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November 10, 1998


Retired generals support Pokhran tests

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Former Indian army generals have come out openly supporting the Pokhran nuclear tests.

Pokhran emerged as a checkmate for the coercive potential of Chagai and must be visualised as a prudent measure of future insurance in the military context of China's four modernisations, said General (retired) Shankar Roychowdhury.

''If the military component of the four modernisations attains its full capabilities, the China factor will assume Godzillan proportions, and whatever trajectory our mutual relations subsequently assume, China must and will remain a permanent factor in our security perceptions,'' General Roychowdhury, the former army chief, stated in an article in New Approach, a quarterly published from Calcutta.

Pakistan, on the other hand, has historically been a more intransigent adversary that has been trying to disrupt societal and communal stability, so essential for a multi-religious, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society like India, with the long-term objective of eroding national cohesion, and threatening the country with gradual dismemberment, the general said.

''Thus, while China will always remain an area of long-term strategic concern for us, it is the low intensity offensive developed by Pakistan that emerges as the most prominent threat, not only in the short and middle-term perspective, but also one that could extend into long-term future as well,'' he said.

The general said the basic difference between the Indian and Pakistani nuclear explosions lay in their nature -- the former was a test, whereas the latter was a demonstration. India's nuclear explosions were conducted to test nuclear devices developed with indigenous know-how.

''The counter-explosions by Pakistan were a coercive demonstration to unveil a hitherto clandestine nuclear capability, acquired with technology illegally obtained or pilfered from various laboratories in Europe, and extensively supplemented by largescale military assistance from China, including designs for functional nuclear weapons, already proven in Xinjiang,'' he said.

General Roychoudhury emphasised on the improvement of Sino-Indian relations but said, in a situation of nuclear asymmetry, the only credible and viable counterbalance was an indigenous countervailing nuclear capability: ''A nuclear umbrella is undependable. To think otherwise would be intellectual as well as professional irresponsibility.''

He said India had always been one of the staunchest advocates of total global disarmament and her quest for indigenous nuclear capability had been within the declared objectives of this policy.

But all proposals for agreement on a time-bound schedule, he said, had been consigned to the wastepaper basket by the present nuclear powers so that total nuclear disarmament remained an unachievable utopia.

''In the meanwhile, the world remains an uncertain and dangerous place, occupied not only by doves but with a substantial population of sharks as well, in which our own regional environment in South Asia is particularly sensitive,'' he said.

Under these circumstances, he said, unilateral nuclear abstinence would be a gesture of naive and empty moralising.

''No responsible government has the right to unilaterally mortgage the future of its citizens, present and future, to the mercies of a hard-nosed international order where nuclear perceptions are the sole prerogative of the sole superpower and its closest allies only,'' he pointed out.

The general said it would be correct to surmise that India had over the years evolved a split-level nuclear policy which strongly advocated universal and time-bound nuclear disarmament, but hedged its best in the national interest during the interim period, with the creation and maintenance of a minimum nuclear deterrent.

''In the context of our national security, therefore, there are no internal contradictions between our international stance and domestic agenda. In that sense the nuclear power plants at Trombay, Kalpakam or Narora and the smiles of the Buddha in 1974 and 1998 at Pokhran are complementary aspects of the same national enterprise,'' he added.

Former director general of military operations, Lieutenant General (retd) Satish Nambiar said China's continuing development of its nuclear and missile capability was no longer an aspect of conjecture or speculation, but needed to be taken seriously.

''China's increased activity in neighbouring countries like Myanmar and the Indian Ocean area cannot but be factored in as a serious input in assessing medium and long-term security considerations at the national level. To do otherwise would in fact be dereliction of responsibility,'' Lt General Nambiar wrote.

He said the situation has become more complex with the unquestionable Chinese collusion with the Pakistani nuclear and missile programmes and the American role in deliberately overlooking all these activities.

''It is evident now from the technological point of view that testing was necessary. It is also evident that earlier governments were aware of this and were keen to give clearance, but were deterred under pressure,'' he pointed out.

He said the country's nuclear doctrine should reflect the nation's philosophy in the sphere of national security and the country's status as an international or a regional power.

''Our nuclear doctrine should be based on a strategic nuclear deterrent capability vis-a-visour stronger and more powerful potential adversary. Other lesser ones would automatically be covered,'' he added.

Major General (retd) Vinod Saighal said China had persistently been increasing Pakistan's capability to inflict damage on India in her bid to become a dominant player in Asia in the next century.

''What is far more worrisome is that the defence planners in India have invariably underplayed the Chinese threat and over-played the Pakistan conventional military threat. Even if a grand reversal takes place now -- after a full scale strategic review -- it will take the armed forces at least one or two decades to simply undo the effect of the wrong priorities of previous decades,'' he said.

Lieutenant General (retired) Amarjit Singh Kalkat, chairman of the International Council for Conflict Resolution, said India's decision to go nuclear was a landmark in our national security policy. What is more important was that it had been taken after a detailed integrated analysis of our defence, economic and foreign policies and technology concerns.

''If the basic premise is correct, then has anything changed since to warrant a going back on the decision?'' he asked.

Major General (retired) Dipankar Banerjee, however, criticised the decision and said having unilaterally announced the enemies, the country would now have to seriously prepare to meet the challenges, which meant weaponisation.

''It is to be hoped that serious reflection will allow us to find solutions that will not lead us to nuclear holocaust. For today, we are truly in the eye of a potential nuclear hurricane,'' he concluded.

''Not withstanding China's hot and cold relationship with India, if we could develop and strengthen friendly ties, the peace dividend will be enormous. In that event, we may adopt a non-weaponised nuclear policy, which is least costly, reduce force structure and create a balance in the south Asian region to keep Pakistan in its place,'' said Major General (retired) Gautam Mitra in his article.


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