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Nobody should consider India a pushover - The Times of India

Jyotirmaya Sharma ()
June 8, 1998

Title: Nobody should consider India a pushover
Author: Jyotirmaya Sharma
Publication: The Times of India
Date: June 8, 1998

India's recent exercise of its nuclear option has highlighted the
need for a coherent national security policy. While nuclear
weapons can be an effective deterrent, they have to be backed up
by systematic, dynamic, and visionary thinking about national
security concerns. Defence minister George Fernandes admits the
lack of an intelligent debate as well as a blueprint regarding
India's strategic security concerns. Mr Fernandes spoke to
Jyotirmaya Sharma about the aftermath of the Pokhran II
explosions, the ethical duplicity of the five nuclear power
states, the threat from Pakistan and China, and India's resolve
to overcome the present crisis. Excerpts from the interview:

Q: What are India's actual and perceived security threats? Would
you like to spell these out?
A: The reactions to our exploding the nuclear devices on May 11
and 13 should tell us something on this. China, for instance,
believes that our entire intention of going for the tests was
because.... they haven used the word threat, but they have said
something to that effect. Pakistan has responded by going in for
its own tests. So, now, who are the people today who are feeling
concerned the most about our strength is obvious to us.

At another level the way the five nuclear states, particularly
the United States, have generally reacted also indicates that
those who have the weapons today feel that India possessing any
kind of nuclear weapons capability is not acceptable to them.
Therefore, when we discuss our security concerns and threat
perceptions, I don't think one should look only across the
borders. One also has to have a wider look.

Has there been a systematic thinking about and anticipation of
the geo-political implications of India going nuclear?

The tragedy is that in India these are issues that have never
been systematically discussed. There hasn't been any kind of a
debate on national security, an awareness of threat perceptions.
Ultimately, national security can only mean security against
someone. This is where the threat perception part comes in. I
have been in three governments by now, but my experience was no
one ever discussed these matters. We didn't have a national
security policy at all. There are the defence forces, there is
the defence ministry, so you carry on. When somebody decides to
take a potshot at you, then you say, "All right, if you can do
this, we can do it better and take a few potshots at them.

Just go down into the Bay of Bengal and look at the Andaman and
Nicobar Islands. It is the farthest frontier of India. and, I
think, the most insecure frontier of India. We have a naval
outfit there, a small army unit, and a couple of airfields, but
that is about all. And that is tomorrow's water highway from the
west to the east. In fact, it is today's water highway, but
tomorrow it will b& a much bigger water highway, because there
will be much more of merchandise passing to and fro. I don't
think we have thought who will control that. And he who controls
that, what will he do to us? And, do we have a say in how it
should be controlled? These are all matters that pertain to
national security. So in all these matters, we either suffer from
dementia or from a couldn't-care-less sort of an attitude.

The debate after the detonations has largely been a politics of
morality play. Do we, however, have the technical, administrative
and political wherewithal to deal with the implications of going

As of today, I don't think we are all that equipped. If we have
neglected our national security concerns for five decades, then
overnight to expect people to become suddenly aware and start
having intelligent debate on the issues is asking for too much.
Secondly, there isn't a united mind on this, a national thinking
on this. If there was one, we wouldn't have people asking
questions as to "When did you come to believe that there were
threats to our national security?" Or, "When and why did you
believe that a nuclear test or nuclearisation was needed?"

In the context of China, particularly, the question is raised,
"Why do you need the bomb? Against whom?" Now, we can as well
ask why does China need nuclear weapons and against whom? Who is
China perceiving as a threat to its security? After all it has
everything from ICBMs with nuclear warheads to inter-regional
ballistic missiles. When we discuss these questions in Parliament
or outside it, I can see that there isn't a well thought out
framework within which one sees these questions as national
questions. Sadly, we still have a partisan approach.

But haven't the sanctions in the first instance and then the
internationalisation of the Kashmir issue, landed us in what
seems an irretrievable mess?

The re-opening of the Kashmir issue makes me believe that this is
how it would have ended anyway I can't see why someone should now
say Kashmir has to become an international issue. Just because
India has exploded a nuclear device and so has Pakistan. In other
words you were waiting.

Let's face it. For the last ten years, there is a proxy war
being fought. We are losing men, our soldiers are dying, our
paramilitary people are dying, our civilians are dying. And they
are dying at the hands of mercenaries who come from somewhere
else. And the world never cared. The world was not concerned. All
those who are today trying to say, "We are policemen", they never
said a word. If anything, those who are today discussing
internationalising it, helped our neighbours in many ways.

I don't see why we should worry about this. We have been fighting
the proxy war in Kashmir and we will keep fighting it. Nobody
should consider India as a pushover. It is a nation of a billion
people. Nobody can come and say, "We will teach you a lesson."
Our sovereignty has not been surrendered and it is not going to
be surrendered.

Do you approve of the triumphalistic rhetoric by certain sections
of the BJP?

here may have been some extraordinary display of enthusiasm by a
few people in the ruling coalition in the beginning. But
triumphalism is not called for. There is nothing to celebrate.
Because, tomorrow in any kind of conflict, there is always the
possibility of casualties. One does not celebrate such things. If
you want to celebrate some kind of an achievement, then you
congratulate your scientists. I can understand that. But one
should not treat this as something which calls for a celebration.
What we are doing are merely matters which should have been done
earlier. What we are doing is taking a realistic view of our
security concerns and taking certain steps.

How do you react to India being branded as a rogue state by some
countries in the international arena?

This idea that we explode the bomb and we become rogues, but when
China goes in for nuclear tests on the eve of the CTBT, it gets
the status of a Most Favoured Nation. France conducts tests, and
what does it become? It becomes the hope of mankind. America has
a stockpile that can blow up this world ten times over, and what
happens then? It becomes the policeman. And we become rogues. We
can always play rogues and policemen games. To call India a rogue
state is an insult which can rebound at some point.

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