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February 9, 1998


Issues '98/General V N Sharma (retd)

'It is too expensive to be weak'

Should India only be an economically strong country or a military power too? That is the question which needs to be asked now. Everybody knows that nothing can be done without money, and that the economy is of prime importance. But does this means that the military is of no importance?

India missed a number of opportunities when we could have become a big military power without spending much. And none of the political parties have come out with a concrete proposal as to what they intend to do with the Indian military.

Our first opportunity was in Kashmir in 1947-48. Shedding a lot of blood and sacrificing many lives, we captured enemy territory, but the Cabinet did not allow us to retain it. Instead, the government went to the United Nations.

In the war against Pakistan in 1965, the army captured the Hajipur pass in Kashmir. It was a bloody battle and the army wanted to hold on to the territory. In the same war, the army occupied the area between the Kashmir valley and Poonch, the area from where the terrorists now enter Kashmir. It is a strategically important point because it overlooks the Kargil road from Kashmir to Ladakh and the enemy guns on it hinder our movements.

But once again the army had to hand over both the Hajipur pass and Kargil posts to Pakistan as a result of the Tashkent Agreement. Jawaharlal Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri were good prime ministers, but both of them failed to capitalise on the opportunities.

Then came the 1971 war in which we broke Pakistan into two. But what was the impact of our victory in terms of the vexed Kashmir problem? Nothing. India should not have signed the Shimla Agreement without ironing out the Kashmir issue. Till date, Kashmir has only a ceasefire line. Pakistan claims Kashmir as theirs and we say that Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is ours. But why didn't we first solve the Kashmir issue, fix a border with Pakistan and then sign the agreement?

The army wanted to regain the occupied territory once and for all, but was not allowed to do so.

After the Chinese aggression in 1962, China had claimed Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. And mind you, there is no demarcated border with China. Even earlier, India was the only country willing to accept China's claim that Tibet is their territory. It is good to be idealistic, but how do we counter the Chinese threat by being magnanimous and idealistic?

The other option of becoming a military power without spending huge amounts of money is the nuclear option. Though Indira Gandhi exploded the nuclear device in 1974, why didn't she carry on with the programme? For at least a decade after Pokhran, India faced an embargo on import of nuclear technology from the West. But India overcame that -- now we make our own reactors.

Today, everybody says India has a hidden bomb. But through all my career, I searched for this bomb and didn't find any. If it is so deeply hidden, then who is going to pull the trigger? Who plans the strategy? Who is in charge of execution? Prime Minister Gujral?

When China went nuclear and since the Chinese attack, we have always asked the question, how do we counter the Chinese threat? China has deployed its nuclear arsenal in Tibet and all the important cities of our country are within that range. What are we going to do about it?

We always make a big noise about Pakistan indulging in a low-intensity war with the country. Why don't we take the boot and kick it on the back? That would be the end of it.

I tell you, it is too expensive to be weak.

Today, the United States of America is the biggest economic power. Why? Because it is also the biggest military power.

We, the people of this country, can't and shouldn't expect this kind of weakness from our government. With just 10 per cent of the money that is siphoned out of the system through corruption, we would have all the money we need for the defence forces. We want a strong state and, for that, a strong government.

General V N Sharma, the former army chief, spoke to R R Nair.

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