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October 15, 2001

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The Rediff Interview/Gen K V Krishna Rao (Retd)




Commissioned in the Indian Army in 1942 (the first time Indians were inducted as officers) General Kotikalapudi Venkata Krishna Rao, PVSM, commanded the division which captured the Sylhet area and liberated northeast Bangladesh during the December 1971 war with Pakistan. Later, he became chief of army staff between 1981 and '83. After retirement he was appointed governor of Nagaland, Tripura and Manipur.

But his toughest assignment by far was the governorship of Jammu & Kashmir, a job he was appointed to in July 1989. That was the year Prime Minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh released five militants in the Rubaiya Sayeed kidnapping case -- setting a precedent of releasing militants for civilian lives.

In an account of the Sayeed kidnapping in his recently published memoirs, In the Service of the Nation, the general mentions that the Union government had released five militants when they could have got away by freeing only one.

He spoke about his latest book and his eventful tenure in the army and governance, to Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi. Excerpts:

What made a general write his memoirs?

When I retired as army chief I had written a book on national security. That had a good response. So I felt encouraged. The trouble in the Northeast and Kashmir continues, although not in a virulent form as it was in my days. I thought it would be useful if I put in writing the challenges I encountered, how I dealt with them and what lessons we learnt.

What's your perception of the current situation in Afghanistan and around?

Ninety-five per cent of the people are supporting George W Bush because they want the attackers to be punished. We [India] have been victims. This is an opportunity for us. I am so glad that our government has said that they will fully co-operate with America. India is eminently qualified to get into the highest decision-making body of the world, which is the Security Council. We will have to demonstrate to the world that we are a responsible and mature country. We have done so reasonably well. We have helped the UN in various conflict areas by sending our peacekeeping forces. After the end of the Cold War there has been a considerable change in our attitude towards Western powers.

All these years we have dealt with terrorism in Kashmir without crossing the border. Some people say we should indulge in hot pursuit. My line is that it would lead to a war. And war is very costly and results in devastation. I have said we can deal with it within Kashmir.

Let us do it in a dignified manner -- by getting into the Security Council. We must ensure excellent relations with Afghanistan. Before the Communists, our relations with Afghanistan were better than that of Pakistan. Diplomacy in peace is as important as the success of soldiers in war.

In view of this war, what are the considerations best suited to our national interest?

It is in our national interest to demolish the logic of the two-nation theory. We accepted it at the time of Partition, but we no longer believe in it. Our enemy -- the people who hurt us -- is Pakistan. Pakistan says Kashmir is the core issue. They have instigated some frustrated people to indulge in militancy. They claim Kashmir on the basis of the two-nation theory. This theory was demolished in 1971 when half of Pakistan seceded from Pakistan.

They give the argument that since Kashmiris are Muslims they should be with Pakistan. But Kashmiris don't want to go to Pakistan. Sixty per cent of the voters participated in the October 1996 election in J&K. This shows that they are not with Pakistan. My friend and American Ambassador (at that time) Frank Wisner complimented me that I had changed the American perception of Kashmir.

I invited the participation of the Hurriyat Conference and the militants. I said whoever wins the election, I will swear him in as chief minister. The Hurriyat-linked group could never get more than half a dozen seats. Even now the Hurriyat will not get more than half a dozen seats.

Kashmiris will only vote for a traditional party, not a fundamentalist party. Kashmiris cannot be fundamentalists. It is the foreign elements in Kashmir that are creating trouble.

Pakistan-occupied Kashmir belongs to us, but we won't go to war, we will take it [PoK] back by peaceful means. That's what the Parliament resolution says. The same applies to China. I am not advocating war. But why should we give it up?

Pakistan has been bullied by the US adequately in the [present] Afghan imbroglio. Some 25 miles north of Lahore is a Harkat-ul-Mujahideen camp. The Lashkar-e-Tayiba camp is situated near Islamabad. If America had hit those with cruise missiles, Lahore and Islamabad would be taken care of. That's what Pakistan feared. That's the reason they completely turned around and said they would fight Osama bin Laden. [But] Pakistan still wants the Taleban in power.

How far should we go with America?

As far as Americans are concerned they are striking at the terrorist camps because they have been hit badly. If we had applied the same logic, you know where it would have lead? That means we would have to use the air force. It would lead to war. Do we want a war? If you start a war, you will lose international sympathy. They would brand us a warmongering nation.

Also the ability to conduct a war is a moot question. Except Indira Gandhi -- who demonstrated in 1971 that she could conduct a war -- we have never had a cohesive government since.

Secondly, the armed forced don't have the requisite equipment. An expert committee gave certain recommendations to be implemented over a time frame of 25 years. When I was army chief during Indiraji's time, some of them were implemented. But after that there has been a slide down. The defence budget has gone down by 2 per cent. It used to be about 3 to 3.5 per cent at my time. All the requirements for modernisation have been put aside and nothing has been done about it. So how will the army go and win the war?

Do you recall [former] army chief V P Malik's statement? When there was a threat of war, he said, "Well, we will try and fight with whatever we have." The current army chief, S Padmanabhan, won't say such things, he is more intelligent [laughs]. First, I was a bit annoyed... why did Malik say that? You know they have all served under me in some capacity or the other. Later, he [Malik] explained: "Sir, we don't have many of the equipment. All those things which you had projected have not come."

Just three days back I spoke to PM Vajpayee again for some of these things.

Tell us about an interesting chapter of your book, something that's close to your heart.

When Chandra Shekhar was prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi told me that he [Chandra Shekhar] wants to make use of my services. I said I won't take up any job. I had resigned from the governorship of Kashmir during V P Singh's time.

On his request I met the PM. I told him if at all I serve again, it will be in Kashmir, nowhere else. I am concerned about it. Even strategically Kashmir is vital, just as the Northeast is vital to the nation's security.

We are very near the battleground. How well prepared are our forces?

We need to be prepared. Osama bin Laden has warned that their enemies are the US, Israel and India. We should be careful, but not panic unnecessarily. We are a strong country. Our army is first-class. [Air force chief] A Y Tipnis made a statement about the need for advanced jet trainers. We must give him what he wants.

How do you read the American military plan in Afghanistan? A poor country hit by the costliest of weapons. What kind of war is this?

Americans are not using these weapons to hit any particular man. They don't know where Osama is. They can use all these weapons and still not find the man. The aim is to get at the Taleban. To bomb them into submission. There will be public pressure [on the Taleban] to surrender. In the same way as Pakistan surrendered in Bangladesh.

Should India provide land bases if required?

Repair, refuelling or use of airfields or air space should be provided. These reservations were there earlier because we are a non-aligned country. Once Indira Gandhi said in New York: "We are neither leaning to the left, nor to right. We are straight." Let's be genuinely non-aligned. Let's be straight.

Because you are non-aligned doesn't mean you don't fight an evil. You can't have the best of both worlds. Not fight an enemy and still have a peace in your favour.

There is a kind of fear in the air. Would you like to elaborate on people's psyche in this time of war?

Why should Indians fear? There is nothing to be afraid of. This is a great country. It has got a capable armed force. These fears are based on earlier actions -- on Pakistan's invasion of J&K in 1947 and the Chinese invasion in 1962. We are no longer that kind of an armed force. We have built ourselves up. Of course there is always scope for improvement. I always say the army must have modern weapons. If anyone thinks this will be repeated they are certainly mistaken. They tried in Kargil, they were thrown out.

The Congress says the BJP's decision to go for a second nuclear test has taken away our advantage in conventional warfare vis--vis Pakistan. Is it so?

When I was chairman of the chiefs of staff, we felt that unless we have nuclear capability we can't guarantee the security of this nation. I discussed it with Indira Gandhi. The constraining factor was our economy. So she took the decision that other than testing we would do everything. When the BJP government did the test they didn't do it overnight. The preparations were done over a period of 10 years. It was a good political decision.

The nuclear programme should be taken to its logical conclusion [inducting nuclear arms in the army]. Our enemy is not merely Pakistan, there are others we have to take care of. Why should we allow ourselves to be bullied by any nuclear power, in particular China?

We are superior to Pakistan in conventional war. Pakistan didn't get the nuclear capability overnight. Who knows, any nuclear power can threaten us. In international relations there are no permanent friends or enemies.

So don't you think that our edge over Pakistan in conventional warfare has gone?

The point is whether Pakistan will use its weapons. Initially they were talking very loosely and irresponsibly about Kashmir being a nuclear flash point. And they were talking of integrating nuclear weapons as part of their strategy. They will have to think 100 times before using a nuclear weapon. If there is a war, it would largely remain conventional. But when they see that their country is being disintegrated, they may think of using it.

That's why I want talks, not on Kashmir first but on the nuclear issue. Let's have a grip on this issue. There is something called the threshold of tolerance; that should not be reached by either.

How much have you 'hidden' in your book?

There are no deliberate lies. I have written about my weaknesses also. I have brought out the truth as I saw it. Let's say the rigging of the 1987 election [in J&K]. I have written about it because the public told me so. I have criticised the home ministry because it impeded my progress. I wanted to sort out militancy in Kashmir in six months' time. I was confident of success if I had the required forces. But I was not given forces for two years.

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