In an interview with India Today TV, EWI President-elect and former U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, discusses India-Pakistan relations and the role of EWI in fostering peace by expanding the dialogue to include key regional stakeholders.
1) How do you see the Indo-Pakistan relations now as compared to when you were posted in Islamabad?
A: I have always felt that the key to Pakistan's success and future would be the improvement of relations with India. There have been many times since I became the ambassador in 2010 when I thought that there might be a warming or there might be a thaw. Especially, a thaw that focused not only on politics, but also on economics, prosperity, investment, something that the rest of the world could follow on to help on prosperity of Pakistan and Indians as well. At this point, I am as optimistic as I have been in the past. The hopes have increased after Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi were put at the helm.
2) In 2013 elections in Pakistan, for the first time, Kashmir was not an issue and there was consensus across parties to have good relations with India. Today, all parties in Pakistan are toeing the military line against India. How do you see this shift?
A: I don't see this as a shift at all. It is a rhetorical shift based on disappointment from the Pakistan side. Underneath it all, those people who were the constituents - you mentioned the PPP, PTI, PMLN - there is a broad consensus that goes from top to bottom that a better relationship with India is necessary. When I was there, even found it in my talks with the military that good relations with India and stability in the region was necessary for Pakistan's future. I choose to see this as a passing phase where there are thoughtful people in Pakistan with deep issues, that people want to figure out a way to deal with India, but they haven't figured it out yet.
3) On Pakistan's completely different standards of acting against terror group attacking Indian interests in Pakistan.
A: We don't know a lot, and I have been out of the US government since 2012. So whatever I say would be mere speculation. There is a debate going on in Pakistan army on what is the existential threat to Pakistan. The traditional narrative is that India is the existential threat. 10 years of hard fighting in FATA, KPK have led many people who are leaders in Pakistan military, intelligence to come around the idea that perhaps there is another existential threat to Pakistan - that is the jehadi threat. So many soldiers have been killed by jehadis, many Pakistan soldiers have died since 2001. They are trying to figure out what it is. And it is possible that this could be addressed if there is proper dialogue with India.
4) On the anti-India sentiment in Pakistan.
A: I take you back to the elections of 2013, that no one found the reason to call on that to be elected. It could be that these are latent questions and that 60 years of troubles don't go immediately. But I am cheered by the fact that no one had to campaign over this idea. What we at EWI want to see is that we bring these bilateral questions to the floor but also look at these issues in the regional context. If we bring Afghanistan's future into it, if we look at China's interest in the region we can also look at the future of Iran. We can look at all the problems of the region and say perhaps all of these issues that you raise can be looked at a different way.
5) On America's hope about rise of Modi and politics with Pakistan.
A: The invitation to Nawaz Sharif was welcomed. Modi is seen as a very strong leader. He has a very strong reputation as a charismatic man who can get things done. Also, he can see things in a new way, and is the man who can break away from tradition because of his domestic strength and reach out to his neighbours that in the past has been limited to this kind of bilateral relations. We're not sure, it is something time will tell. We had hoped from an American point of view, he would be able to strike early in his tenure to take advantage of the new fresh feeling that he had. But it may still not be too late to have some creativity in the debate. I repeat what EWI is trying to do here is talking with Pakistan-Afghans and Indians in this conference and is trying to foster that kind of debate so that ideas are out there.
6) On terrorism - Hafiz Saeed, Lakhvi- How can India trust Pakistan?
A: It is true. I think that these suspicions are addressed to me over and over again. The more they're dug, the less possibility is that there is going to be peace. I don't deny that terrorism is an important issue especially since Mumbai attack 2011. However I would suggest if we continue to say the same things and make these accusations again and again we'll go nowhere.
7) How should India deal with Pakistan on Hafiz Saeed issue?
A: Are you suggesting that we should raid Pakistan to go after Saeed? I think we need to figure out a way to work with the authorities in Pakistan to see that justice is done. And we have not always been successful. We engage with the people in-charge but not always successful. Just like Lakhvi's release, it was a controversial thing. We make representations to the Pakistani's all the time. Your high commissioner in Pakistan with whom I had great contact when I was there we talked about it all the time. We were very open about it that it's very difficult to accept if you're Indian or people around that this may not be something we'll be able to solve. We may not be able to do that. What we would like to think however is that there is a broader discussion of issues within which this terrorism issue is embedded and this broader discussion leads to greater understanding so that this question doesn't derail everything else.
8) What use of the US bounty on Hafiz Sayed who is not underground but holding anti-India rallies in open?
A: What we're talking about is not a bounty it's something the press has said, it is not something we say. We're looking for information that could lead to his arrest and we're willing to pay for this information. A bounty implies that you're giving money so that someone will be killed like the old American west. So India should realise that term the 'bounty' has been created by the press erroneously. What we are looking for is information, evidence so that he could be behind bars.
9) What about India's evidence for arresting Saeed.
A: This is not something I can judge. But i would hope that we would get enough evidence that it would lead to Saeed's arrest. And that is what we have offered to pay for.
10) On SAARC summit next year in Islamabad and US expectations from India and Pakistan. Should Modi go?
A: A gesture of friendship is always good. I think it is up to him to decide what he wants to do. But what we hope every leader in the region will do as it would be an advantage to have a regional approach and have a dialogue. And if he makes that trip it leads to greater trust. So absolutely, it's always great to talk.
11) India called off official talks, but Modi spoke to Nawaz on pretext of cricket and sent Foreign Secretary on SAARC yatra. Was it under Obama's pressure during Republic Day?
A: Again I am an ex-diplomat so I can't say. But , when I was a diplomat in Pakistan, absolutely. We have always pressed Pakistan friends to talk with India and vise versa. We did not try to tell them what they should talk about. We try to tell them that there should be more talks then agreements. So there is no doubt in my mind yes we encouraged that dialogue.
12) The operation that killed Laden - Was it a covert or did the Pakistanis know about it?
A: Pakistan didn't know. We did not inform them. There has been an article in the New York Times by Seymour Hearsh which claims that this was a joint operation that Pakistan was told in advance and that the entire set of arguments since then had been a vast cover up. All I can say is that if it was a cover up then it also fooled the American ambassador in Pakistan. Because all the evidences that Seymour gave does not convince me.
13) There were political repercussions to the Operation.
A: Absolutely, it cost is a lot. It was a decision that was very important for us, we knew it would also have an impact on our relations with Pakistan. But in that operation there was a great deal of information taken on that particular house in Abbottabad. And there was no information that I knew during my time as a diplomat that the Pakistan government was involved in taking care of him, protecting him, knew about or took part in that raid.
14) Were there no apprehensions about breach of sovereignty?
A: There were a lot of discussions about what it would mean; we knew it would be a very difficult issue. But as our president said from the beginning if we found where this man was we were going to make sure we got him.
15) So covert operations okay for the US?
A: I think the part of the President's approach was that he was going to keep his word that this man wanted by the international community, was the man we were going to make sure we got.
16) If India were to conduct similar operations in Pakistan, would the US be okay with it?
A: That's for India to decide. I think dialogue is the way out. Anytime you resort to any other methods, you're taking great risks. Dialogue is the only way to do things.
17) But if dialogue on Lakhvi, Hafiz Sayeed, Dawood Ibrahim does not yield results, covert operations is the way out for India?
A: What I am saying is anytime you have the opportunity to make dialogues you should use it. If you make a judgement you have to live the result. We had to live with the result of our incursion into Pakistan. I think if we dwell only on terrorism, if we see that as the beginning and end of the relationship, then we were missing out the entire possibilities of long term of solving problem.
We during Afghan war often looked at 'urgent driving out the important'. I would like to ask my Indian and Pakistani to see if they can look beyond the urgent and important questions to say that solution can lie in broader and long term discussions where you're talking about what the people want, where you forget past make some progress which means your children are going to be safe.
18) So, the US is okay with covert operations against groups hitting it, but different standard for India Pakistan since they share borders and are nuclear neighbours?
A: I would suggest India should work in its interest and India's interest is a stable Pakistan. A stable Pakistan - a democratic, prosperous and gets along with India. This is not a favour to Pakistan, it is a favour to itself. If India has a problem with a neighbouring country, then it is for India to contribute in solving these problems. It is not a question of Americans wagging their fingers. It is a question of India and serving their self interest. I think that Pakistan has many things it could do to meet India half way and vice-versa.
19) How strong is the al-Qaeda today?
A: I don't mean to duck the question but I am not in the government anymore so I can only tell you what I read in the newspapers. I think al-Qaeda is still a force, but it has been degraded. However, it is still a potent force in the world. I don't know if ISIS and can't comment on the claims that ISIS has made will weaken or strengthen al-Qaeda. But radical forces like that still exist, they are still powerful and we're still concerned about them.
20) How do you perceive ISIS in Afghan-Pakistan? Could it impact Kashmir?
A: I just can't say, I m not trying to avoid the question but I am not in the government anymore so I don't have the access to this information. Anytime you get that kind of threat you should be concerned. India, Pakistan and America should try to work together.
21) Can China be roped in to play a more pro-active role in Afghanistan?
A: One of the things quite interesting about China in this region is that it professes to have very similar goals to the US and India. Goals like keeping radical Islam from upsetting them and the region and second its economic interest. I think China is here to play a very constructive role. It may not be a role based on anything other than self interest. But I think we should look to China and China's interest in Pakistan and Afghan. I know there have been discussions at high levels between China and India. We applaud this kind of diplomatic relations.
22) But India has security concerns of encirclement with China being in PoK and in region.
A: I think New Delhi needs to talk openly with the Chinese. The Chinese are being open about what they want to do. You can choose to see someone as an enemy if you wish, but if you choose to try to understand why they are doing things and where the mutual advantage is that is probably more.
Click here to view the interview at India Today TV