About 3,000 militants planning to cross LoC: Fernande
28 May 2002
The Daily Excelsior
New Delhi: Some 2,000 to 3,000 Al-Qaeda, Taliban and other militants are waiting to cross from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) into India with Pakistani troops providing the covering fire, according to Defence Minister George Fernandes, who said Indian armed forces have been put on the ''highest state of readiness''. ''The situation along the border has been tense and remains tense. Troops are in an eyeball-to-eyeball situation and armour on both sides is on alert,'' he told PTI here today when asked about the situation along the International Border and the Line of Control (LoC). Disclosing that Pakistani forces had stepped up pace of artillery shelling and mortar firing along LoC for the past two days, Fernandes said the firing was aimed at providing cover for mercenaries and militants to infiltrate into India. This was contrary to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s claim last night that there was no infiltration across LoC. Fernandes said for the first time since the 1999 Kargil conflict, Pakistani troops had resorted to shelling in Siachen-Kargil-Dras sector saying it could be ''probing'' manoeuvre to see how well Indian troops were entrenched in the area. Dismissing the threat of Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf of waging a war on Indian soil in case of a conflict, Fernandes said that ''India is militarily so powerful and it is known to Pakistanis that they will be overwhelmed''. He termed Musharraf’s threats as an ''outward manifestation of his inner fears and frustrations''. Asserting that India will not succumb to any nuclear or missile threat, Fernandes told Pakistan it would be ''foolish'' for it to ever consider using nuclear weapons saying Islamabad should be conscious of the devastation an Indian retaliatory strike could create. ''Indian armed forces are in the highest state of readiness. Their morale is so high that only question they are asking is when will you let us go ?'', Fernandes said in a wide-ranging interview. Terming the threats held out by the Pakistani military leadership of using nuclear weapons, if necessary, and latest series of missile launches as a ''psychological warfare'', the Defence Minister said ''these are highly irresponsible statements coming out of a deep sense of fear''. Asked if missiles like short-range surface-to- surface ''Prithvi'' and longer-range and intermediate range ''agni'' series had been deployed, he said ''we are fully deployed. There is no area where we are not ready. We are deployed in strength''. Asked about the possibility of use of nuclear weapons by Pakistan, Fernandes said,'' I don’t know the mind of Pakistan President. But as a soldier he should know the implications of using nuclear weapons''. The minister said Musharraf should know that ''if any Pakistani gets into nuclear mode they should know about the devastation that will be caused by our retaliatory strike''. Observing that he did not foresee the possibility of a nuclear exchange, he said ''fear of a nuclear war are exaggerated''. On the possibility of a conventional war, he said ''we have so far acted with restraint. The D-day is something no one can discuss if it should become necessary''. Fernandes said India was militarily and economically many times more powerful and larger than Pakistan and added '' if we wanted a war, we wouldn’t have waited so long. We would have struck the day Parliament was attacked. We could have taken Pakistan by surprise''. New Delhi, the minister said, was not talking in terms of India-Pakistan rivalry or India-Pakistan war. ''We are looking at the problem as part of the global war against terrorism''. Maintaining that New Delhi was an active partner in the global coalition against terrorism, Fernandes said India was providing ''wholesome logistical support'' to this fight by providing escort to their warships across from the Bay of Bengal to the Arabian sea through the Malacca Straits. ''We are now talking of extension of this war,'' he said adding the United States had voiced concern and was trying to persuade its close ally Pakistan to give up what it was doing. Fernandes said Indian Navy had provided escort and logistic support to the French, British and the US forces including refuelling facilities, participating in the global war against terrorism. Asked if the Pakistani President was not listening to the Americans, the minister said ''if the US switches off, then what will Musharraf do?''. To another question whether New Delhi would ask Washington to do so, Fernandes replied ''it is for the us to decide''. Asked to comment on western media reports predicting millions of deaths as India and Pakistan were poised for a nuclear duel, he shot back saying that western powers were under the notion that nuclear weapons were safe in their hands only. Elaborating on stepped up artillery and mortar exchanges along the border, the minister disclosed that thousands of rounds of artillery and mortar shells had been fired at Siachen Glacier and along the LoC in Batalik-Kargil, Dras-Mushkoh, Keran, Poonch-Rajouri, Nowshera and Sunderbani sectors. ''Where Pakistan has been using fire power, we have retaliated. The kind of kill we have achieved is substantial,'' he said adding Pakistan had suffered heavy casualties in these fire fights.