S Jaishankar on Taliban regime, Pakistan, China, US and more | Conclave Exclusive

At the India Today Conclave 2021, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar spoke on a wide range of crucial issues, including the new Taliban regime, Pakistan, China, the US and much more.

At the India Today Conclave 2021, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar spoke on a wide range of crucial issues, including the new Taliban regime, Pakistan, China, the US and much more.

The situation in Afghanistan is still unfolding. There’s still a lot of lack of clarity. Obviously, some of the more visible changes are apparent. So, you have to make your decisions based on what you have. The general sense in the international community is that there are some basic expectations that the world has of Afghanistan. The most basic of them is that Afghanistan’s soil won’t be used for terrorism against other countries. There are also expectations that the nature of the government will be inclusive in some form. These are live issues and we’re quite involved in shaping the international community’s thinking on that. But beyond that, it’s hard to take a definitive position because the situation on the ground doesn’t allow for it.

ENGAGEMENT WITH THE TALIBAN: WILL IT BE A WAIT-AND-WATCH POLICY?

There could be things happening which I may not be able to speak about. Our primary contact has been in Doha and that’s where it is.

HOW ARE WE NAVIGATING VIS-À-VIS PAKISTAN?

The picture is more complex. It’s been less than two months since the Taliban took over Afghanistan. It’s quite obvious that things are far from settled even in Kabul. I would urge some patience, some deliberation and caution. There are many things we know; there are many things we don’t know. In some cases, we will wait for the situation to play out.

ON TALIBAN’S TAKEOVER IMPACT ON OUR INTERNAL SITUATION IN J&K

Obviously, I would be concerned about what’s been happening, especially the targeted killings, in the last few days. But will I connect with what’s been happening in Afghanistan? I don’t know. I would like to see evidence of some kind of connection if there is any. Maybe, there is, maybe there isn’t.

ON PAK-BASED TERROR GROUPS JOINING HANDS WITH THE TALIBAN. IS IT A REAL CONCERN FOR INDIA?

UN reports speak about thousands of Pak nationals, call them fighters or call them terrorists, being there. Even the American administration’s response to Congressional debates and hearings is very telling. Pakistan’s role in what happened in Afghanistan is no secret. It’s more public now because even they now speak about many of these things. Obviously, that’s a concern for the entire neighbourhood, the whole region.

IS AN INDIA-PAKISTAN DIALOGUE FORESEEABLE?

The sense that we don’t talk is a bit exaggerated. They have an embassy. We have an embassy. Our foreign ministry talks to their embassy. Their foreign ministry talks to our embassy. It’s not like there’s no communication. Diplomats have continued to do what diplomats are supposed to do. Earlier, there was beyond-the-routine diplomacy, engagement on a certain set of issues. From Pathankot to Uri, events went in a direction that made it very difficult to continue with that mode of engagement. When do I see that coming? You tell me when do you see Pakistan becoming a normal country? A normal country is a country that doesn’t sponsor and execute terror against its neighbour. Right now, the prospects don’t look good. Because the bottom line is there is no other country that runs this kind of terrorism against its neighbourhood.

HOW DO YOU READ WHAT’S BEEN HAPPENING ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE HIMALAYAS?

From the 1980s, we developed a decent, workable relationship with the Chinese, predicated on the fact that there would be peace in the border areas. It was written into agreements between us. Come 2020, and we saw the Chinese side disregard those agreements for reasons which are still not clear to us. There is still no credible explanation as to why they chose to bring that size of forces to that sector of our border. If attempts are being made to unilaterally change the LAC status quo and large forces are brought to the border in contravention of written agreements, then obviously the relationship will be impacted. If we need to get back to the normal relationship, which they said they want, and which both of us believe is in our mutual interest, then they need to stick with the agreements and do the right things. We have had progress in a few areas. But the larger problem remains which is a very sizeable Chinese force close to, if not at, the LAC.

ON OPPOSITION’S CHARGE THAT THE GOVERNMENT HASN’T BEEN TRANSPARENT ENOUGH

I have been in multiple governments for a really long time. When it comes to national security situations, all governments say enough so that people outside the government have a fair sense of what’s happening, and expect that people outside will be supportive of larger national objectives and goals. If sometimes it doesn’t happen because people are busy politicking, I just have to say it’s a very sorry state of affairs. Nobody can say we haven’t been told enough, or there’s been a lack of briefing. We have a consultative committee and this issue has been discussed. It’s been discussed in Parliament. Raksha Mantri has given repeated statements. Somewhere we need a sense of maturity and responsibility when it comes to national security matters. It should not be a subject for posturing.

ON THE SITUATION AT LAC

Things have changed enormously on the ground. They have brought forces; we have counter-deployed. It will continue as long as they deploy. Let me be very clear: there’s been no lack of resolve, firmness, or effectiveness in what we have to do to protect our national security. They have stayed through one winter; they’re close to another winter. I have every confidence that the Indian armed forces will do what they have to do to protect this country, and I expect everybody else who is reasonably patriotic to have the same confidence.

EAM ON BIDEN VS TRUMP FOR INDIA

On being asked which out of Donald Trump and Joe Biden’s regimes have been easier for India to deal with, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said, “It’s in the nature of our business to adjust to whatever is out there. We’re going to be fairly good at dealing with anyone, it’s our job.

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