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'You can’t keep exporting terror, and have talks too' - India to Pak

Highlights
  • Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the Rafale deal is through an inter-governmental agreement, without any middleman or illegitimate transaction.
  • There are no Quattrocchis, no Win Chadas, no payments in Switzerland in it, she said.

Nirmala Sitharaman, who last week completed a year as the country’s first full-time woman defence minister, says the new Imran Khan-led Pakistan government must deliver on the terror front if it wants the bilateral dialogue to resume. She also tells that Congress is misleading the people about the Rafale fighter deal. Excerpts:


Pakistan PM Imran Khan has said: “if India takes one step, Pakistan will take two!” Will the bilateral dialogue process resume?
PM Modi has made it very clear since 2014 that we want a very good relationship with all our neighbours. He invited all heads of state from the neighbourhood for his swearing in, and after that, he has made further efforts particularly with Pakistan. But the bottomline is there cannot be talks just to improve the relationship, even as Pakistan entertains terrorism from its soil.
Ten years have gone by since 26/11 terror strikes in Mumbai. But there is no sign of the legal process taking its course in punishing the handlers in Pakistan. Whereas in India, we have proven the way our courts handled the case of Ajmal Kasab and he was given the due punishment. We don’t see anything like that happening in Pakistan despite dossiers after dossiers being complied and handed over.
Terror can’t go along with talks. Ceasefire violations continue to happen and non-state actors are also trying to infiltrate across our borders. Our armed forces are very efficiently eliminating them at the border, or in the hinterland if they somehow manage to enter.


Nepal has snubbed India by refusing to join the BIMSTEC exercise while being set to hold an exercise with China. Has our relationship worsened?
It’s not a snub at all. Some of their people are participating (three observers). It is only that the Nepalese Army chief, who was supposed to come over, had some fixed prior schedule after recently taking over. He has to finish all that before he formally engages outside. We have been given a reasonable explanation. I don’t want to read anything more in it. India and Nepal are clearly working together with BIMSTEC.
PM Modi has shown his friendship to Nepal and at times of need, as a good neighbour, we have stood by Nepal. One of the earliest visits of the PM after he took over was to Nepal. So, we feel very close affection for the country, and that has been periodically reciprocated by the people of Nepal too.


China’s defence minister was here last month. How do you see the relationship with China after Doklam?
There was extraordinary chemistry between PM Modi and the Chinese President (Xi Jinping) during the Wuhan summit in April. Subsequently, the spirit of Wuhan has governed every bilateral meeting. China also welcomed PM Modi’s talk at the Shangri La Dialogue, where he put out a very clear picture of how he sees this region developing. China has referred to several points he made and welcomed them.
As for the Line of Actual Control, there are many sections where the border is not officially demarcated. So, there is a difference in perception. Sometimes, our people cross over what is perceived by the Chinese to be their line, and vice-versa. Face-offs are due to this perception differential. There are institutional mechanisms like border personnel meetings and fag meetings through which these differences are sorted out.


Congress is attacking your government over what it calls the biggest-ever defence scam in the Rs 59,000 crore Rafale fighter deal. Has the govt has tied itself in knots and failed to present a coherent defence?
That’s not true at all. Even with all the given limitations in giving the details of the complete deal, we have told the basic facts to Parliament, mentioning the cost of the basic aircraft also. Several questions have been answered but the Congress is astounded that there is not one whisper of corruption against this government in over four years, how even a portfolio like defence is run without any scandal. Middlemen were the only route through which the Congress did anything in the name of defence procurements during its time.
The Rafale deal is through an inter-governmental agreement, without any middleman or illegitimate transaction. There are no Quattrocchis, no Win Chadas, no payments in Switzerland in it. Foreign investigation agencies tracked the money trail in Bofors, identified that Quattrochi who had access to the first family of Congress was going in and out with the money.
Congress alleges we have guided Dassault into going with a particular private company as an offsets partner, not with a PSU. Offset guidelines have existed even during the UPA regime. Offsets decisions are commercial decisions taken purely by the original equipment manufacturer like Dassault.


The secrecy pact with France pertains more to the operational or technical capabilities of the aircraft and classified data. What is so secret about the price?
We are also saying this. My predecessors and I have disclosed in Parliament the cost of the basic aircraft. The Congress is purposely pitting two totally different figures and doing a false comparison. It is comparing the basic aircraft price of their period with what they claim is the basic aircraft price now with all the add-ons. The basic aircraft price now is at least 9% cheaper than the basic aircraft price of their time if the annual escalation clause is taken into account. Congress is making a wrong argument and misleading the people.


What were the tangible outcomes in defence of the 2-plus-2 dialogue with the US? Will inking the military pact COMCASA compromise India’s strategic autonomy?
Not at all. The agreement is an India-specific COMCASA. It will help our platforms communicate better, in a secure and encrypted manner, with those that have come from the US. We have kept all our security considerations in mind. It’s not as if we are opening everything up to them.
The 2-plus-2 dialogue is a very significant dialogue. It has helped the US to understand India’s perspective on defence and foreign affairs, and vice-versa. It gives a certain depth and intensity to the relationship. There are several concrete outcomes, from the decision to intensify our military-to-military relations and hold the first bilateral tri-Service exercise next year to the MoU on collaboration on defence innovation. Even before the 2-plus-2, the US took two major decisions. One was to rename their Pacific Command to Indo-Pacific command. Though symbolic, it underlines the certain importance of India in the region. The other was to give the STA-1 (strategic trade authorization) status to India, the only non-NATO country to get it.


Did the US raise its concern over India’s plan to acquire five advanced S-400 Triumf air defence missile systems from Russia for Rs 39,000 crore?
S-400 was not discussed at all. It was not once mentioned. As I have earlier stated, we are going ahead with the deal with Russia.

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