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January 6, 2000
The Rediff Interview/George Fernandes
'The whole hijack drama was very well organised'
Defence Minister George Fernandes is not known for pulling his punches. Though his proclivity for calling a spade a spade has often embarrassed his colleagues and provided a handle for the opposition, the apparent sincerity and conviction of his pronouncements has not gone unnoticed by the larger public. Mostly, his comments -- like the one a day ago questioning the United States' commitment to fighting international terrorism and its sponsors -- are very pertinent and set the tone for heated debate. In an exclusive interview to Onkar Singh Fernandes dismissed fears about a setback to Indian attempts at fighting militancy in Kashmir as a result of the release of the three jailed militants in exchange for the release of 156 passengers of the hijacked Indian Airlines flight IC 814. Excerpts:
You said yesterday that India has the potential to meet any threat from Pakistan if it dares to launch a military campaign against India. Though Pakistan has been taught fitting lessons in previous encounters why is it that its rulers continue to threaten India?
Let them try anything they want to. We have not been intimidated in the past and nor are we going to get intimidated this time as well. The Indian armed forces are capable of meeting the enemy's threat at any point of time. They tried it in Kargil and they know the results of that war.
Though Pakistan has been denying any hand in the recent hijacking of the Indian Airlines flight it looks like the whole thing was planned well in advance?
This is more than evident. Those who know the manner in which they operate know it very well that Pakistan has always been operating like this. It encourages terrorism in the Kashmir Valley and yet continues to say that it has nothing to do with it. The whole hijack drama was very well organised and well-orchestrated. This was a well-planned conspiracy. This was not an action of some individual on the spot. We are now aware of the kind of weapons the hijackers had with them. Again, the demand of the release of the three Kashmiri militants clearly points a finger towards Pakistan. It is a political agenda of Pakistan.
What kind of fallout do you foresee in the Valley following the release of the three top militants by the government of India in exchange for the release of the hostages? Do you think the attacks against the security forces and civilians would increase in the days to come because of these developments?
They cannot intensify the violence beyond what it is now. We have been facing it and fighting it. We have been facing tough situations but we have always come out on the top in the end.
Maulana Masood Azhar, one of the three militants released by India, has said in Pakistan that he is going to liberate Kashmir!
He is living in a fool's paradise. What can you say about a man like him who was languishing in Indian jails for the last four-and-a-half years. The Indian defence forces are ready to give him a fitting reply.
Do you think there has been a major setback in fighting militancy because of the release of these militants?
No. There has been no setback to our resolve to fight militancy in Kashmir because of the release of these three militants. We have been fighting militancy in the Valley for the last ten years with great success. There have been some moments of anxiety. There might have been some ups and downs in fighting militancy. But the brave Indian soldiers have always managed to come back on top despite the heavy odds. At the moment I think we are doing a remarkable job in containing militancy in the state. I must compliment the Indian armed forces for that.
You mean, all said and done, the nation has nothing to worry about?
The nation can rest assured that the armed forces of India are capable of meeting any challenge from any quarter. There is nothing to worry about.
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