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'Terrorism may still derail peace process'

By Ramananda Sengupta in Mumbai
Last updated on: October 18, 2005 21:10 IST
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Former Army Chief General Ved Prakash Malik does not agree that India and Pakistan have agreed not to let terrorism disrupt the peace process.

He was responding to questions after a powerpoint presentation on 'India's National Security Challenges' at the Mumbai University Campus in Kalina, organized by the Observer Research Foundation October 18.

General Malik, who was army chief from October 1997 to September 2000, is credited with overseeing the expulsion of Pakistani troops from Kargil in 1999.

Coverage: The Kargil Crisis

According to the general, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had made it quite clear during his meeting with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf on the sidelines of the UN summit in New York that terrorism could derail the peace process.

Coverage: PM at the UN

However, a joint statement released after the talks between External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh and Pakistan's Foreign Minister Khurshid M. Kasuri October 3 to review the peace process categorically states that 'The ministers reaffirmed their determination not to allow terrorism to impede the peace process.'

In his lecture, General Malik lamented the lack of discourse and debate in India about its security, both internal and external.

He began by noting that cross-border terrorism was blurring the differences between external and internal security.

According to him, while the confidence building measures with Pakistan and the declining number of terrorist incidents were positive signals, the terrorist infrastructure across the border remained.

India, by virtue of its geographic position, size, and polity, faced some unique security problems, he said. It had two nuclear armed neighbors, and the fact that most other neighbors had serious internal problems did not help.

But while internal problems among its neighbours were unlikely to dramatically affect India, any major event in India would have a fallout among its smaller neighbours, he added.

He felt that by going nuclear, India had ensured that China would hesitate before taking on India militarily. While Sino-Indian relations had been warming up of late, he noted the military ties between Beijing and Pakistan were obviously not in India's interest.

Turbulence in nations like Nepal and Bangladesh led to migration into India, which also imposed a strain on the country, he said.

Interspersing his presentation with quotes from Mahatma Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, among others, he said the government needed to ensure that the army was called out to quell internal law and order problems only as a last resort. But for the police to function effectively, it had to be delinked from political pressures, he added.

Other issues he touched upon included energy and water security, and the unfair distribution of benefits. While people in Maharashtra might complain about their tax money being paid to benefit Bihar, unless the lesser developed states were brought into the mainstream the fissures would continue to cause strife in the country, he warned.

Noting that the mushrooming population had started showing signs of slowing down, he said one of India's major strengths was that a huge chunk of its population was still young. While Western nations were trying to pay for the growing needs of its elderly population, India still had a huge chunk of people in the working age group.

As far as external issues were concerned, he said any signs of a weak or unstable India would lead its neighbours to look to China.

The meeting was moderated by the director of the Mumbai Nehru Center and former city police chief Satish Sahney.

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Ramananda Sengupta in Mumbai