12th October 1997
Cairo: "A third rate power" like Britain was being "presumptuous" in saying that it had a historical responsibility to resolve the Kashmir issue, considering that it had created it in the first place, Prime Minister I. K. Gujral told a group of intellectuals in Cairo last evening.
An obviously riled Prime Minister Gujral emphatically rejected any role for Britain in resolving what India sees as a bilateral issue. He said that he would convey this to the British political leadership during the Queen's visit this week.
What the Prime Minister said was in keeping with India's position that it did not accept any third party mediation on the Kashmir issue. But it was the strong and dismissive tone and tenor of Mr Gujral which assume significance in view of the rather strange offer by the Labour Party and Labour Foreign Secretary Robin Cook to mediate in the Kashmir tangle.
Mr Cook had told reporters in Islamabad that he would take up the Kashmir issue with India during his visit as his country had a "responsibility to resolve this dispute in view of its historical perspective."
The colonial patronising attitude inherent in the statement seems to have cut the Indian Prime Minister to the bone. According to those present at the meeting, anger was writ large on Mr Gujral's face when he said: "A third rate power like Britain has presumed to say that it had a historical responsibility to resolve the Kashmir issue. "
"They are the ones who created the problem by partitioning the country. Britain has absolutely no role to play and I will convey this to the political leadership during the Queen's visit next week."
Mr Gujral was replying to a question about the situation in Kashmir today. He told the Egyptian audience: "We have held elections in Jammu and Kashmir but the induction of terrorists continues. Many of the terrorists are not even Kashmiri-speaking. In fact they belong to the same group that constitutes the Taliban in Afghanistan."
He told them that he had initiated a series of unilateral gestures to improve relations with Pakistan. At the same time, however he felt that Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's internal problems were far more serious than his own and it was up to Mr Sharif to resolve them internally.
On India's stand on the nuclear question he told the Egyptian intellectuals that India felt that the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was "a charade". India, he said was for universal and total nuclear disarmament within a specified time-frame. That was why he had asked both US President Bill Clinton and the UN General Assembly why nuclear weapons were required in today's world.
Referring to the stalemate in the West Asia peace process, the Indian Prime Minister said that he was "deeply unhappy" and at times felt even "disgusted at the present situation." He made it clear that "India's support to the Palestinian cause remains as unflinching as it was before and this should reaffirm the ties between India and the Arab world "
Mr Gujral felt that in confronting the challenges of globalisation, the developing world should use the organisations which had fostered its interest in the past such as the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). His view was that the difference between the past and now was that today the NAM countries had within them scientific, technical and industrial capacities which could be shared with each other.
The Indian Prime Minister identified three major challenges before the developing world today- the issue of intellectual property rights, the World Trade Organisation and the nuclear question. "The only way the developing world can assert its interests is through unity," he said.
The Egyptian intellectuals had earlier told Mr Gujral that they felt that India, Egypt and South Africa constituted the new triumvirate which could lead the developing countries in the same way as India Egypt and Yugoslavia had done earlier. They also pointed out that never before in human history had Capital become so powerful-only about 400 MNCs controlled 85 per cent of world trade and about 500 of them represented 45 per cent of the world's GDP. The South has to come up with something new to confront this reality and regional co-operation among the countries of the South was the only way to handle this situation, one of them said.