Thursday, June 30, 2011

“Neighborhood worries me,” says Indian Prime Minister

Posted by- Neelam Mathews
June 30, 2011

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met with editors of five newspapers on June 29 answering queries on various subjects.

This what he had to say about India’s neighbors, on Naxalism, US withdrawal from Afghanistan, China defense buildup, India’s defense budget……

On Sri Lanka….

You have a situation in Sri Lanka. The decimation of the LTTE was something which is good. But the Tamil problem does not disappear, with the defeat of the LTTE. The Tamil population has legitimate grievances. They feel they are reduced to second-class citizens. And our emphasis has been to persuade the Sri Lankan government that we must move towards a new system of institutional reforms, where the Tamil people will have a feeling that they are equal citizens of Sri Lanka, and they can lead a life of dignity and self-respect. It is not easy. Within Sri Lanka's population, there are hotheads, the Sinhala chauvinism is a reality. But we have to find a difficult balance because what happens in Sri Lanka has a domestic dimension also. The Tamil Nadu government and assembly have often shown great worry about what is happening. Our challenge is to keep the Tamil Nadu government on our side. I have had good cooperation with Jayalalithaaji. I raised this matter with her the very first time. What she asked of me was moderate. Whatever be the resolutions that were passed in the assembly, I found her fully conscious of the complexities and the realities of managing this relationship.

On Bangladesh……………
With Bangladesh, we have good relations. Bangladesh government has gone out of its way to help us in apprehending the anti-Indian insurgent groups which were operating from Bangladesh for a long time. And that is why we have been generous in dealing with Bangladesh. We are not a rich country. But we offered it a line of credit of one billion dollars, when Sheikh Hasina came here. We are also looking at ways and means of some further unilateral concessions. ……So with Bangladesh, our relations are quite good. But we must reckon that at least 25 per cent of the population of Bangladesh swears by the Jamiat-ul-Islami and they are very anti-Indian, and they are in the clutches, many times, of the ISI. So, a political landscape in Bangladesh can change at any time. We do not know what these terrorist elements, who have a hold on the jamiat-e-islami elements in Bangladesh, can be upto.

So a very uncertain neighbourhood. A very uncertain international, economic environment. We have to swim and keep our heads high.

On the American pullout from Afghanistan scheduled by 2014……..

It does hurt us. It could hurt us. No one knows what is going to happen in Afghanistan. Yesterday, I was talking to the New Zealand Prime Minister, the war in Afghanistan does not enjoy large-scale public support. That's the reality. If we hold elections every four years, politicians have to be re-elected before they can become statesmen.

In Afghanistan there is also the question of good and bad Taliban?...............

I told the Afghan Parliament that the reconciliation should be Afghan-led. I think Karzai and other politicians can work on that. You cannot carry the good-bad Taliban distinction much too far. But the Haqqani group - they are a more determined group - perhaps not in league with the Pakistani establishment - I don't know - but we are worried about them.

On Defense preparedness in  light of Chinese capabilities……………

We have started the process. We are looking at the modernisation of our armed forces, including the navy and the air force. For the first time in many many years, we have added two divisions to our army. So within the limits of our resources, we are doing much advanced air fields in the border areas. We are trying to strengthen the border roads. Also to see, that states on our border - our villagers have access to electricity using solar power. The effort is on.

On defense expenditure as a part of GDP has been falling from year to year………..

That is true. But quite frankly we have not restricted defense spending - no conscious decision has been taken to any fixed percentage. We are as a nation, prepared to live with a defence expenditure equal to three percent of our GDP. IF the armed forces have a plan to raise their expenditure to that ceiling, the system will be able to tolerate it.

On  whether it will take 10 to 15 years for all of this to materialise?

The Chinese are far ahead of us. They are building a blue-water navy also. Aircraft carriers - they are acquiring.

On Naxalites…………

We are tackling that problem at two ends. We are strengthening the development work in the 60 districts. This year we have put at the disposal of the Deputy Commissioner, SP and the District Forest Officer, large sums of money for each of those districts. Money is not a problem. But the main problem is infrastructure. We need to protect the building of roads. There is a proposal to raise a reserved battalion to protect the building of development works in the Naxal-affected areas. If that goes through, I think we will provide greater security to contractors willing to build roads and other infrastructure in those areas. It is a vicious circle. We must strengthen the police and other intelligence. One emphasis is on intelligence so that they match them in actual combat. The other is on development. Development is the master remedy to win over people. If my children are in school, better health facilities are available, if forest rights of tribals are respected - and implemented - it should win over people. In the short run, government's writ must run.

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