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June 4, 1999
Government may increase defence budget
Tara Shankar Sahay in New Delhi
With the Kargil conflict stretching out beyond the government's expectation, talk has begun in South Block about the inevitability of a substantial increase in the defence budget, senior officials indicated today.
They said the government's resolve to flush out the Pakistani intruders from their lofty perches in the Kargil-Drass-Batalik sector entails an extended campaign. Hence a substantial increase in the defence budget is inevitable, irrespective of the pressure exerted against such a course of action by multilateral lending agencies like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
Since 1990, the growth in real terms in India's defence budget has slowed from 13 to 15 per cent to about 5 per cent. And the lion's share of even this paltry increase has gone towards the salaries and perks of the personnel, leaving little for buying new hardware.
But care is now being taken to ensure that the new increase is not prevented by "debilitating factors" like external pressure and that it will be adequate to ensure that India's armed forces are fighting fit.
Significantly, New Delhi is getting four more Sukhoi 30MKI fighter-interceptors from Russia. Two are being delivered immediately while the other two will follow within a week, it is learnt.
In 1988, India's defence budget amounted to Rs 129 billion, in 1989 Rs 140 billion, in 1990 Rs 151 billion, in 1991 Rs 160 billion, in 1992 Rs 171 billion, in 1993 Rs 206 billion, in 1994 Rs 228 billion, in 1995 Rs 260 billion, in 1996 Rs 288 billion and in 1997 Rs 341 billion.
Meanwhile, the external affairs ministry is planning to corner Pakistani Foreign Secretary Shamshad Ahmad for his "utterly irresponsible statement" that his country would use "any weapon" in its armoury to defend itself.
Officials in the ministry said with the international community convinced that Islamabad began the trouble by sending armed intruders into Indian territory, the Nawaz Sharief government is resorting to nuclear blackmail in desperation.
With its back to the wall, Pakistan is trying hard to focus world attention on the conflict in the hope that there will be some sort of international intervention in Jammu and Kashmir.
But in the external affairs ministry's perception, the international community is quite satisfied that the Simla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration should be the basis for resolving all outstanding disputes between India and Pakistan.
The officials, however, said the American response of advising Pakistan to withdraw its intruders from Indian territory seems to have sunk in only halfway. They said if Washington had also condemned trans-border terrorism of the Pakistani variety, the message would have gone through loud and clear. And Ahmad would not have ventured into making the "shockingly irresponsible" statement he did.
The officials said an important worry for the world now would be how to ensure that Pakistan behaves responsibly with its nuclear weapons. They said it would be no surprise if some of Islamabad's bombs are given to the invaders in Kargil since they have already been equipped with Stinger missiles.
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