Countdown Interviews – Asma Jahangir: 5

June 5, 2013 in Countdown Interviews | Comments (0)




Electioneering, Kashmir, 1998

Electioneering, Kashmir, 1998

AG:“Would you say Kashmir is the principal problem between India and Pakistan or would you say that problems would remain even without Kashmir?”

Asma Jahangir:“I think if the Kashmir issue is solved tomorrow we would still have problems:






we would have problems on our water disputes; we would have problems on our influence in the region. India is a very large country. India has political ambitions in the region. Ours is a smaller country, but because of our past history of being aligned with the USA and the policies we have had a hand in, we have got used to having an influence, which we are not likely to give up. We’ve got used to a strategy where we like to be seen as a very influential country. Then there is a problem of perception. India wants to push a perception of South Asian identity; Pakistan wants a South Asian identity and yet does not want it. It wants to leave the door open to an identity as a Middle Eastern country. So I think even in terms of foreign policy there will be friction; in terms of hegemony in South Asia there will be friction. India unfortunately in the past has annoyed many of its neighbours. If Pakistan tomorrow has a more reasonable leadership, a leadership that is looking toward South Asia as an identity, they have the possibility of more or less isolating India, which is going to make India very unhappy. So that historical animosity is not going to go away that quickly. That will only go when both countries recognise each other’s strengths instead of trying to exploit each others’ weaknesses. The last point, which is very important, is that we have a large Muslim minority in India. And you have Hindus in Pakistan. And the question of minorities will always remain on the agenda of India and Pakistan. When the Muslims in Bombay are hit, it hurts the Muslims in Pakistan; when the Hindus in Sindh are persecuted it annoys India. So that again will be a point of friction. If there is keen interest in ending this animosity – and I would say this is very much linked with the Kashmir issue – both countries leadership must sign an accord protecting minorities.”



Villagers, Pokhran, 1998

Villagers, Pokhran, 1998

AG:“That’s a very good point. Now what about the nuclear blasts? What was your response when you woke up on May 11th and read about the Indian nuclear tests at Pokhran ?”








Asma Jahangir:“After the Indian test the debate was going on, on whether Pakistan should react in a similar fashion or not. Very few of us at that time took the stand that we should not react by testing a nuclear bomb. And there are reasons for it: the reason is that we should de-link our foreign policy from India. We cannot have a foreign policy just in reaction to India. Secondly we felt that Pakistan was not going to gain anything by a test. That this was a good opportunity for us to go a separate way completely. More importantly, people like us are against nuclearisation. So you cannot condemn India for nuclearisation if you are going to follow the same path. And perhaps Pakistan should have taken the moral high ground at that point. Frankly if I had had anything to do with decision-making, I wd have said, let us take the moral high ground now. India with a new leadership that was seen as very conservative, I think Pakistan cd have been seen to be a more reasonable country at that time. If I had anything to do with the leadership of Pakistan I would have gone first of all to Tokyo and led a huge procession against nuclearisation; I would have gone to Ireland and led a procession against nuclearisation. Everywhere in the major capitals of the world you would have got strong support and it would really have decimated India’s image in many ways and brought Pakistan an image in the international community as a far more reasonable country. And a leadership can always control domestic opinion, particularly in our countries. And the people of our countries – India, Pakistan, Bangladesh – are very wise in their perception. If you show to them how this issue is linked to your little kitchen at home, they understand it. How if we do this, you cannot have your aspirations of sending your child to school. But if we don’t do it, maybe we can fulfil that aspiration. I think put to the people like that – the people of our countries are not stupid. There are always a few handfuls of people who are gung-ho; who would distribute sweets . But the same people who distributed sweets in India and Pakistan are the same people who would come out and riot when they saw an economic crunch coming close to them. To take that kind of extreme public opinion [into account] in deciding the life of a nation, is not wise for leadership.”



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