Indian Ambassador to Russia Pankaj Saran: We are in talks with Russia on many aspects of military-technical cooperation
Indian Ambassador to Russia Pankaj Saran has given an interview to Interfax in which he speaks about the current state of Indian-Russian relations and India‘s position on Afghanistan settlement.Question: How do you assess the current state of relations between India and Russia? What place does partnership with India hold in the foreign policy of India?
Answer: I believe that the relationship with Russia today is in a very strong shape. It is very comprehensive relationship. It has a long history of many decades. Despite all major changes in the world that we have seen and we are continuing to see, there is one relationship that India has - and that is with Russia - that remains by large unchanged. In fact, it has grown even stronger over time. And today this relationship covers almost all areas of human activity. And we are constantly looking at new ideas and areas of cooperation. We are also constantly searching for ways to modernize the relationship, to make it contemporary, to make it responsive to the needs of both our countries, because both Russia and India are changing - and India is changing very fast. We would want Russia to participate in India‘s national development, in India‘s economic development and so on. I would say on the whole we have a very strong and comprehensive relationship. We have no political differences. We have a lot of trust and mutual confidence in each other and above all there is today a good and positive relationship between our Prime Minister and the President of Russia. They have met many times in the past few months and they will be meeting again shortly this year in India. At every level we find the engagement between India and Russia is quite robust and on the issue of where Russia features in the Indian foreign policy priority there is absolutely no doubt that Russia is one of the highest priorities for Indian foreign policy. We have many stakes in the success of this relationship. We regard Russia as a trusted friend, as a very important strategic partner and a country with who India would like to have the best of relations. The unique thing about this relationship is that there is tremendous goodwill within India, which cuts across all political parties, all political spectrums, about Russia. Russia is universally regarded as a friend of India. This is the current situation.
Q.: Previously India was considered to be a strategic partner of Russia and Pakistan a partner of the United States. In your opinion, has the situation changed? India has recently signed military contracts with the U.S. and is discussing joint manufacturing of jet fighters. Washington has declared India its major defense partner after the recent visit of prime-minister Narendra Modi to the U.S.. Does it mean that India is turning to the U.S.? Can this move harm relations with Moscow?
A.: This is an interesting question that you asked. I want to be very clear in my answer. The foreign policy of India which we pursue, and particularly our relations with Russia are completely independent of our relations with any other country. Russia is also pursuing its relations with different countries, with many countries of the world. India is also doing the same thing. We have relations with countries across all continents, but that does not mean in any way that there is any change in strategic partnership with Russia. As I mentioned to you, our strategic partnership with Russia is time-tested, it is in accordance with India‘s national interests, and we remain committed to strengthening this relationship. I will not get into any characterization of the past and get into any simplistic replies on which country is whose partner. I do not believe that international relations are conducted in that manner. I think what is important to understand is that we have a very clear sense in India of what our priorities are, of what are our requirements. It is in that context that we are fully committed to this relationship that we have with Russia, which we value. Insofar as the diversification of India‘s foreign policy is concerned with other countries or with other partners, that is an ongoing process, that is a part of the life of any nation in the world, that countries across the world have multiple relationships with different partners, but the unique thing about the Indian-Russian relationship is that it is based on very firm, very solid foundations, and these foundations have not changed. We can discuss the kind of cooperation and the kind of partnership we have with Russia. It is quite unprecedented in its scope. The volume of our cooperation, the technological sophistication of our cooperation is growing constantly. This is true for any sphere - whether you take military or defense sphere, whether you take civil nuclear cooperation sphere, whether you consider the energy sphere, or any other related activity. As I mentioned to you, even on regional issues, on global issues India and Russia have many common positions. We work together, we coordinate. The future of this relationship in my view is going to be even more substantive that we have seen so far.
Q.: In October India will host BRICS summit, as well as a bilateral summit with Russia. What documents are going to be signed as a result of talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi?
A.: We have a very special relationship between India and Russia under which we have a system of summits that are held once in a year. This system has been in place since 2000. Every year, when we have this summit meeting, we work towards preparing for the outcomes. The last summit meeting was held in December 2015 in Moscow. Both sides are today working out different kinds of agreements that we can sign when the next summit takes place. It is scheduled for October 15 in Goa. On 13 September we will have a meeting of the intergovernmental committee on technical and economic cooperation. The Russian side will be led by Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, our side will be led by our External Affairs Minister [Sushma Swaraj]. In addition to that a lot of other working groups are meeting constantly around the year. I am confident that we will have a very productive and significant summit meeting with several different outcomes that will pertain to all areas of our cooperation, whether it is economic, whether it is investment, whether it is energy, whether it is culture, people to people exchanges and of course in the area of military and technical cooperation. It will be premature for me to tell you what exactly will be the outcome. I think we should wait for the summit meeting to take place, for the discussion to take place between the leaders. All I can definitely convey is that preparations are going on, discussions are taking place and both sides are committed to having productive and substantive outcome in all sectors of our relationship.
Recently, on August 10, there was an important milestone in our relations in the civil nuclear area, where Prime Minister Modi and President Putin inaugurated through a video conference the Kudankulam Unit 1, which is a 1,000 MWt power plant. This is a historic event, because the agreement was signed many years ago and finally the unit has come into operation. It is in commercial cooperation, and it is linked to the national grid. We have another five units under discussion for construction. Unit 1 is already launched plus we have another five. So Kudankulam, which is one particular site in the south of India, we will finally have six nuclear power stations which would be the symbol of Indian-Russia cooperation. In total, they will account for 6,000 MWt of electricity. This is just one example of how the two sides are approaching the relationship and how they are committed to this relationship. We want to pursue this relationship in a manner that affects positively the lives of the common people, that contributes to the national economic development not only of India but also Russia. We believe that this cooperation is mutually beneficial. Today India is a country which is different fr om what it was 20-30 years ago. We are one of the fastest growing economies in the world. We have ambitious plans for the future in the areas of infrastructure and many other areas. In all these areas we would like to have Russian participation, of Russian industries. We believe that given Russian competence, Russian technological expertise, there is a lot that our enterprises and companies can do together.
Q.: During Defexpo India exhibition in March Russia gave to India a draft agreement on deliveries of S-400 defense systems. At what stage the negotiations are now? When do you expect the contract to be signed? How many systems does India want fr om Russia?
A.: I don‘t know who is giving you this information that during Defexpo some agreement was given. This is not a matter of public discussion. These are sensitive issues relating to military cooperation. All I can tell you is that our defense and military cooperation is wide-ranging. The subject of modernizing our military, modernizing our air force, navy is under discussion with the Russian side. These are discussions which continue. At the right time, when agreements are reached, I am sure we will be in a position to confirm what these discussions are about. Right now I would say that we are in discussion on many platforms. I would to wait for the conclusion of these discussions before I can say anything to you. There are many platforms for the discussions, and S-400 is one of them. But what will be the final position, that I think we will leave for the discussions to be completed.
Q.: In May it was reported that Russia and India are close to signing an agreement on technological development of fifth generation jet fighters (FGFA). When do you expect that agreement to be signed? Is Delhi is going to order 200 of such jet fighters as it was reported?
A.: The question of the fight-generation jet fighter aircraft is a part of overall discussions that we are having with the Russian side in the area of military and technical cooperation. Obviously, the exact details of what will happen to the discussions, how the discussions are proceeding, these are some things that military and technical people are discussing between themselves. I think we should allow them to continue these discussions. It would not be appropriate for me to comment on what is the status of these discussions.
Q.: In March deputy head of Russian Federal Service for Military Technical Cooperation told that Moscow was ready to increase the licensed production of T-90 tanks and Su-30MKI jet fighters in India. Is Delhi going to sign new contracts on production of these aircrafts and tanks and in how many of them is India interested in?
A.: On T-90s and the Sukhoi‘s, again these are important platforms on which we long-standing cooperation with Russia. These are all a part of the discussions that are taking place between the military and technical people on both sides. These decisions depend on many factors. They depend upon military requirements of India. They depend upon technical capabilities of the Russia side. So I believe all these matters are under discussion. What decision is taken and when it is taken, I think we will have to leave entirely for the defense authorities on both sides. Obviously, it is known that India has acquired very large quantities of military hardware fr om Russia. When you acquire hardware you have to constantly keep it modernized and you have to upgrade it. The issue of upgrading is also under discussion. But beyond that it is not possible to give any details.
Q.: Is India going to order new Russian destroyers besides six that Russia has already built? Is India interested in leasing a second nuclear-powered submarine K-322 (project 971) from Russia, as it was reported earlier?
A.: We have wide-ranging discussions with Russia on military and technical collaboration. This discussion is taking place between relevant bodies, relevant organizations. What I would like to focus on is that we would like to have a new level of relations with Russia. We want to move to a situation in which India and Russia can cooperate in the development of the Indian defense sector, the Indian defense industry. We have a program which has been launched by the Prime Minister which is called the Make in India program. We have invited the Russian defense industry and the Russian defense establishment and factories and enterprises to participate in the establishment of joint ventures, in co-production and in the transfer of technologies to Indian companies so that in the next few years we can change the nature of our cooperation from wh ere Russia is a seller and India is a buyer to a new relationship, wh ere both Russia and India jointly produce and manufacture through, as I mentioned, either transfer of technologies or the creation of joint ventures. And this is the new thrust and a new policy of the Government of India. We are confident that through our experience of many decades with Russia, we will able to move down this path of developing and harnessing Russian technology and welcome more Russian enterprises to come to India, to make in India, to jointly develop in India and to sell in India and also to other countries. This is the new direction in which we want to take our defense and military cooperation with Russia.
Q.: Does Delhi consider the four-party talks on Afghanistan (the U.S. China, Pakistan, Afghanistan) effective? Is India ready participate in such talks? Do you think it is necessary to create some other format of talks, for example within the framework of Shanghai Organization of Cooperation, which India is going to become a member of?
A.: On Afghanistan and on Taliban I would generally say that as far as we are concerned, we believe that the Taliban historically has been a part of the problem. It has not been a part the solution. The Taliban has been responsible for undertaking several attacks in Afghanistan and neighboring counties. In fact it has been among the most destabilizing forces that have been responsible for the destruction of society in Afghanistan. India itself has a very bitter experience with the Taliban. They have been behind many terrorist attacks that have been launched against the Indian embassy in Kabul and against other Indian diplomatic premises in Afghanistan. The Taliban has to understand that it cannot gain international legitimacy by pursuing its terrorist ideology. If it wants to become a part of the mainstream and participate in the nation-building process in Afghanistan then it has to completely change its color. We are also convinced that the Taliban does not act on its own. It has foreign backers. It is guided from across the border and this makes it much more difficult for a solution to be found. Insofar as the finding of a solution to Afghanistan by any set of countries is concerned, the point is that a solution in Afghanistan should be basically found by the people of Afghanistan. No outsider can find a solution to Afghanistan. This is the lesson we have learnt during the last many years in other parts of the world - you cannot impose a solution, a solution has to come from within Afghanistan. No country can treat Afghanistan like a subordinate. Afghanistan is a proud country. Its people are very proud people. They have suffered a lot in the civil war and in the last many-many years. The first and most important requirement in Afghanistan is that all external interference and external intervention must stop. As far as India is concerned, we have a historical relationship with Afghanistan, which goes back thousands of years. Thousands of Afghanis come to India every year for medical treatment, education, tourism. We have an open policy towards Afghanistan. They are our brothers. We have contributed a lot to the economic development of Afghanistan and we will continue to do so, because we believe that what Afghanistan needs to do - the first and foremost - is economic development, building of the institutions, and a political solution. India is ready to do whatever it is required to promote all those aspects in Afghanistan. Our Prime Minister has visited Afghanistan. We have a regular dialogue with the government of Afghanistan at all levels. Of course, in the past India, Russia, Iran and other likeminded countries have worked together in Afghanistan. So whenever there is a requirement it is important for all countries that wish Afghanistan well to cooperate in finding a solution. I do not believe that any self-styled group can find a solution to Afghanistan. Without the involvement of the counties of the region it will be very difficult to find a solution to the problem in Afghanistan. India has always been ready to help Afghanistan find a solution, whether it is between India and Afghanistan or in any other format.
Q.: Dou you think that the existing format cannot help solve the problem?
A.: What I am saying is that if the idea is that a few countries should sit down and discuss the problem of Afghanistan, then the question is who will decide who are these counties. The initiative and the leadership of any regional initiative or an international initiative, has to come from Afghanistan itself. If you do not ask the Afghans and if you think that you have all the capabilities and knowledge to find a solution, then I am afraid you will not be able to find a solution. So, a genuine solution to Afghanistan should come firstly from within the country, and secondly if Afghanistan wants international assistance or regional assistance we should ask them ‘who do you want?‘ and ‘what should be the format?‘ But in the absence of that finding a solution simply by creating a group of countries will not work.
Q.: Special representative of Russian President for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov recently said that the process of national reconciliation is dead at the moment. Do you agree with such a statement?
A.: I am not an expert on Afghanistan but what I can say is that Afghanistan is going through a period of challenge. We have to help its people at this point. The solution has to come from within Afghanistan, and I do not want to describe or use any particular word about the state of the peace process. But if you look at the history of the country in the past 20 years and more, 30 in fact, it has gone through a lot challenges, it has gone though a lot of suffering. Peace will come to Afghanistan only when outside powers, external powers, some of Afghanistan‘s neighbors understand that you cannot treat Afghanistan as a subordinate entity or as a strategic asset. Peace will come to Afghanistan only when you respect the people and allow them to develop their own political process and institutions. We have stood with the people of Afghanistan for the last 20 years, during the whole period of political crises, and we will continue to stand by them. Any role that India has to play or can play, we will be ready to play. This is what I would say about the current position. Yes, what concerns us a lot in Afghanistan definitely is the threat of radicalization, the encouragement sometimes being given to terrorism in Afghanistan by external forces and the breakdown of the Afghan society. These are real threats which we are very concerned about. We have to work together to prevent any further strengthening of these forces, whether it is Islamic terrorism or extremism, or whether it is radicalization.
Q.: There was information that the U.S. is holding talks with India on delivery of Russian made helicopters Mi-25 and spare parts to Afghanistan since Kabul can not buy it on NATO‘s money directly from Russia because of Washington‘s sanctions against Moscow. When are you going to deliver new helicopters to Afghanistan and how many? Do you coordinate this issue with Moscow? Do you think that such deliveries will lead to further tensions with Pakistan?
A.: We have very good understanding with our Russian friends and our Russian partners. When it comes to matters like this, we always coordinate and consult with Russian partners. Number one. Number two, whatever actions we take are always at the invitation of the government of Afghanistan. If the government of Afghanistan has approached India for assistance, for military assistance then it is our duty to respond to that request. If the government of Afghanistan says that ‘I want help to combat terrorists and extremist‘ and it comes to India, then it is our responsibility to examine the request and then take a decision and to respond. To the extent that our objective in Afghanistan is what I have described to you, we will respond positively and will do so. In this case in consultations with our Russian partners there is absolute clarity on what is happening. I do not know wh ere you have taken information about India talking to the United States on this. What I can tell you is that we have a request from Afghanistan, we will respond positively and we will do so when necessary in consultations with our Russian partners.
Q.: Do you consider this help to be a way of avoiding the sanctions of Washington against Moscow?
A.: I do not think so. I do not think that this is the correct interpretation.
Q.: Recently Kashmir has witnessed escalation of violence. Is India ready to discuss this issue with Pakistan an when such talks can take place? Is India ready to discuss the territorial dispute as well as the terrorist threat in the region?
A.: As far as the question of Jammu and Kashmir is concerned, in our view it is not a territorial dispute. It is a part of India. It is a state, and Kashmir is just one part of the state. We have Jammu, Ladakh, Gilgit, Baltistan and then you have that part of Kashmir, which is under illegal occupation of Pakistan. As far as the question of the legal status of Jammu and Kashmir is concerned, that has been settled long-long ago, and it is an integral part of India. The only dispute that is left is vacation by Pakistan of that part of Kashmir that is illegally in Pakistan, because the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir legally belongs to India. The dispute is only about the issue of returning those parts of Kashmir which are under Pakistan‘s illegal occupation. That is the dispute. We would like to discuss this matter with Pakistan. The discussion has to be also on how Pakistan should stop its terrorist activities that it is mounting against people of Kashmir from its own territory. Pakistan must stop using terrorism as a policy or as an instrument of policy to create problems and create tensions with India. We also want to talk with Pakistan on how it should stop allowing its territory to be used as a safe haven for terrorists. Today it is a well-known fact in the world and the region that Pakistan has become the hotbed of terrorism in the region. Well-known terrorists wanted in India are living in Pakistan under Pakistani protection. They must be returned back to India and Pakistan must stop the export of terrorism into India. These are the items of discussion between India and Pakistan. We are ready to discuss all these issues any time with Pakistan.
We have replied to Pakistan that if you are interested in talks on Jammu and Kashmir, we are ready and we have also said that these are the items, or topics, which we would like to discuss. We have made our position very clear to them. Meanwhile, whatever necessary measures we have to take in India as far as the state is concerned, we are doing in terms of finding a political solution to problems in Kashmir, in terms of improving security, in terms of economic development of the region.