Bio-Profile :
Mr. Inder Kr. Gujral

Bio-Profile :
Mrs. Shiela Gujral

Excerpts from the book "A Foreign Policy for India"

Selected Speeches

Latest Articles


LECTURE BY MR.I.K.GUJRAL, FORMER PRIME MINISTER OF INDIA, AT DHAKA, BANGLADESH, ON 30TH JUNE 1998

"INDIA-BANGLADESH CPR-CPD DIALOGUE ON POLITICAL AND SECURITY ISSUES"

Mr. Chairman,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to be with you here today. This is my first visit abroad after demitting office and I am glad that it has brought me to Dhaka, a city that has invariably been associated, in one manner or another, with key events and turning points in the history of our subcontinent. Thank you for inviting me here.

In the summer of 1996, two general elections were held in South Asia. They were obviously held under an auspicious star. The Bangladesh elections of June 1996 saw the Awami League under Sheikh Hasina being returned to Power. In India, just about three weeks earlier, the United Front Government had been sworn in, a government I had the privilege to serve, initially as Foreign Minister and later as Prime Minister. Bangladesh was amongst the first countries I undertook to visit as Foreign Minister, and we were gratified when only a few weeks later we had the honour of receiving Sheikh Hasina in New Delhi, for the signing of the historic agreement on the sharing of the Ganga Waters.

Over the past two years, the partnership that developed between us, the Government and the peoples of our nations, has to go down as one of the great success stories of our subcontinent. In 1996, we saw the ship of Bangladesh- India friendship trapped in the shallow water o suspicion and mistrust, and we set out to rescue if. Our enthusiasm and the good faith that grew so naturally and so quickly between us allowed is to successfully tackle a wide range if issues. Whether it was the question of water resources or trade, the economy or borders security, we have addressed each other’s concerns with sympathy and understanding. The Ganga waters treaty of December 1996 is of course the most visible example of our friendship and cooperation, and for me personally if will always remain a matter of great satisfaction that I had the privilege of working with Sheikh Hasina and her colleagues, Excellencies Abdus Samad Azad, Abdul Razzak, to mention but a few of my close friends, in restoring India- Bangladesh friendship to its earlier glory.

In India, I have been called the author of the good neighbour foreign policy, the so called ‘Gujral doctrine’. Yet this is only a practical, common senses approach, for unless ones own neighbourhood is secure, how one can reach out of the World? As individuals, we are happy to make adjustments for the convenience of those around us. In the case of countries, such civic responsibility should merit much greater attention, for individuals can still pick and choose their neighbour, while for nations such choice is an impossibility. India and Bangladesh were neighbours yesterday, we shall be neighbours tomorrow and the day after. Neither one of us can pack and leave the other, for better of for worse, we are inseparably joined, today, tomorrow, for all time to come. Any quarrels between us can only be self-defeating, it is much more sensible to summon the added courage and patience needed to find the consensual and cooperative approaches that will ensure a happy legacy, today and for the future.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am glad to observe that it is precisely such a happy legacy that Bangladesh and India share. Indeed, our friendship serves as a model for good neighbourly relations, and the example if provides will contribute, in some manner I am sure, towards healing other troubled bilateral relationships whether in South Asia of beyond. There are a number of important lessons and insights that we have gained from our experience of building a friendly, development oriented alliance, and it would be well worth our time to consider and assess them here.

One of the first of these insights is that most of our problems are common, they form a burden that we share, and solutions to them will also have to be found together. This may seem obvious, but the fact is that till recently most in South Asia claimed that their problems were due entirely to the mischief of their neighbour. In the case of the Ganga waters, for example, we had spent decades blaming each other for the seasonal shortage of waters in the river. The reality, of course. Is that the shortage is a given if nature, and that if affects both India and Bangaldesh in a similar manner. Once we accepted this reality, and realized that we faced a common problem, which would require us to cooperate in finding a solution, then a solution to the problem also became possible.

What I particularly cherish is the knowledge that our success at neighbourhood diplomacy has improved the lives and livelihood of many millions of South Asians, a populace that includes the largest number of the worlds poorest and most underprivileged of people. A neighbourhood policy does not remain confined to abstractions and the issuance of nice sounding diplomatic communiqués from air conditioned conference halls; it transforms the ground realities for hundreds of millions of people. Whether it was trade liberalization of the Ganga waters issue, the agreements we reached have helped countless millions of farmers, fishermen, agricultural labourers, artisans, weavers, people who are for the most part, the poorest of the poor and the deprived. Gandhiji had said the fundamental test of all human effort lies in the benefit it brings to the poorest, the least privileged of our fellow citizens. There can be no doubt that our work to reinvigorate India- Bangladesh friendship satisfies Gandhiji’s acid test.

A very basic lesson that the India-Bangladesh experience teaches is that our problem are best addressed in a bilateral framework. Multilateral approaches are non-starters given the problems facing ore region. In the case of the Ganga waters, it is no secret that for some time Bangladesh had considered internationalizing the issue and seeking multilateral solutions. This approach, while it may have provided the Government of the day with some political advantage, would certainly not helped us in reaching a solution to the problem. The fact of the matter is that no outside agency can ever be aware of every nuance and intricacy of our problems, it will find it difficult even to comprehend the technical and legal features of the issues involved, much less the sentiments and emotions that are tied in with them. No outsider can ever gain the confidence of the people nor of the various agencies and organs, officials and private, that have an interest in the issue. Our experience underlines the desirability of the bilateral approach, since in our subcontinent, third party solutions are undesirable in principle, and impossible in practice.

Thirdly, and this cane as pleasant surprise to me, was the manner in which the new climate of cooperation dramatically improves the entire economic profile of the region as a whole. This was entirely unintended and unplanned, but we found that even our first steps towards regional economic cooperation attracted tremendous outside investors. The region as a whole became double attractive to outside investors, and the people who may not have invested in India alone or Bangladesh alone were very keen on investing in a common market arrangement such as India and Bangladesh were proceeding upon. Power, gas and fertilizer factories; dams, roads, construction and infrastructure projects of various sizes and descriptions suddenly began looking attractive in feasibility studies. The interest shown by foreign investors and the range of new projects that became viable multiplied considerably. These are gains that we must not let slip.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the success of the India- Bangladesh relationship provides us with a living, thriving example of progress through cooperation. Sometimes I feel that we in South Asia are not so much the inheritors of a great history, as we are the victims of this history. India - Bangladesh friendship provides a ray of hope, it gives us a starting point for ridding our region of the mistrust and hostility that has for long disfigured it. It does so by reaffirming in the eyes of the average man on the street a belief in progress through cooperation, in an effort that transcends the fault lines of geography, race and religion. The approach that air two nations have adopted shows the way forward, for it shows that honesty if the best policy, and that if we are sincere and willing to go half the way in meeting the concerns and needs of others we open the doors to many new opportunities of progress for ourselves.

As a frequent visitor to Bangladesh over the past few years, I have seen for myself and admired the rapid economic progress your country is making. What I find particularly heartwarming is that this country, once the most deprived area tin the subcontinent, is today attracting international headlines on account of its success stories. The growth of industry, the Grameen bank, your progress in agriculture, rural development, family planning and women empowerment are success stories widely known and appreciated throughout the world. More recent stories deal with the discovery of huge gas and hydrocarbon reserves. Just last week I was reading of the opening of a new and mighty bridge over the river Jamuna, the Bangabandhu Bridge. This, I am told, one of the longest brides in Asia, and the eleventh longest bridge in the world, and it will help open up many northern and eastern districts of Bangladesh for development. my congratulations to you. I wish you many more such success stories in the days ahead.

Looking to the future, it is not difficult to visualize rapid economic development transforming Bangladesh, and neighbouring South Asian gas grid through pipelines linking Bangladesh and India, with an extension perhaps to Burma. One can visualize entrepreneurs from all over South Asia establishing factories in Bangladesh in order to benefit from its plentiful energy, its new and improved infrastructure and the better access it has to the major markets in the industrial countries. As Bangladesh develops a thriving manufacturing economy one can also foresee Chittagong emerging as the new Hong Kong of South Asia, serving as the main port, financial centre and entrepot to a rich hinterland comprising not only of the interior districts of Bangladesh, but also Nepal, Burma and the North Eastern States in India. the first steps in this direction were taken when Government of India, during my tenure as Prime Minister agreed to provide transit facilities to Nepal via the port of Chittagong.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I must turn now to some more current, perhaps less happy developments in our region. There is no doubt that the atmosphere in the subcontinent has been strained following the nuclear tests undertaken by India and Pakistan last month. these tests have also, I believe, led to anxiety amongst our neighbours in SAARC, for a variety of reasons. Firstly are apprehensions that we are witnessing the beginnings of an uncontrolled nuclear arms race that would lead sooner or later to the most disastrous of consequences for all the people in our subcontinent. Secondly, is the more immediate concerns that heightened tensions in our region would consume all available political and diplomatic energies and so retard the process of greater regional economic integration. Possibly there are apprehensions as well that the economic sanctions recently applied against India and Pakistan would slow down investment and commerce in the region as whole, dragging down the weaker SAARC economies in this process. Let me address each of these concerns separately.

Firstly, let me day that I do not for a moment believe in the thesis which asserts that "the South Asians crisis cauldron has boiled over." There is too much exaggeration, and I dare say vested interest built into this hypothesis for it to be taken seriously. I still remember that in 1990, during V.P. Singh’s regime, in India when I was the Foreign Minister how a false scare was built about the eruption of as so called nuclear conflict in South Asia. I tend to regard such doomsday scenarios with some measure of equanimity, for it the Russians and Americans with such vast differences in their political systems and thinking have successfully kept the nuclear peace, for over five decades, there is no reason why we in Asia cannot do so as well.

India undertook the nuclear tests because its well founded security concerns remained unaddressed by the international community. Let me make it clear that there is no reason to harbour fears of India engaging itself in and arms race, as it does not seek anything beyond a credible said that India does not wish to replicate the worn out cliches and irrational doctrines if the cold war era. I am sure that the Pakistani Government would likewise be averse to any prospects of an arms race, even the priorities of the two nations and the constraints faced by them are such that any sort of nuclear arms race is just not feasible. In fact, tempers have already started to cool down and the forthcoming SAARC summit in Colombo should also lead, I think, to some further improvement in the atmospherics. I am also glad that the Indian Government has declared that India’s nuclear capability will not be used for aggression or coercion. India will not be the first to use nuclear weapons. This would go a long way in allaying apprehensions in the region. I am fully aware that there are technical issues to be resolved, a degree of transparency bilaterally or multilaterally. But a clear announcement of intent can give this process a firm basis.

It is crucial, in my view, to carry forward the process of India- Pakistan dialogue that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and I had instituted in 1997. Our Foreign Secretaries had met and chalked out an agenda covering a number of items for discussion. These include measures to build confidence and promote peace and security. It is clear that in the present circumstances these are measures that should be attended to without delay. I would urge both Governments to resume the process of our bilateral dialogue. Waiting for third party mediation, as I had occasion to mention earlier, represents and exercise in futility. Our experience with colonialism and the cold war is also instructive as it illustrates how outside intervention only harms our interests and weakens our own abilities.

In this context, one cannot but taken exception to the joint Sino- American statement issued from Beijing on June 27, 1998 wherein Presidents Clinton and Ziang Zemin have made certain references to South Asia and South Asian security of a third country or region. This approach recalls the colonial era when the globe was divided into competing Zones of influence and must be wholly rejected. In 1994 speaking at Stimson Centre in Washington D.C. I had expressed similar concerns about the hegemonistic pattern of thinking projected by then Secretary of Defence of United States. At that time my reservations were not taken seriously but it now quite apparent from some of the recent statements emanating from the United States, including those of Defence Secretary Cohen, President Clinton and now the joint statement that my apprehensions were valid. India values its relations with both the Great Nations of China and the United States a friendship which is based like all genuine friendships on respect for the sovereign equality of all parties ‘and’ appreciation of each other’s mutual concerns.

Do the events of May 1998 constitute a setback for SAARC? If indeed there has been and setback, I feel that it will prove to be temporary in nature. The SAARC process is driven by its own compelling logic- the need to prevent the unending waste and misutilization of South Asia’s vast human and physical betterment of the people. The rationale for SAARC is no way lessened on account of the new tensions we face. On the contrary, our common interest at this critical juncture demands that we revitalize and reinvigorate the SAARC processes in every manner possible. Permit me to highlight just a few of the measures that I feel are most necessary.

Strengthening the framework of our economic cooperation must remain a high priority. All Governments should ensure that there is no slippage in the SAARC process and the agreed timetables for our various programmes and adhered to. In particular, we should not deny ourselves the benefits of trade liberalization and greater regional economic cooperation. Such measures not only promote growth, they also as I mentioned earlier on this lecture, help in attracting foreign capital and resources to the South Asian region, thus creating an overall climate that is favourable to peace and development.

In particular, we must reaffirm our commitment to the goal of SAFTA by the year 2001. Glancing through South Asia’s trade statistics, I was sad to see that intra-SAARC trade even now accounts for only3% of the South Asia’s total trade. This is very low figure. It shows basically that we have failed to make rational resources, and have wasted the benefits of economic specialization and complementarity that are clearly available. By way of comparison, one may note that in Western Europe, intra-EC trade accounts for 67% of the region total trade. Nearer home, intra ASEAN trade accounts for close about 50% of ASEANS total trade. The volume of intra-SAARC trade by comparison is negligible, indicating the huge opportunities in our region that are simply going waste. Looking at this statistics I feel that there is little point in blaming others for imposing sanctions upon us, when it is quite apparent that the sanctions that we have imposed on ourselves are far worse. This is a situation that must obviously be remedied.

All SAARC member countries suffer in one manner or another from terrorism that finds support or sponsorship from across the borders of the concerned country. Terrorism has been the cause for much political strife on our subcontinent, even on occasion threatening to destabilize duly constituted Governments. There is no reason why SAARC cannot provide a platform for cooperation aimed at eradicating terrorism from the subcontinent. Such an effort would not only assist in defusing political tensions but would also serve as an important confidence building measure, helping us to convince each other of our bona fide’s.

Opportunities for interaction, both formal and informal, that are available to SAARC Heads of State Government should increase. Such a proposal, if I recall correctly, was made by President Chandrika Kumaratunge of Sri Lanka at the SAARC summit in Male last year. This is an eminently sensible suggestion and I would whole- heartedly endrose it. In times of tension, confidence building between Governments becomes doubly important. The SAARC venue provides a congenial and relatively relaxed atmosphere for the Heads of the State and Government to engage in some confidence building amongst themselves. Some mechanism should be devised to ensure that there is more frequent interaction, both on a bilateral and a collective basis, and more occasion when the leaders can have working meetings with less of ceremony and protocol. ASEAN has been very successful in utilising the atmospherics of their conferences in order to ensure a friendly, uncompetitive and congenial atmosphere. Perhaps we too need to take a leaf out of the ASEASN book, and create a climate where the very idea of using weapons against our neighbours will come to be regarded as unthinkable.

Indeed, the example of regional groupings everywhere else in the world should greatly encourage our efforts to strengthen SAARC and its institutions. Consider that in the 1970’s, ASEAN in its infancy was little more than a gathering of impoverished, violence prone, insurgency ridden nations. Today’s ASEAN, all its current economic difficulties notwithstanding, is a sea of political tranquility and the home of the great Asian economic miracle. Likewise the experience of Western Europe, where nations had once launched two world once launched two world wars, the bloodiest conflicts in recorded human history. Regional cooperation in Europe has ensured that over the past four decades they too have witnessed their own economic miracle and peaceful revolution. Today, war among the nations of Western Europe is completely unthinkable.

Perhaps it is time that we too take our destiny on our own hands. The time has come to assert that no more wars will be fought on the soil of South Asia, and that the sacred soil of our ancient land will never witness the mass murder of innocents that the new weapons threaten. In today’s situation there can be no objective to our foreign policy and all our diplomatic efforts other than the complete elimination of war as an option in South Asia.

Inscribed on the charter of UNESCO are the famous words: "For it is in the minds of men that wars begin that wars begin, it is in the minds of men therefore that the defences of peace must be constructed." Peace can indeed by built and secured for future generations, if we are able to recognize and respect the common good of all the people of South Asia, which if after all, our common home. It requires that we sit together, as do family members and address our problems in a collective spirit, or what one may term as a SAARC spirit, which is to say in accordance with certain norms and values generally accepted amongst us. This is an effort in which all must participate- politicians, intellectuals, media persons, diplomats the entire educated elite- in order to develop and spread this SAARC spirit amongst the people. We share enough in common for such approaches to practical and worthwhile.

History indicates that the road to peace in our subcontinent passes through SAAR. Our own experience on building cooperation between India and Bangladesh over the past two years shows the advantages of taking this path. Let us not hesitate, at this critical juncture, from travelling along this route.

<<Back to Index

 




Bio-Profile :
Mr. Inder Kr. Gujral

Bio-Profile :
Mrs. Shiela Gujral

Excerpts from the book "A Foreign Policy for India"

Selected Speeches

Latest Articles