How does Britain view the standoff between India and Pakistan, and beyond that, how does it view the challenge of terrorism? Karan Thapar explores these two key issues in an in-depth interview in New Delhi with British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who visited India ahead of a visit to Pakistan. The interview was done for the programme titled ‘Devil’s Advocate,’ to be broadcast by CNN-IBN on January 18. Excerpts:
Karan Thapar: Let’s start with the India-Pakistan standoff in the wake of the Mumbai terror strike. The Indian government has given a dossier to your government containing the information or the evidence it has collected. What is your assessment of the contents of that dossier?
David Miliband: We are in absolutely no doubt about the origins of the attack, in Mumbai in November. Those origins are in Pakistan and there have been some detentions in Pakistan, and they now need to lead to successful prosecution. We believe the evidence is there for that.
And I think it’s important that I say one of the reasons for being in India this week is to show the solidarity and not just the sympathy of the British people with all of India who stood up against this terrorist scourge and who suffered such anguish.
You said “we believe the evidence is there.” So do you see the dossier as containing evidence?
We have our own evidence, which we have shown to the Pakistani authorities and we believe that that’s the right evidence on which to proceed – the Indian dossier that has been handed over is something that obviously we’re looking at. But what is critical is that the words of the Pakistani government, which are commitments to follow through on the perpetrators of these terrible crimes, should be followed through into action.
You say you have your own evidence which you have handed over to the Pakistan government. What sort of evidence is this?
Obviously, we don’t go into that for a very simple reason: a court case is pending, it needs to take place…
I was in Pakistan on the day of the Mumbai atrocities and then subsequently followed up in phone calls. We have had some good words from the Pakistani authorities. We have also had the detentions. But that needs to be translated into action because I know that Indians are sick of words. They don’t want words about following up to tackle people who have committed terrorist outrages. They want action and that’s what I support as well.
What sort of actions are you specifically looking for?
The action, I think, falls into two categories.
The short-term [requirement] is to take action against those against whom there is evidence, through the courts to justice, and if they are found guilty to make sure they are appropriately punished.
Secondly, there’s a medium-term job. That’s to root out the terrorist networks that pose such a threat not just to India but to the fundamentals of the Pakistani state as well. And my message in Pakistan will be: Don’t just do a favour to Britain, which is threatened by terrorism that starts in Pakistan. Don’t just do a favour to India, which is threatened by terrorism which starts in Pakistan. Do a favour to yourselves, because terrorism has already claimed the lives of Benazir Bhutto and many other Pakistanis. They need to tackle it for their own good as well as ours…
The Indian Prime Minister has gone on record to say that there’s enough evidence to show that the attack must have had the support of some official agencies in Pakistan. Does Britain agree with that?
We don’t have evidence to show that the attacks were directed by the Pakistani government. What we do know, and this is public knowledge, is that the Pakistani government has had a policy towards Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), under the previous regime of President Musharraf.
I think that it’s very important that the so-called corral-and-engage approach is one that is changed, because it obviously doesn’t work.
The Indian Prime Minister also has said that Pakistan has utilised terrorism as an instrument to state policy. Would you accept that?
I have no evidence of the Pakistani state directing terrorist activities. And I would never make that claim without that evidence. What I know is that Pakistan has a very serious terrorist problem.
When you spoke about the policy of corral-and-engage, the relationship with the LeT that existed during General Musharraf’s time, what exactly was that relationship?
It was an approach which recognised that the LeT did pose a threat but also recognised that they had to engage with the LeT. I think the important message that comes out, especially since the Mumbai bombings, is that you have to tackle the roots of these terrorist organisations. If they want to play in politics, that’s one thing. But if they’re going to use terrorist tactics, that’s beyond the pale and they need to be rooted out.
When you say ‘approach,’ is that a euphemism for saying that there were links between the government of Pakistan in General Musharraf’s time and the LeT?
No, an approach is a policy. It’s a very clear way of describing it.
A policy whereby the LeT was utilised by the state for the purposes of the state?
I have been very, very clear in every answer I have given you. We don’t have evidence that the Pakistani state directs operations or directed operations by the LeT. What’s important is that we recognise that terrorism is a threat to Pakistan as well as to its neighbours and to countries like Britain. Secondly, that terrorism needs to be addressed at the roots, which are economic, social, and political as well as security. Thirdly and importantly, Pakistan needs to address the fundamental and political questions if it is to turn itself around.
It’s worth saying it needs the support not just of its neighbours but it needs the support of its international community. I’m proud to be in India as a friend of Pakistan as well as a friend of India. We’ve got to support Pakistan and those who want to see change in that country…
We’re clear about the origins. We’re clear that there is an immediate issue for the Pakistani authorities in terms of the prosecution and that needs to go ahead. But there’s also the medium-term goal.
In the end, India cannot afford a cold war or a hot war with Pakistan and Pakistan cannot afford a cold war or a hot war with India.
How does the British government view the steps that Pakistan has so far taken?
A start, a start — that’s all they are. There’s a very clear onus on the Pakistani authorities to take the people who have been detained, to assemble the evidence, to use it for prosecution, and if the people are found guilty, to make sure they are properly punished…
I think it’s very important that we engages with Pakistan on that. I also think it’s important that India engage on that as well.
India says it’s difficult to engage with Pakistan because of the contradictory signals we get.
I think it’s a good point the Indian government or Indian commentators cite. India must feel huge anguish, does feel a huge anguish. I know that from the meetings with the Prime Minister and his Ministers today – huge anguish about the Mumbai attacks, and also huge frustration about the turn of events in Pakistan over a long period of time.
Let’s be honest about that. From a British point of view, we have a massive national interest in seeing Pakistan become a country where one can talk about prosperity, about security, about peace, without people rolling their eyes. That’s very important.
India feels more than anguished. India feels what it’s seeing is the state of denial. Can you understand that to India this looks as if Pakistan, far from cooperating, is actually trying very hard not to cooperate?
Oh yes! I can understand that. And I think it’s therefore important that people like me from Britain, which itself suffers from attacks that originated in Pakistan, are absolutely clear about the responsibilities of the Pakistani authorities, all of them — in the government, the civilian government, but also in the armed forces. We’re clear about that…
The question is: do they follow through and how do they follow through? It’s very, very important that we keep emphasising they need to do this for us, for you, but also for themselves. Because in the end, the threat to Pakistan comes from within – not from India.
There are two issues that Pakistan has repeatedly raised. The first is a joint investigative mechanism. Does Britain believe a joint investigative mechanism makes sense or would it be impractical?
I think the two countries should cooperate, but I don’t specify the particular way in which they should cooperate. Ministers or officials staying in contact, intensifying contact, that would be a good thing but I’m not going to sign on to one particular version of the sort of relationships between two independent [players].
The second thing repeatedly said by the Pakistan Prime Minister is that he will not extradite any of the accused. Given that we are talking about people accused of the heinous crime of terrorism, will Britain support India’s request or demand for extradition?
We will support their prosecution under Pakistani law.
But not extradition?
Well, no, because they have broken the law in Pakistan. It is Pakistani law that they’ve broken as well as international decency and common sense.
But if people like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed can be extradited to America – and he’s only one of many such extradited without even due process of law – why can’t those who have actually killed in Mumbai be extradited to India?
I’m not going to go into the ins and outs of the Pakistani government’s constitutional position. What’s important is that those accused of heinous crimes feel the full force of the law, whether in India or in Pakistan. Now the Pakistani authorities have detained these people. They have said that if there is evidence, they should be prosecuted. I say there is evidence. Let them be prosecuted and if they’re found guilty, let them be punished.
If these people are not effectively prosecuted, or if there’s such a delay that people begin to feel Pakistan is simply dragging its feet, at that point of time will Britain be prepared to support either economic or military sanctions against Islamabad to force the issue?
I don’t think punishing the Pakistani people with economic sanctions is going to induce the change that is necessary. In fact, it undermines precisely the kind of support that is necessary.
I think one of the things that needs to happen in Pakistan is its own people [being] engaged in a far deeper conversation about the nature of the threat that is posed to Pakistanis. The international community should make this absolutely clear to Pakistan. It should continue to do that without fear or favour. And that’s what we’re going to do.
But what happens if Pakistan ignores the international community? Beyond trying to make it clear verbally, is there any sanction to force Pakistan to act?
We will continue to use all the appropriate mechanisms, the appropriate ways of making a difference...There’s a whole range of British engagement with Pakistan that I think can help demonstrate to the Pakistani government that there is not just pressure, there is support for change in the way Pakistan operates.
But at the end of the day, there is no stick you can use?
If you’re saying is there a ‘military stick’that I’m going to use, then there is no ‘military stick’ that I’m going to wield.
I think that there is a fundamental debate to be had in Pakistan — and you can see it because you are right. There are different statements that come out. What does that reveal? It reveals actually that there is a debate going on. And there’s a debate between those who recognise that there is a serious need for reform in Pakistan and those who are, to use your words, ‘in denial.’ It’s very important that the reformers win.
And if they’re not winning, then what?
We carry on exercising the pressure, providing the incentives in engaging…
You are asking India to be patient?
No, I’m asking Indians to do the right thing for themselves and for Pakistan. Because a cold war or a hot war is not in Pakistan’s interest and is not in India’s interest.
And what happens if there’s another strike attributable to actors in Pakistan?
That’s a very serious issue we should pre-empt. First of all by the sort of changes being made to India’s defences and put through in legislation by the government, which I believe has taken strong and decisive action since the Mumbai event. And it’s also by pressure within Pakistan. We don’t need to wait for a further incident to know the severity of the threat that it has faced.
Another issue on the horizon: comments made by President-elect Barack Obama. He has gone on record to say that he believes the solution to the problem in Afghanistan lies at least partly in sorting out the Kashmir problem. Would Britain accept that, a linkage between Afghanistan and Kashmir?
In Britain, we talk about Afghanistan and Pakistan as a single theatre, as a shared geographical area.
He’s talking about Afghanistan and Kashmir.
I’m deliberately talking about Afghanistan and Pakistan. I think what is important is that President Obama and his new administration will be a new force on the global stage. They’re going to see Pakistan as absolutely central to their investment in a decent government in Afghanistan, which is profoundly important not just for America but [also] for the rest of the western world. They’re going to see Pakistan as a country that critically needs support.
They also know that the Kashmir conflict has been a source of flare-up for many years, and I think you have just held very successful elections in Jammu and Kashmir. I think the turnout of 61-62 per cent was a very significant development. I think many of us outside the region have felt that the composite dialogue and deliberations that have taken place over Kashmir are welcome. But that’s not to say that they’re part of the Afghan-Pakistan theatre.
So you don’t accept the linkage between Afghanistan and Pakistan?
It depends on what you mean by linkage. It is a fact that Pakistan has a contested border with Afghanistan and contested issues in respect to Kashmir. What I’m trying to say to you is that the Obama administration’s breadth of vision about the problems of the region are not a threat to India. They’re not putting India in the same box, because I know from very serious contacts that the Obama administration would be talking about Afghanistan and Pakistan together – and that’s important.
Mr. Obama has said repeatedly that it is his desire to try and resolve the Kashmir issue and “to devote serious diplomatic resources to get a special envoy in there.” Does Britain believe the time has come for either an American or an international initiative to sort out Kashmir?
That has not been our policy, no, actually. We have felt that the composite dialogue between India and Pakistan is the right way forward – it’s a bilateral issue. Let us listen to President Obama, which will be in a week’s time. Let us give him the space to explain what he means. I have not had the chance yet to discuss in detail what that idea might be. But our position has been that the bilateral track has been a good track and it should be used.