Tuesday, January 7, 2003, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Foreign jets to fly in Indian skies
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 6
The ninth round of Indo-French Strategic Dialogue was held here today during which a host of important decisions were understood to have been taken for forging closer strategic ties between the two countries.

Well-placed sources in South Block told The Tribune tonight that Indo-French joint military exercises are going to be held in India later this year. The importance of the event can be gauged from the fact that the French will be coming to this country with their own fighter jets and it would be for the first time in the history of independent India when a foreign air force would be flying its combat aircraft in Indian skies.

The ninth round of Indo-French Strategic Dialogue was held in two sessions today. The French delegation was headed by Mr Gordault Montagure, Special Envoy to the French President, while the Indian delegation was held by Prime Minister’s Principal Secretary and National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra. Mr Montagure also called on External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha today.

Sources said Indo-French relations had always been good but were put on a strategic pedestal after Pokhran-II nuclear tests (May 1998) and the Kargil war (1999). France is at present President of the United Nations Security Council and Chairman of the G-8 countries.

Paris had been the most understanding and accommodating with India in the wake of Pokhran-II when the western world, led by the USA and the United Kingdom, had heaped criticism on New Delhi for the nuke tests and imposed sanctions. Though France too had announced sanctions in the wake of Pokhran-II, it continued to be willing to provide sensitive equipment and machinery to India. The sources said France had of late emerged as India’s major alternative supplier of defence equipment and hardware — Russia being the most important source in this field.

At a time when the Indian strategists were looking forward to diversifying their armaments imports for reduced dependence on Russia, France had emerged as a major alternative defence equipment supplier. A major defence deal with France is already being given final touches for selling the French-made Scorpio submarines to India. Scorpio submarines, are credited with immense strategic and tactical-importance as they hardly leave any “signatures” on the water surface.



India begins work on tri-services N-force
Rezaul H. Laskar

New Delhi, January 6
India’s armed forces have begun work on creating a tri-services nuclear force, but it may be a few years before New Delhi is capable of simultaneously delivering nuclear weapons by land, sea and air.

The Strategic Forces Command, a tri-services formation that will manage and administer the country’s nuclear arsenal, is expected to combine land, sea and air-based platforms capable of delivering nuclear weapons, military sources told IANS.

Air Marshal T.M. Asthana will soon take over as Commander-in-Chief of the nuclear command, the sources said. Air Marshal Asthana, till recently chief of the Indian Air Force (IAF) Southern Command, is attached to Air Headquarters here.

“He will assume office as Commander-in-Chief of the Strategic Forces Command when a formal notification is issued by the government,” said a senior IAF official.

The government on Saturday formally announced the existence of a nuclear command and control system that gives the civilian political leadership headed by the Prime Minister the final say in authorising the use of nuclear weapons.

The sources, however, said it would take a few years for the Strategic Forces Command to acquire comprehensive capabilities to deliver nuclear weapons by land, sea and air.

“In the first phase, the Strategic Forces Command will be equipped with long-range missiles like the Agni,” the IAF officer said. “Those are the only proven assets capable of delivering nuclear weapons,” he added.

Reiterating its established posture of “no first use” of nuclear weapons, New Delhi made a significant shift in policy by saying it would retain the option of using nuclear weapons if it was attacked with biological or chemical weapons.

The Nuclear Command Authority will comprise a Political Council chaired by the Prime Minister and an Executive Council headed by the National Security adviser.

The Strategic Forces Command will be responsible for executing the Political Council’s orders for using nuclear weapons, the military sources said.

India has successfully tested two variants of the Agni ballistic missile — Agni-I, a single-stage solid fuelled missile with a range of 700 km that can be moved by road or rail, and Agni-II, a two-stage missile with a range of up to 2,500 km.

The IAF is working on making its frontline jets like the Mirage 2000 and Su-30MKI capable of delivering nuclear weapons. The sources said a proven air-based nuclear deterrence would take some more time.

Work is under way on an indigenous nuclear-powered submarine to complete the triad of land, sea and air-based platforms capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

Military experts believe a nuclear-powered submarine, capable of operating for long periods under water, will be the most effective platform to carry a “second strike”, or retaliation, against a first strike by an enemy using nuclear devices.

The eight-point nuclear doctrine approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security on Saturday said India’s retaliation to a nuclear first strike would be “massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage”.

Defence experts said New Delhi’s official announcement on the setting up of the Nuclear Command Authority filled a gap in enhancing the credibility of India’s nuclear capability.

“The framework accords doctrinal underpinning to India’s evolving nuclear posture and the sanctity of government approval for the use of nuclear weapons,” said Commodore C. Uday Bhaskar, Deputy Director of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, a leading security think tank. IANS



USA to keep off any move on LoC
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 6
The USA today ruled out its involvement in any move to convert the Line of Control into a permanent border between India and Pakistan, and once again asked Islamabad to ensure that there is no infiltration across the LoC.

The visiting Director, Policy Planning Staff in the US State Department, Mr Richard Hass, who today had an hour-long meeting with External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha and a 45-minute meeting with Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal, said: “It is important that LoC be respected. That there be no infiltration of any sort across the LoC.”

Responding to questions after speaking on “Current challenges of America’s foreign policy” at an interactive session organised by FICCI, Mr Hass said this was an issue that was a “regular topic” with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf.

Mr Hass stressed that Washington was keen on the evolution of “more normal” relations between India and Pakistan, and advised the two hostile neighbours that normalising relations was in the interests of both.

On India’s concerns over the transfer of nuclear and missile technology by Pakistan to North Korea, he said there was an international consensus that North Korea should undo such capabilities and abide by the international regime.

He declined to indicate whether US action against Iraq was imminent. “Iraq has to disarm”, he said, adding that “the present situation cannot be allowed to go on for ever”.

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