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August 4, 1999


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The Rediff Interview/Lt Gen P N Hoon (retd)

'If we give away our territory we are going to run into trouble tomorrow'

Lt Gen Prem Nath Hoon 'The Pakis were supposed to be one km away from the LoC. They haven't implemented it'

So in light of this and the Kargil crisis, what kind of a chief has General Ved Prakash Malik been to his men?

Any chief is a very good chief. Otherwise, he won't come to that position. When we get into that position, in spite of any hazard we must have the right to speak up and that is why I have written about Bofors in my forthcoming book.

Bofors was a gun that was selected by General K Sundarji. It was one of the most brilliant guns of the century. I had used it in Kargil and Siachen. It was used in Kargil now (Operation Vijay) and proved its worth. But why did we stop ammunition?

Because the politician did not see eye to eye with the PM at that time. Is that fair to the nation? Similarly, Sundarji after retirement started making statements that the gun was bad. The Sofma was the gun that was selected. When he got it changed to Bofors himself as the chief of the army staff. He proved it to the parliamentary committee -- the shoot and scoot capability or whatever have we. And after retirement he said he had asked to scrap the gun because ek safed chamri wale ko bachane ke liye. That is what Arun Singh also said.

How very horrible to say such a thing. It is a tradition in the Indian army, how fair we are to bring in any weapon system. There are countries who beg us to at least try their weaponry and give them a report because the world accepts the Indian army's standards of quality. But even today, everything is overboard. We are buying equipment that is not required, which does not fit the bill. It is very sad.

Isn't this a direct reflection on the then chief of staff?

Many young soldiers lost their lives in Kargil Maybe the chiefs are not as strong. If it is the question of the security of the country then the chief is to blame. If he doesn't stand up and put his foot down. When Indira Gandhi came to Siachen and we met in Ladakh for the first time, she said okay go ahead. I said I couldn't because I didn't have the equipment. I said I was not talking about the lethal equipment, but non lethal ones like parka, snow boots, skis, frozen food. I wouldn't be able to supply my troops for 10, 15 days. She said she had been told that everything was ready.

We then had a meeting with scientific advisors and I proved it to her that we didn't have the equipment. I then went for two-and-a-half months to various countries and ordered equipment. And we launched on April 13 which was still winter. I wanted it during winter to save casualties. So here was a time when a senior officer could say that he didn't agree. And there was a government that was responsive to either convince you or fulfill your requirements.

Would you say Mrs Gandhi scored over the other PMs as far as the relationship with the three chiefs was concerned?

Why only Mrs Gandhi? Even Nehru. His was a masterstroke when he made Thimayya take back his resignation. In an age of coalition politics we need very strong institutions which have to lay down perspective. I understand that Manmohan Singh as FM reduced the defence budget. That is why we don't have the equipment now. Why didn't the subsequent governments increase it then? Today they are ready to give one rank, one pension. Today they are ready to give everything. What happens after this enthusiasm has died down?

Is the Indian army not throwing leadership like it did before?

The army is not being permitted to throw up leadership.

Is it being stifled by the government?

It is not being stifled, but I think the senior officer is stifled. He himself is being stifled. The man on top should have the courage of his conviction to say yes or no and take it on his chin.

Has General Malik done so?

I don't blame the individual. I blame the institution. The institution is important. Bhagwat was not important, but it is the institution of the chief of naval staff that is important.

There exists another section which maintains that the LoC should be regarded as the international boundary. That the status quo emerging from that would be the best solution to the Kashmir problem. Does that appear as a viable solution in a nuclear armed India and Pak?

Was Kargil a victory? If the government in its wisdom wants to make the LoC the international boundary with Pakistan, I don't think I can say very much. I think they should think deeply about what affect it will have on India. If we give away our territory we are going to run into trouble tomorrow. You see the Siachen road which is being built through Siachen is Indian territory, which Jawaharlal Nehru said we would take back every inch. Then we will have to compromise with China also. If we do that, we have other neighbours -- Nepal, Bhutan, Northeastern states, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka. And finally every state in India will be Russia.

What solution do you see to the India-Pak problem?

Yes. By totally vacating the Pakistanis from Pak Occupied Kashmir. There is no hurry about that. Germany after World War II was partitioned. Did anyone feel at that time that Germany will be united one day? If you feel that India and Pakistan can have a relationship one day like the USA and Canada, just forget it! At least for the moment. But I said there was no hurry. Why don't we send our children to Pakistan to study, why don't we get theirs to India? Why don't we start more cultural interaction? To achieve a solution we have to begin people to people contact. I was born in Pakistan, in Abottabad in NWFP.

In every country there are rightist forces. In Pakistan there are the Mullahs. In India we have the VHP, RSS. Let us start on a scale where we can change. Something like the policy of family planning. It was good but the manner in which it was implemented was incorrect. But we never go about it in the right manner because we are in a hurry to see results. You can't say you've got 'Vijay' if you cleared your own area of intruders. Every day we can't go to war, I wish they had got back something substantial that we had lost before.

You call yourself a hawk, and yet propagate people to people contact between the two countries?

When it comes to national security I can't compromise. But tempered in this hawkishness is an inner heart which says let us give it a try. Maybe this will work.

Getting back PoK doesn't seem easy, especially in view of the international pressure that comes when two countries look seemingly close to war?

Let the situation simmer. In the early days of the Kargil conflict Nawaz Sharief made a statement that if we don't stop the air strikes there would be a war. Our PM also made a statement that under no circumstances there would be war. Our chief also said there was no question of going to war. I say we have failed here also.

Pakistan carried out a naked aggression into our territory. Pakistan's PM says if you strike and use weaponry there will be a war. What we needed to tell Sharief was: 'Mr Prime Minister, your country has carried out this naked aggression and we are going to use everything in our armoury to knock you out from there. If it is a war we are prepared for it.'

Now that we are nuclear powers, everyone is worried that we will use it. But we have already said that we would not be the first to strike. But if any nation dares to start a nuclear strike against India -- we are a large country, we will be able to absorb that shock and knock off that country from the face of the earth.

What kind of leadership heads the Pakistani army? What are they driven by? Sheer hatred for India?

'I hold Narasimha Rao responsible for allowing Kashmir to slip out of India's hand'

General Hoon's photograph: Jewella C Miranda

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