the release of militants from Indian jails in exchange for the safety of passengers aboard Indian Airlines Flight 814 (which was hijacked by militants and taken to Kandahar in 1999), Jaswant Singh replied in the negative.
‘Governance is an extremely testing challenge. [Sometimes] decisions have to be made between two great wrongs.’