Ever since the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, the Pakistani establishment has been reluctant to speak out openly to the Indian media. In his first interview to an Indian television news channel since the Mumbai attacks, Pakistan Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani spoke to CNN-IBN’s deputy foreign affairs editor Suhasini Haidar in Islamabad on January 27. Here is the transcript of the interview:
CNN-IBN: It’s the first interview, Mr. Gilani, that you’re giving since 26-11. Indo-Pakistan ties deteriorated in 2009. Your hope for 2010?
Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani: When I met Dr. Manmohan Singh in Sharm-el-Sheikh, that was a very good meeting. We discussed all issues and we had an understanding that we both are suffering from terrorism and therefore 1.25 billion people should not be made hostage to one incident. If we are hostage to this incident, that means the beneficiary is the terrorist, therefore we should move ahead. We agreed that in the [United Nations] General Assembly there would be a meeting of the federal secretaries. That did take place. And then there was a meeting of the Foreign Ministers in the General Assembly during the session.
...Things are stuck with the Mumbai incident, and the matter is sub judice before the court. Certainly we condemn terrorism and we always believe that neither Pakistan’s nor India’s soil should be used against each other. We are the victims of terrorism and we are fighting the war on terrorism... I think composite dialogue is the only answer... We both are responsible nations... we can only move forward ... we cannot afford war... The people are very poor and we have to watch their interests as well. And the only way forward is talks...
Do you see it materialising in the near future... in 2010?
I believe politics is a day-to-day affair, and I’m hopeful we will move forward for a composite dialogue.
Mr. Gilani, after the IPL auctions did not take Pakistani players, there seems to be another downturn. Pakistani leaders are calling for boycotting Indian films and sports, the Election Commissioner has cancelled his trip... Has Pakistan overreacted?
That’s the mood of Parliament and the public. We’ve to follow their point of view as well. With time things would be all right.
Cricket has always meant a lot to the people of the two countries.
I agree. There has always been cricket diplomacy even in the past.
Cricket, in a way, leads to better people-to-people ties.
Yes, we need people-to-people contact at all levels. Recently the Speaker of our National Assembly visited India and she had an excellent meeting with the Speaker in India. They discussed about more interaction with parliamentarians. That would really help and defuse the situation.
The hockey team is supposed to come for the World Cup. Will that be impacted as well?
We’re considering that, but [I] can’t comment at the moment.
In the past week, your statement to the U.S. Defence Secretary that Pakistan cannot prevent another Mumbai-like attack... In India there was a negative reaction to that...
My statement during that time was a reaction to some of the comments made by the Indian leadership — that if there is any incident in future we will bracket the non-state and state actors together and hold the government of Pakistan responsible. I was of the opinion that if there is any information we are ready to share [that] with India… that should pre-empt… And if India has any information, they can share with us... We are ready to [do] any intelligence-sharing or any sort of information [exchange].
Are you saying there are many groups you cannot control?
No, I’m saying that don’t bracket terror groups with the Government of Pakistan. If you have information it is better to share [it] with us so that we can jointly resolve the issue.
In past years, the kind of comments you’ve made... the kind of comments from the Indian leadership... something gets lost in translation... because the direct-dialogue process does not exist...
That’s the way forward... We insist on a composite dialogue only because there are statements from both the countries. They’re creating more confusion.
Fourteen months after the Mumbai attacks, the discourse is still stuck... What will it take to move it forward? India wants more concrete action on the 26/11 trial.
In fact, we had asked for further information so that we should strengthen the case. We’ve already registered the case, the matter is sub judice before the High Court, and if more material is given to us and more sharing is done with us, it will definitely help us.
What specific type of information are you looking at...? India has handed over six dossiers...
We appreciate that, but at the same time we ask for something more, and that you can discuss with the Ministry of Interior.
Pakistan is in complete denial that any of the attacks could have been by Pakistani nationals... That’s from where relations took a downturn over the Mumbai attack... Pakistan could have looked at the nationality of the attackers, or held comments until they have been established...
There was the Mumbai incident, within a few minutes they said that Pakistan was involved — without investigation. How can you jump at a conclusion when there is no investigation… that was our reaction.
It took some months for Pakistan to establish the identity of the attackers.
We’re still asking for further information, and we condemn it. We’re extremely serious that it should be taken to justice and further information is shared with the Ministry of Interior. That would help us.
Do you think India has been stalling on giving information?
I haven’t said that, but at the same time, through the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Interior, they really want some more facts and information that can lead us to positive things.
So you have charged at least seven men who are being tried... You have arrested more…
Yes, we did.
What about India’s demand that Mr. Hafiz Sayeed, the head of the Jama’at-ud-Da’wah, must be tried and prosecuted?
He is already under trial.
He has not been arrested?
That has to be decided by the court.
Would your government be open to India’s request on Hafiz Sayeed...?
We needed further information about that incident, and at the same time we need more evidence to put him to task. One thing I must tell you, when we met Manmohan Singh it was a good meeting and he really wanted to discuss all [the] core issues including water, Sir Creek, Siachen, Kashmir, including interference in Balochistan. He said I’m ready to discuss anything and we had mutually decided that yes, the dialogue is the only answer. But he had tremendous pressure in his own country, his own Parliament, and that can be [the] only thing which has stalled this composite dialogue.
We did have a joint statement... All the reactions which have come ever since on Balochistan seem to have taken the process down…
I disagree with you because when we discussed those issues, the two Prime Ministers were meeting... Not the meeting of junior officers who were discussing, who had some perceptions… We were very careful in wording all these things and we took three hours...
Was including Balochistan in the talks... a mistake...? Pakistan has not provided any evidence...
We can provide everything at an appropriate forum and appropriate time.
But you’re convinced there is Indian interference in Balochistan?
Yes, I’m convinced… That’s the reason I raised it with the Prime Minister.
And what was his response on that?
He said we’re ready to discuss all issues when we’ll have a composite dialogue.
So why did the Sharm-el-Sheikh process get stalled?
In fact I mentioned in the beginning that it was a very good meeting. It stalled only because of Indian public pressure and Parliament.
There’s a sense in India... that President Zardari is seen as a dove on India-Pakistan relations and Prime Minister Gilani is seen as a hawk on India-Pakistan relations... Are you a hawk?
It’s the same party. We have a manifesto and we want to maintain excellent relations with our neighbours. And I was the first one who took [an] initiative [on] that in Colombo. I called on Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh myself, and then I called on President Karzai myself... That was a request from my side: that I want to meet you. And that’s an indication that we want to resolve all our outstanding issues and that we want friendly relations with our neighbours. Therefore the perception is not right.
India doesn’t seem keen at the moment on the composite dialogue. What about back channel diplomacy?
I think the composite dialogue is needed. Back channel diplomacy would not be that useful. We need direct talks, we want to resolve issues. We don’t have to complicate issues.
What of the contentious issue of Kashmir?
In fact, when we’ll resume the composite dialogue that can be discussed.
In the past weeks, there has been firing across the LoC and increased terror attacks in Kashmir.
In fact, there had been some irresponsible statements from the army chief of India. There is tension because of that. And at the same time it’s an indigenous movement in Kashmir that does not have anything to do with Pakistan. We’re too busy in our own matters. We want a resolution of the Kashmir dispute.
You’ve made statements that the soil of Pakistan will not be used for terrorism. How can you be sure?
Our soil will never be used for terrorist activity.
In the new year the Foreign Ministers had a meeting in London... Is it going to lead to a resumption of dialogue…?
Certainly dialogue and communication is the only way forward to dispel lots of misunderstandings.
There is a SAARC meeting in April... Any possibility of your meeting the Prime Minister then?
If we both attend, there is a chance...
Dr. Manmohan Singh has often said he would like to visit his native village Gah in Pakistan. Would you like to visit India?
In fact the last visit was of General Musharraf, when he visited India… We would welcome Mr. Manmohan Singh to Pakistan. I’ve been in India several times. I [attended] the funeral of Rajiv Gandhi, [and visited] Ajmer Sharif with Benazir Bhutto… And there are old cultural ties with India.
Do you see in the next year those ties being made stronger?
I think so, we’ll try.