Since the US-led coalition attacked Iraq, Indian political circles have increasingly voiced the opinion that India should also take military action against Pakistan. External Affairs minister Yashwant Sinha has also made a statement on these lines. Being the Defence Minister can you tell us if the government at any level is considering this?
There has been no such discussion at any level of the government. No one ministry can take the decision of military action against Pakistan. Such important decisions are collectively arrived at in the Cabinet meeting on Defence Affairs which involves various ministries, departments and the three service chiefs. Nothing of the sort has taken place. But, be sure that any more attacks like those we have faced in the past 2 or 3 years -- the attack on Parliament that killed 10-12 people, on Jammu Kashmir Assembly, killing 35-40 people, on Akshardham that killed many -- would not be forgiven at any cost. There will be a swift response.
The attack on Parliament was like an attack on our democracy. What more was required for military action?
This is true. A swift response was required then. Our forces were immediately mobilised on the borders, as there were suggestions of another serious move from Pakistan. Faced with the prompt mobilisation of our troops and the supreme confidence and might of our officers and soldiers, Pakistan couldn’t go ahead with its plans.
The central government repeatedly talks of a decisive war. Seeing the public outrage after the massacre of 24 Kashmiri Pandits in Nadimarg, there are expectations of tough measures from the government. What is being done?
You must understand that it is not mere talk - there is continuous preparation for war. Only where and when to attack has to be decided. And that’s decided when the time comes.
A perception seems to be taking root in the Indian public opinion that we are dependent on the Americans, that we have to ask them before taking any action and that before taking any action against Pakistan as well we will have to take their permission. How true is that?
One cannot compare the economic and military might of America with that of India. But it is not as if we have to ask anyone before taking any step for our national security. The nuclear tests at Pokharan are a case in point. Preparation for those took a month, but the American satellites didn't have a clue. After that, economic sanctions were imposed against us, but we faced those and did not go begging for their removal. As far as a coalition with America is concerned - when they were attacked, they asked for all to come together against terrorism.
After the attack on Iraq, what scenarios do you envisage in the context of current American policies?
It seems that the world-wide war against terrorism begun by the US has slipped down their priority-list. Because by attacking Iraq, they have moved issues such as Al Qaida, Taliban and Afghanistan down their agenda. As for India - we are not dependent on American help to fight terrorism. We have been fighting this challenge alone, and will continue to do so. And we will win. It's another thing if any other nation wants to join us in our fight.
The terrorist training camps in PoK are increasing. Violent incidents are on the rise in India. On the other hand, America is giving billions of dollars to Pakistan. This very money is used by ISI to step up terror in India. In such a situation, what should India's stand be?
After what America has done in Iraq, the international coalition against terrorism has developed fractures. France and Germany have distanced from America. Russia and China have taken a tough stand. Recently, in the UNO, Russia and China blocked an American resolution on Iraq. What final shape this change at the international level will take is difficult to say at this time. Tomorrow, who will be on which side .. there is more change in the offing. We certainly will like to see the international coalition against terrorism achieve its objective of uprooting terrorism from the globe. The next step after Iraq would be decisive. Meanwhile, if there is another attack in India, as in the past, we won’t wait for anybody. Our resolve will be complete.
America has justified its attack on Iraq saying that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction at a large scale. Pakistan also has them. How justified is the American policing in this matter?
America created quite a to-do that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. This morning American secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld has said no such weapons have been found. That’s why the attack on Iraq raises a number of questions. Firstly, would America decide the weapons each country in the world could possess? Secondly, wouldn’t this create conditions for individual terrorist outfits to become more active? If such elements in the terrorist training camps in Pakistan think of attacking India, what would be America's role? After the bombardment commenced on Iraq, Musharraf Saab in an address said it was their turn after Iraq.
Seeing the recent Russian and Chinese stance, do you expect a future change in their approach towards Pakistan?
It’s difficult for me to answer this right now. I will be visiting China in ten days from now. My discussions there will include global terrorism, its resurgence after Iraq war and the ways to tackle it.
Isn’t the morale of the soldiers guarding our borders affected by Pakistani misadventures on one hand and stumbling diplomatic efforts on the other?
Be it the Kargil front or the soldiers braving the elements on Siachen glacier to protect our borders, I have found that our soldiers always have their morale high, wanting to teach the enemy a lesson. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that our soldiers have an unbreakable morale, be it Operation Parakram or the skirmishes along the LoC. Whenever senior officers from various countries come to visit me, they never fail to express how wish they had brave soldiers such as ours in their armies. The skill and bravery displayed by our airmen in the treacherous mountains to destroy enemy artillery positions during the Kargil conflict is unparalleled. Even now officers from many countries visit the place to see how the Indian Air Force did it. Our morale is always high and preparations complete.
How prepared are we to meet the over and covert challenges posed by Pakistan on a daily basis and when will we retaliate?
We have always given a befitting reply to every Pakistani misadventure. As for any serious event in the future, as I have said, we are not just talking of war - preparations are always on at appropriate levels. Only when and where to attack has to be decided. Keeping the situation in mind, that would be decided by the Committee on Defence Affairs.
(Translated from Outlook Saptahik, 21 April, 2003)