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End this madness - The Observer

Inder Malhotra ()
11 December 1996

Title : End this madness
Author : Inder Malhotra
Publication : The Observer
Date : December 11, 1996

It is nice to know that the Prime Minister's son, H D
Kumaraswamy, has joined 40 other members of Parliament's
standing committee on defence in criticising the Deve
Gowda government for taking national defence casually.
The charge, which was laid at the door of the Narasimha
Rao regime also, is true in both cases. And the manner
in which issues having a vital hearing on Indian security
are still being handled is nothing short of the scan-
dalous.

Even more shocking than the matters which have rightly
aroused the ire of Kumaraswamy and his colleagues is what
the ruling United Front has done about Agni, the wholly
indigenous medium-range missile. Merely to state the
sequence of events is to stress how deeply distressing
the state of affairs is.

One of the more disgraceful things the Narasimha Rao
government has done was to give the United States surrep-
titious assurance that Agni would be put in "deep freeze"
and this country would not embark on the serial produc-
tion of Prithvi, the short-range missile which Islamabad
describes as "Pakistan-specific". Officials of the Clin-
ton Administration lost no time in placing these "pri-
vate" assurances of Rao on the Congressional record. In
New Delhi, Rao remained inscrutable.

In March last, while he was still in power, the standing
committee of parliament, which functions on the basis of
unanimity, demanded the serial production of not just
Prithvi but also Agni. Rao maintained his customary
silence, and soon enough the country was in the throes of
elections in which the Rao government was thrown out.

When it assumed office, the UF government had to address
the challenge of the nuclear hegemons over the CTBT which
was nearing the moment of decision. To its credit the
Deve Gowda government refused to sign the unacceptable
treaty on the dotted line. It also declared that it must
keep India's nuclear option open in view of the impera-
tives of Indian security.

Even before India rejected the CTBT, admittedly at the
risk of facing isolation, the defence ministry's annual
report was published in the month of July. It categori-
cally asserted that, given the spread of missiles in
India's neighbourhood, development of ballistic missiles
was necessary.

In any case, once it was decided that the nuclear option
must be maintained, and when necessary exercised, Agni
became absolutely indispensable. For, if this country has
to have a credible nuclear deterrent vis-a-vis China,
there is no other means of delivery except Agni.

During the CTBT negotiations China for the first time
took a palpably anti-Indian position in relation to the
nuclear issue. Along with Britain and Russia, it took
the stance that the CTBT should enter into force only
after an unwilling India had signed and ratified it.

Thereafter, the Chinese president, Jiang Zemin, has paid
a visit to this country and Pakistan. As a result of his
visit to Delhi, India-China relations have registered a
further, if slow, advance. His advice to Pakistan to
"shelve temporarily" intractable issues (the reference to
Kashmir is manifest) is also welcome. But he has, at the
same time, reiterated that what is euphemistically called
"peaceful nuclear cooperation" between China and Pakistan
will continue. A subsequent American plan that China
should desist from this course has made no difference to
Beijing's stance.

Against this bleak backdrop, the idea of putting Agni "on
hold" is nothing short of mid-winter madness. And the
sooner this is ended, the better. Agni must neither be
put out nor frozen. It has got to be developed: otherwise
any pretence of keeping the nuclear option open would
become meaningless.

To be sure, as in the case of similar bungling, the
government has kept an escape hatch. Its declaration that
the Agni being a "technology demonstrator" had served its
purpose and that nothing further needs to be done has the
rider that if the situation changed and so demanded, the
option to produce Agni would be open.

This rigmarole is utter nonsense. India faces a nuclear
nightmare. An intermediate-range ballistic missile is a
must. There is no question of leaving this matter open
for the future. Agni has to be developed here and now.

Technically, it is doubtless true that Agni was initially
designated, in the early eighties, as a "technology
demonstrator". Three tests have been conducted so far and
these have proved satisfactory. But that is not enough.

According to experts, at least one more test with an Agni
of 3,000 km range (those tested so far have a range of
2500 kms) is urgently called for. Not to hold this test
would certainly amount to a grave dereliction of duty to
the country and playing ducks and drakes with its
defence.

Nor is it enough to conduct a "long-distance" test and
then sit hand on hand, as the government is apparently
planning to do. The present design of Agni has to be
converted into a stockier version which is more suitable
for operational missiles.

The government, presumably under relentless external
pressure, is able to get away with policies injurious to
national interest because public opinion is neither
watchful nor vocal where issues of security and defence
are concerned. It is a chronic Indian weakness and
something has got to be done to overcome this.

While on the subject of missiles, one more matter needs
to be dealt During the recent Jiang visit, India and
China signed a welcome and useful agreement on confidence
building measures in the military fields along the line
of actual control in the India-China border areas. In
this agreement is given a list of the equipment that the
two sides should withdraw as and when they agree on the
thinning out of troops along the line of actual control.

In this list are included surface-to-surface and surface-

to-air missiles. That, too, is perfectly all right
except for one thing. It is that the US which is relent-
lessly pressurising this country to refrain from develop-
ing ballistic missiles, will seize on this clause in
furtherance of its misguided cause.

It is possible, indeed probable, that the United States
might say that since India and China can agree on with-
drawal of missiles, New Delhi should heed the American
plea for keeping South Asia free from ballistic missiles.
Nothing would be more absurd.

In the first place, the agreement on CBMs does not deal
with ballistic missiles but only with rockets usually
deployed close to the borders. Secondly, even these
missiles are to be withdrawn only 20 kms or so because
the agreement, including the commitment not to use mili-
tary capability against each other, applies only to the
border areas. Beyond that China has deployed numerous
missiles, including those with 10,000 km range, which can
cover every nook and corner of this country.



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