Wednesday, July 2, 2003, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


M A I N   N E W S

Exclusive Interview
‘Someone blocking defence procurement’
AJT procurement can be delayed by 3 years, says George
T.R. Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, July 1
Union Defence Minister George Fernandes is concerned about a situation being reached having the portends of bringing major procurement for the armed forces to a “standstill.”

“I am willing to stick my neck out because I have a responsibility which I have to fulfil. Therefore, I want to see that delays are overcome. Now that we have a procurement policy and a procurement board, the situation has indeed taken a turn for the better,” Mr Fernandes observed in an exclusive interview with The Tribune today.

Acknowledging that an advanced jet trainer (AJT) to impart “comprehensive training to pilots is needed desperately”, he said the campaign that officials by and large are shy of taking decisions “is hurting us.”

“Ultimately, there has to be transparency. If there is no transparency, there can be malfeasance. We are literally on the horns of a dilemma. We need things desperately. And at another end, someone is trying to block these procurements. Overcoming it is not an easy task.”

After resigning and having been brought back to the government, Mr Fernandes pointed out that a situation had been reached where “major procurement had come to a standstill. I have (since) initiated action on everything. I am once again willing to stick my neck out and see that delays are overcome. With a procurement policy and procurement board, the situation has indeed taken a turn for the better. The fear of expressing views has been overcome.”

Mr Fernandes answered a wide range of questions on the acquisition of AJTs being delayed by another 2-3 years, sending troops to Iraq, Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, Sino-Indian exchange of military delegations and exercises and enlarging economic and security ties with Brazil.

He explained why the direly needed AJTs had been put on hold requiring a fresh review despite the La Fontaine committee underlining its need more than two decades ago. The minister said this was against the backdrop of media projection in British newspapers about the Americans feeling that British Aerospace was marketing the Hawk trainer by paying huge kickbacks.

Mr Fernandes said agencies like the Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) and the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) will look into these issues. With this kind of a situation where allegations are made whether motivated or genuine, a big question mark arises.

“This is what will delay procuring the AJTs or anything that the defence forces need. My statement on the acquisition of the AJTs for the IAF is in that context where a campaign becomes the issue. It is a matter of concern as it has been hurting us.”

The minister was categoric that no decision had been taken of sending a division strength of an Indian stabilisation force to Iraq. “Certain issues need to be clarified before one can think on this issue.”

On Pakistan, Mr Fernandes decried the tendency of constantly looking at the neighbour as a benchmark for defence preparedness and arming the defence services.

Such a trend is not good for the morale of the country nor the armed forces. “If the US chooses to give weapons to Pakistan, there is no way we can say you shall not.” The answer to such a situation is that “we equip ourselves in proper time and be prepared to meet” the challenges.

The Minister countered criticism about operation “Sarp Vinash” in Jammu and Kashmir and said suicide or Fidayeen attacks cannot have immediate solutions. “Sarp Vinash” is an ongoing exercise and will continue. It has been highly successful and the Army will make available a document on “Sarp Vinash” shortly.

About cross-border terrorism, Mr Fernandes emphasised “it is continuing and we have to fight it. But ultimately all wars are settled across the table and this is the third effort made by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee extending a hand of friendship to Pakistan.”

He said Mr Vajpayee’s initiative has come in the post 9/11 scenario amid many fallout of terrorist activity in several parts of the world. The Prime Minister’s initiative has been welcomed by almost all the countries. It is true that some negative statements are emanating from Pakistan but it is also true that confidence building measures (CBMs) have been initiated by both India and Pakistan. However, the border is still witnessing terrorist violence and fidayeen attack on a peace station of the Indian Army in Jammu last week.

“Despite these aberrations I believe the Prime Minister’s initiative must be pursued vigorously. I must say with a lot of anguish that certain sections of the media are playing a role designed to derail the process through distortion of what is being stated by the leadership, particularly of Pakistan.”

In this context he referred to a recent interview given by Gen Musharraf. Whereas Gen Musharraf was talking about moving towards the resolution of differences, a spin was given to make it appear that “he (Gen Musharraf) was not wanting to move forward.”

Mr Fernandes said during his visit to China he had mooted joint Sino-Indian military exchanges and exercises and taking steps to make the border peaceful and pooling the resources for economic development.

“It is not surprising that both countries (India and China) have been thinking more or less on identical lines. That’s why I find Atalji’s visit to China such a great success.”

He recalled that during his talks in Beijing, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao listed three core problems afflicting his country. Mr Wen listed these as collosal unemployment, wide disparities in economic development and that hardly any development had touched the lives of the rural folks and the peasantry. “My response was that it was a mirror image we were experiencing in India.”

Mr Fernandes attached importance to his visit to Brazil beginning Thursday encompassing economic and security ties. India is acquiring five executive jets for IAF’s communications squadron and one VVIP aircraft from Brazil. Describing the visit to the Latin American giant as “a very positive development,” he said “we are exploring all areas of cooperation including joint ventures in the defence sphere.”

He noted that Brazil had changed its economic and political profile in several ways. The country’s economic progress was phenomenal and its march to democracy was admirable.



Only mad man can start N-war

New Delhi, July 1
Union Defence Minister George Fernandes believes that “anyone who starts a nuclear war has to be a mad man” especially when nuclear power states are gradually trying to liquidate or reduce those arsenals.

“If anyone wants to lead his country to suicide, none can help him because we have a doctrine that we shall not be the first to strike. That does not mean we shall not retaliate as it cannot be too late,” Mr Fernandes declared in an exclusive interview.

Mr Fernandes was responding to a pointed question about Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf holding out a veiled nuclear threat against India.

“If anyone thinks he can survive by using nuclear weapons against India, he should realise that there will be retaliation which could erase everything around from the map of the world,” he maintained.

The Minister said “I am sorry I have to say these things but in a situation of irresponsible talk, there has to be a clear answer.”

— T.R. Ramachandran


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